Good and Bad News About The Home Office Tax Deduction

“Home office” is a type of tax deduction that applies to the business use of a home; the space itself may not actually be an office. This category also includes using part of a home for storing inventory (e.g., for a wholesale or retail business for which the home is the only fixed location); as a day care center; as a physical meeting place for interacting with customers, patients, or clients; or the principal place of business for any trade or business.

Generally, except when used to store inventory, an office area must be used on a regular and continuing basis and exclusively restricted to the trade or business (i.e., no personal use). Two methods can be used to determine a home-office deduction: the actual-expense method and the simplified method.

Actual-Expense Method – The actual-expense method prorates home expenses based on the portion of the home that qualifies as a home office; this is generally based on square footage. These prorated expenses include mortgage interest, real property taxes, insurance, heating, electricity, maintenance, and depreciation. In the case of a rented home, rent replaces the interest, tax, and depreciation expenses. Aside from prorated expenses, 100% of directly related costs, such as painting and repair expenses specific to the office, can be deducted.

Simplified Method – The simplified method allows for a deduction equal to $5 per square footage of the home that is used for business, up to a maximum of 300 square feet, resulting in a maximum simplified deduction of $1,500.

Even if you qualify for a home-office deduction, your deduction is limited to the business activity’s gross income—not, as many people mistakenly believe, its net income. The gross-income limitation is equal to the gross sales minus the cost of goods sold. This amount is deducted on a self-employed individual’s business schedule.

The good news is that, under the tax reform, the home-office deduction is still allowed for self-employed taxpayers. The bad news is that this deduction is no longer available for employees, at least for 2018 through 2025. The reason for this change is that, for an employee, a home office is considered an employee business expense (a type of itemized deduction); Congress suspended this deduction as part of the tax reform.

If you have concerns or questions about how the home-office deduction applies to your specific circumstances, please give us a call.

Is Bunching Right for You?

 Note: The is one of a series of articles explaining how the various tax changes in the GOP’s Tax Cuts & Jobs Act (referred to as “the Act” in this article), which passed in late December of 2017, could affect you and your family, both in 2018 and future years. This series offers strategies that you can employ to reduce your tax liability under the new law.

The Act increased the standard deduction and placed new limitations on itemized deductions. Beginning with 2018 tax returns, the standard deductions will be:

  • $12,000 for single individuals and married people filing separately,
  • $18,000 for heads of household, and
  • $24,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly.

If your deductions exceed the standard deduction amount for your filing status, you are allowed to itemize the following deductions:

  • Medical expenses, to the extent they exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI);
  • Taxes paid during the year (for state or local income or sales tax and for real property or personal property taxes), limited to $10,000;
  • Home mortgage interest;
  • Investment interest;
  • Charitable contributions;
  • Gambling losses, to the extent of your gambling winnings; and
  • Certain infrequently encountered tier-1 miscellaneous deductions.

Are your itemized deductions typically roughly equal to the new standard deduction amount? If so, think about using a tax strategy known as bunching. In this technique, you take the standard deduction in one year and then itemize in the next. This is accomplished by planning the payment of your deductible expenses so as to maximize them in the years when you itemize deductions. Commonly bunched deductible expenses include medical expenses, taxes, and charitable contributions.

To clearly illustrate how bunching works, here are a few examples of deductible payments that generally provide enough flexibility:

