Accounting Advocate for Individuals and Businesses

Rockin' tax tips

TAX TIP #118-HOME OFFICE TAX DEDUCTION

The eligibility rules for claiming a home office deduction have been loosened to allow more filers to claim this break. People who have no fixed location for their businesses can claim a home office deduction if they use the space for administrative or management activities, even if they don’t meet clients there. Doctors, for example, who consult at various hospitals, or plumbers who make house calls, can now qualify. As always, you must use the space exclusively for business.

Many taxpayers have avoided the home office tax deduction because it has been regarded as a red flag for an audit. If you legitimately qualify for the deduction, however, there should be no problem.

You are entitled to write off expenses that are associated with the portion of your home where you exclusively conduct business (such as rent, utilities, insurance and housekeeping). The percentage of these costs that is deductible is based on the square footage of the office to the total area of the house. A middle-class taxpayer who uses a home office and pays $1,000 a month for a two-bedroom apartment and uses one bedroom exclusively as a home office can easily save $1,000 in taxes a year. People in higher tax brackets with greater expenses can save even more.

One home office trap that used to scare away some taxpayers has been eliminated. In the past, if you used 10 percent of your home for a home office, for example, 10 percent of the profit when you sold did not qualify as tax-free under the rules that let homeowners treat up to $250,000 of profit as tax-free income ($500,000 for married couples filing joint returns). Since 10 percent of the house was an office instead of a home, the IRS said, 10 percent of the profit wasn’t tax-free. But the government has had a change of heart. No longer does a home office put the kibosh on tax-free profit. You do, however, have to pay tax on any profit that results from depreciation claimed for the office after May 6, 1997. It’s taxed at a maximum rate of 25 percent. (Depreciation produces taxable profit because it reduces your tax basis in the home; the lower your basis, the higher your profit.)