  • Medical Expenses – Say that you contract with a dentist for your child’s braces. This dentist offers you the option of an up-front lump-sum payment or a payment plan. If you make the lump-sum payment, the entire cost will be credited in the year you paid it, thereby dramatically increasing your medical expenses for that year. If you do not have the cash available for the up-front payment, then you can pay by credit card, which is treated as a lump-sum payment for tax purposes. If you do so, you must realize that the interest on that payment is not deductible; you need to determine whether incurring the interest is worth the increased tax deduction. Another important issue related to medical deductions is that only the amount of medical expenses that exceeds 7.5% of your AGI is actually deductible. In addition, this 7.5% floor will increase to 10% after 2018. There is thus no tax benefit to bunching medical deductions if the total will be less than 7.5% of your AGI (or 10% beginning in 2019).
    If you have abnormally high income in the current year, you may wish to put off medical expense payments until the following year (e.g., if 10% of the following year’s income will be less than 7.5% of this year’s income).
  • Taxes – Property taxes are generally billed annually at midyear; most locales allow for these tax bills to be paid in semiannual or quarterly installments. Thus, you have the option of paying them all at once or paying them in installments. This provides the opportunity to bunch the tax payments by paying only one semiannual installment (or 2 quarterly installments) in one year and pushing off the other semiannual (or 2 quarterly) installments until the next year. Doing so allows you to deduct 1½ years of taxes in one year and half a year of taxes in the other. However, if you are thinking of making late property tax payments as a means of bunching, you should be cautious. Late payment penalties are likely to wipe out any potential tax savings.
    If you reside in a state that has a state income tax, any such tax that is paid or withheld during the year is deductible on federal taxes. For instance, if you are making quarterly estimated state tax payments, the fourth quarter estimated payment is generally due in January of the subsequent year. This gives you the opportunity to either make that payment before December 31 (thus enabling you to deduct the payment on the current year’s return) or pay it in January before the due date (thus enabling you to use it as a deduction in the subsequent year).
    Here is a word of caution about itemized tax deductions: Under the Act, a maximum of $10,000 is allowed under itemized tax deductions, so there is no benefit gained by prepaying taxes when your tax total is already $10,000 or more. In addition, taxes are not deductible at all under the alternative minimum tax, so individuals under that tax generally derive no benefits from itemized deductions.
  • Charitable Contributions – Charitable contributions are a nice fit for bunching because they are entirely at the taxpayer’s discretion. For example, if you normally tithe to your church, you can make your normal contributions during the year but then prepay the entire subsequent year’s tithe in a lump sum in December of the current year. If you do this for all contributions that you generally make to qualified organizations, you can double up on your contributions in one year and have no charitable deductions in the next year. Normally, charities are very active in their solicitations during the holiday season, which gives you the opportunity to make forward-looking contributions at the end of the current year or to simply wait a short time and make them after the end of the year. Charitable deductions do have a limit, but for most types of contributions, it is high: 60% of AGI, beginning in 2018.

If you have questions about bunching your deductions, or if you wish to do some in-depth strategizing about how this technique could benefit you, please call for an appointment.

Tax Reform Limits Sec 1031 Exchanges to Defer Taxes

Note: This is one of a series of articles explaining how the various tax changes made by the GOP’s Tax Cuts & Jobs Act (referred to as the “Act” in the article), passed late in December 2017, might affect you and your family in 2018 and future years, and offering strategies you might employ to reduce your tax liability under the new tax laws.

Whenever you sell business or investment property and have a gain, you generally have to pay tax on the gain at the time of sale. In the past, the tax code provided an exception and allowed you to postpone paying tax on the gain if you reinvested the proceeds into similar property as part of a qualifying like-kind exchange. These types of exchanges are commonly called Sec. 1031 exchanges (referring to the tax code section that allows them). These rules have applied to real estate, cars, farm animals and other business and investment items that are like-kind property.

However, under the Act, and beginning in 2018, Sec. 1031 exchanges will only be allowed for exchanges of real property that is not held primarily for sale. It is important to note that real property located in the U.S. and real property located outside of the U.S. are not like-kind property for the purposes of these rules. Thus, exchanges of personal property and intangible property will no longer qualify for tax-deferred treatment.

Transition Rule – The provision generally applies to exchanges completed after December 31, 2017. However, an exception is provided for any exchange if the taxpayer disposes of the property disposed in the exchange on or before December 31, 2017, or if the taxpayer receives the property in the exchange on or before this date.

An example of this law change’s impact is when a business property such as a vehicle or machinery is traded in for a replacement. In the past, it was a tax strategy to sell the old property if its disposition resulted in a deductible tax loss and trade it in toward the new property if the disposition would result in a gain, thereby deferring the gain into the future. The Act has taken away that option, and now even trade-ins will result in a taxable transaction, whether it is a gain or loss.

Another example is investors in virtual currency who trade one type of virtual currency for another. They will be required to report their trades as capital gains/losses and won’t be able to use the 1031 tax-deferral rules.

If you have questions about how this change will impact your business or investment transactions, please give us a call.

Business Owners Beware – New Tax Law Severely Limits Entertainment Deductions

Note: This is one of a series of articles explaining how the various tax changes in the GOP’s Tax Cuts & Jobs Act (referred to as “the Act” in this article), which passed in late December of 2017, could affect you and your family, both in 2018 and future years. This series offers strategies that you can employ to reduce your tax liability under the new law.

If you are a business owner who is accustomed to treating clients to sporting events, golf getaways, concerts and the like, we have some bad news for you. The GOP’s tax-reform bill that President Trump signed on December 22nd of last year eliminated the business-related deduction for entertainment, amusement or recreation expenses, effective beginning in 2018.

This doesn’t mean you can’t still entertain your clients; it just means you can no longer deduct 50% of the cost of that entertainment as a business expense, making it more costly for you to entertain clients.

But all is not lost! The Act does retain a deduction for business meals that are directly related to or associated with the active conduct of your business. The term “directly related” means that actual business discussions were conducted during the meal and you anticipated a specific business benefit from the meal. The term “associated with” is more liberal and includes meals either preceding or following a bona fide business discussion. In either case, the business deduction continues to be 50% of the actual expense. Also remember that business meals must be documented, including the amount, business purpose, date, time, place and names of the guests as well as their business relationship with you.

That’s not all! In the past, employers have been accustomed to deducting 100% of the cost of food and beverages provided to employees at or near the place of business. That too has changed, and the Act now subjects food and beverages supplied to employees to the 50% limitation. But that deduction is only allowed through 2025. As of 2026, employers’ costs for food and beverages furnished to employees will not be deductible.

Meals while traveling out of town on business continue to be deductible and are also subject to the 50% limitation.

If you have questions related to entertainment and meal expenses, please give us a call.

Tax Deductions for Owner-Operator Truckers

There are certain tax deductions for owner-operator truckers that are unique. You benefit from special allowances for meals, are allowed very large write-offs for tractors and other equipment, must pay additional taxes and permit costs, and may have special reporting requirements in addition to your tax returns. The following is an overview of the tax issues that may apply to owner-operators.

  • Meals Away from Home – As an owner-operator trucker, you may deduct the actual cost of your meals; this requires you to save your receipts. Alternatively, you can deduct the IRS’ standard meal allowance for the transportation industry, using your logbooks as substantiation. For 2016 and 2017, amount for meals and incidental expenses is $63 per day. Whether you use the actual-expense method or the standard method, only 80% of the total for the year is deductible. Even though only 80% is deductible, keep track all expenses for tax purposes, as the 80% adjustment is made during the tax-return preparation process
    Meals are deductible if you need to stop for substantial rest in order to properly perform your duties while traveling on business.
  • Lodging – Lodging expenses are deductible. Unfortunately, there is no standard allowance for lodging; thus, you must keep a receipt for each lodging expense. Generally, to deduct lodging expenses, you must be away from home overnight.
    One issue that could result in the disallowance of lodging and other travel expenses is not having a regular place of business or place of residence. In this case, you would be considered an itinerant (or transient), and your home for tax purposes would be wherever you work. As an itinerant, you would not be able to claim a deduction for lodging and meals because you would never be considered to be away from home.
  • Other On-The-Road Expenses -Generally, to be deductible, items must be both ordinary and necessary to your job. For truckers, these expenses include laundry (when away overnight), gloves, logbooks, maps, cell phones, CB radios, tools, safety gear, cargo straps, and any other incurred expenses that are ordinary and necessary in the business. Generally, receipts are required, but if the business expense is less than $75, a receipt is not necessary, provided that you record all of the information in a diary in a timely manner.
  • Vehicle (Tractor) Cost Write-Offs – The current tax code provides several options for writing off the cost of a vehicle, including immediate expensing of up to $510,000 (as of 2017) during the year the property is put into service; first-year depreciation equal to 50% of the vehicle’s cost; normal deprecation; or a combination of all three. These options allow owner-operators to pick almost any amount of write-off to best suit their particular circumstances. For normal depreciation, the IRS allows a recovery period of 3 years for over-the-road tractor units and of 5 years for trailers, trailer-mounted containers and heavy-duty trucks (13,000 pounds or more).
  • Vehicle (Tractor) Operating Expenses – Of course, vehicle operating expenses – including fuel, licenses, taxes, maintenance and insurance – are deductible. Depending on the nature and cost, some expenses may have to be depreciated.
  • General Business Expenses – Owner-operators can usually deduct the following expenses: trucking-industry and business-related subscriptions, association dues, computers and software, Internet service, cleaning supplies, business interest, office supplies, DOT physicals, drug testing, sleep apnea studies, postage and other business-related expenses.
  • Heavy Highway Vehicle Use Tax – The heavy highway vehicle use tax (Form 2290) applies to highway vehicles weighing 55,000 pounds or more. The due date for this form is based on when (during the annual filing period) the vehicle is first used on a public highway. For the period of July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2017, Form 2290 is due by the end of August 2016 for vehicles first used on a public highway in July 2016. For vehicles first used on a public highway after July, the use tax is prorated, and the form is due by last day of the month following the month of first use. See when to file for more details. The use tax ranges from $100 to $550 per vehicle for a full year, depending on the vehicle’s weight. You will need to have an employer ID number to file the Form 2290; your Social Security number cannot be used as the ID number.
  • Subcontractor Payments – If you paid an individual for services during the year, that person was most likely a subcontractor. Payments of $600 or more to subcontractors must be reported to the government by filing Form 1099-MISC. This form requires the subcontractor’s name, address and tax ID number as well as the payment amount. There are penalties for failing to file this form, for filing it late and for filing it without the tax ID number. All these penalties can be avoided by (1) having contractors complete Form W-9 before you pay them and (2) filing the 1099-MISC forms by January 31 of the subsequent year.

Some expenses are not deductible; those with limited knowledge of trucker expenses may take these deductions, potentially triggering IRS inquiries and audits. One example is deducting the cost of street clothing. For clothing, only the cost of uniforms or protective clothing is allowed as a deduction.

Another example is deducting lost income:

  • For time you spend repairing or maintaining your own equipment,
  • As a result of a deadhead, or
  • Because of downtime.

Lost income is already accounted for, as you do not have to report the income on your tax return in the first place.

If you have any questions related to trucking and taxes, please call. This office is knowledgeable regarding the drivers’ and owner-operators’ tax issues, and are here to help you eliminate the stress of accounting and tax filing.

Childcare Providers Enjoy Special Tax Deductions

If you are a childcare provider, tax law provides you with special tax breaks, including deductions for travel, capital purchases, supplies, children’s meals and the business use of your home.

Travel – Your auto expenses are based on the number of qualified business miles that you drive. Auto expenses for you (as a day care provider) could include transportation:

  • To and from a class taken to enhance your day care skills;
  • For field trips with those for whom you are providing care;
  • For errands related to day care business (e.g., going to the bank to deposit day care receipts or to the store to shop for day care supplies); or
  • To chauffeur day care attendees.

To claim business use of your vehicle, use the actual expense method or the standard mileage rate. However, the actual method requires far more detailed records; you must keep track of your business miles and total miles to prorate the costs of fuel, insurance, repairs, etc. You will probably find the standard mileage rate to be far less complicated, as you only need to contemporaneously record your business miles and the purpose of each trip. Even with the standard method, you’ll still need to know the total miles driven for the year. For 2017, the rate is 53.5 cents per mile, down from 54.0 cents per mile in 2016.

Capital Purchases – Capital items are those that normally last more than one year, including cribs and playground equipment. Be sure to keep receipts for these items, as they can generally be depreciated or expensed, whichever works best for you.

Supplies and Business Expenses – The cost of items such as crayons, coloring books, paper plates, cups, cleaning supplies, and first aid supplies are also deductible in the year they are purchased. However, you need to keep receipts for all such purchases.

Food – You can also deduct the actual cost of any food that is provided to the children in your care. It can be a bookkeeping nightmare to keep track of which grocery items were purchased for the childcare business and which were for personal consumption. Luckily, the government allows a care provider to deduct standard meal rates in lieu of actual amounts. This method does not require you to keep grocery receipts, and the IRS will not contest a food deduction based on the standard rates. The rates are the same throughout the contiguous U.S. states, with higher allowances for Alaska and Hawaii.

Business Use of the Home – Generally, when a taxpayer claims a business deduction for the use of his or her home, the portion of the home that is used must be exclusively used for business purposes. Knowing that childcare providers do not use a specific space in the home 100 percent of the time, Congress added an exception related to the business’s licensing, certification, registration, or approval as a day care center or family/group care home under the provisions of any applicable state law. This exception applies only if the childcare owner or operator has applied for, been granted, or is exempt from such approval. In addition, the exception does not apply if the services performed are primarily educational or instructional in nature (e.g., musical instruction). However, the exception does apply if the services are primarily custodial, such that any educational, developmental or enrichment activities are only incidental to the custodial services. The services must be provided for adults age 65 or older, children, or other individuals who are physically or mentally incapable of caring for themselves.

When calculating the percentage use of a home for business, there are two factors: the space used to operate the day care business and the amount of time that the space is used to provide day care, including preparation and cleaning time.

There is also a simplified deduction method for the business use of a home; it may be useful for individuals who work from a home office, but it is generally unsuitable for a childcare business.

The deduction for the business use of a home is limited to gross income from the business. If that limit applies to you, any home mortgage interest and property taxes that you have paid, as well as any casualty losses that you have incurred for the year, are always deductible when you itemize deductions, regardless of whether you claim a deduction for the business use of the home.

If you have questions related to how any of these tax breaks apply to your childcare business, please give this office a call.

Tax Benefits for Parents

If you are a parent, whether single, married or divorced, there are a significant number of tax benefits available to parents, including deductions, credits, filing status and exemptions that can help put a dent in your tax liability.

Exemptions – Regardless of filing status, you receive a $4,050 income exemption for each of your qualifying children whom you claim as a dependent on your tax return. In the case of divorced or separated parents, the exemption is allowed to the custodial parent unless the custodial parent releases the exemption to the non-custodial parent. If you are the custodial parent, you can release the exemption on a year-by-year basis or for multiple years if you wish to do so. However, being unable to foresee the future means it is generally wiser to release the exemption annually. The exemption amount gradually decreases to zero once a certain income threshold is reached; this phase out generally applies to higher income taxpayers.

Child Tax Credit – If you have dependent children, you are also entitled to a nonrefundable tax credit of $1,000 for each child under the age of 17 at the close of the year. The term “nonrefundable” means the credit can only be used to offset any tax liability you may have, and the balance of the credit is lost. If you are not filing jointly with the child’s other parent and have released the exemption to that parent, then you will not qualify for the child tax credit for that child. In addition, this credit also phases out for higher income taxpayers. For lower income parents, a portion of the child tax credit, which is normally nonrefundable, can become refundable.

Earned Income Tax Credit – The earned income credit benefits lower income parents based upon your earned income, filing status (either married filing jointly or unmarried) and the number of qualifying children you have up to three. The credit for 2017 can be as much as $6,318, and better yet, the amount not used to offset your tax liability is fully refundable. This credit is phased out for higher income filers, and those with investment income of more than $3,450 for 2017 aren’t eligible.

Head of Household Filing Status – The tax code provides a special filing status – head of household – for unmarried and separated taxpayers. The benefit of head of household filing status is that it provides lower tax rates and a higher standard deduction than the single status ($9,350 as opposed to $6,350 for a single individual in 2017). If you are an unmarried parent and you pay more than one-half the cost of the household for yourself and your child, you qualify for this filing status. Even if you are married, if you lived apart from your spouse the last six months of the year and pay more than one-half the cost of the household for yourself and your child, you qualify for this filing status.

Childcare – Many parents who work or are looking for work must arrange for care of their children. If this is your situation, and your children requiring care are under 13 years of age, you may qualify for a nonrefundable tax credit that can reduce your federal income taxes.

The childcare credit is an income-based percentage of up to $3,000 of qualifying care expenses for one child and up to $6,000 of qualifying care expenses for two or more children. The allowable expenses are also limited to your earned income, and if you are married, both you and your spouse must work and the limit is based upon the earned income of the spouse with the lower earnings. The credit percentages range from a maximum of 35% if your adjusted gross income (AGI) is $15,000 or less to 20% for an AGI of over $43,000.

If your employer provides dependent care benefits under a qualified plan that pays your child care provider either directly or by reimbursing you for the expenses, or your employer provides a day care facility, you may be able to exclude these benefits from your income. Of course, the same expenses aren’t eligible for both tax-free income and the child care credit.

Education Savings Plans – The tax code provides two plans to save for your children’s future education. The first is the Coverdell Education Savings Account, which allows non-deductible contributions of up to $2,000 per year. The earnings on these accounts are tax-free provided the amounts withdrawn from the accounts are used to pay qualified expenses for kindergarten and above. Coverdell contributions will phase out for higher income taxpayers beginning at an AGI of $190,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly and half that amount for other taxpayers.

A second plan, called a Qualified Tuition Plan (sometimes referred to as a Sec 529 plan), allows individuals to gift large sums of money for a family member’s college education while continuing to maintain control of the funds. The earnings from these accounts grow tax-deferred and are tax-free if used to pay for college tuition and related expenses.

Contributions to these plans are not limited to the child’s parents and can be made by virtually anyone, although if not the parents, then typically it is the grandparents who fund the accounts.

Education Credits – If you are a parent with a child or children in college, don’t overlook the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC). It provides a tax credit equal to 100% of the first $2,000 of qualified tuition and related expenses and 25% of the next $2,000 for each child who was enrolled at least half time. Better yet, 40% of the credit is refundable. This credit is good for the first four years of post-secondary education.

There is a second education credit called the Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC) that provides a nonrefundable tax credit equal to 20% of up to $10,000 of qualified tuition and related expenses. Unlike the AOTC, which is allowed per student, the LLC is calculated on a per-family basis with a maximum credit of $2,000 but is not limited to the first four years of post-secondary education.

You don’t even have to pay the expenses to get the credits. The credits are allowed to the person claiming the exemption for the child. So if the child’s grandparent, uncle, aunt or even an ex-spouse or the child’s other parent pays the tuition, you still get the credit as long you claim the child as your dependent.

Student Loan Interest – Generally, personal interest you pay, other than certain mortgage interest, isn’t deductible on your tax return. However, there is a special deduction, up to $2,500 per year, allowed for interest paid on a student loan (also known as an education loan) used for higher education. You don’t have to itemize deductions to take advantage of this deduction, but you must have paid the interest on a loan taken out for your own or your spouse’s education or that of a dependent. So if you were legally obligated to pay the loan for one of your children who was your dependent when the loan was taken out, you may be able to claim this deduction, even if the child is no longer your dependent.

The student must have been enrolled at least half-time, and the loan must have been taken out solely to pay qualified higher education expenses. The lender can’t be a related person. This deduction phases out if your AGI is more than $65,000 ($130,000 if filing a joint return) and isn’t allowed if you use the married filing separate status.

Child’s Medical Expenses – If you itemize deductions, the unreimbursed medical expenses you pay for your dependents are counted for figuring your total medical expenses. This is true for both parents even if they do not file together as long as one of them is able to claim the child as a dependent.

If you have questions related to any of these tax benefits, please give this office a call.

Don’t Overlook Standard Mileage Rate Add-Ons

Business owners often use the standard mileage rate instead of actual expenses when taking a deduction for the business use of their vehicle, but don’t overlook standard mileage rate add-ons. The standard mileage rate is determined annually by the IRS by using data from a study conducted by an independent contractor of vehicle operating expenses based on the prior year’s costs. The operating expenses include:

  • Gasoline,
  • Oil,
  • Lubrication,
  • Repairs,
  • Vehicle registration fees,
  • Insurance, and
  • Straight line depreciation (or lease payments).

What business owners using the standard mileage rate frequently overlook is that parking and tolls, as well as state and local property taxes paid for the vehicle and attributable to business use, may be deducted in addition to the standard mileage rate.

Regardless of whether the standard mileage rate or actual expense method is used, a self-employed taxpayer may also deduct the business use portion of interest paid on an auto loan on their Schedule C. However, employees may not deduct interest paid on a consumer car loan.

If you have questions related to taking a tax deduction for the business use of your vehicle, please give this office a call.


New Business? First-Year Deduction Strategies

If you are planning a new business start-up and are incurring some expenses, you probably anticipate deducting those expenses in the first year of the business’s operation. Unfortunately it is a little more complicated than that. Expenses a business incurs in the beginning can include equipment purchases, vehicle purchases and use, leasehold improvements, organizational costs and start-up expenses, and each receives a different tax treatment.

  • Equipment – The equipment you buy can’t be deducted until it is placed in service. For that reason, you can’t make any equipment deductions until the business is actually functioning. However, deductions for most equipment purchases are very liberal. For most small businesses, this means the entire cost of equipment and office furnishings can generally be written off in the year of purchase, if that is also the year when the equipment is put into service, using the Sec 179 expensing election. However, the deductible amount is limited to taxable income from all the taxpayer’s active trades or businesses (including a spouse’s active trades or businesses if married and filing jointly). Income from trades also includes W-2 income. Sometimes it may not be appropriate to write off the entire cost in the first year, in which case the equipment can be depreciated over its useful life (according to recovery periods established by the IRS). Most office furniture, fixtures and equipment are assigned a 7 year recovery period, but the depreciable period for computers is 5 years. The recovery period of equipment may vary depending on the type of business activity. There is also a 50% bonus depreciation election for the first year the equipment is placed in service.
  • Vehicles – Automobiles and small trucks that are purchased for use by the business are treated like equipment, as above, except their recovery period is 5 years and they are subject to the so-called luxury auto rules. These rules limit the depreciation to a maximum of $3,160 ($3,560 for light trucks and vans) for the first year. If bonus depreciation is elected, add $8,000 to the first-year maximum.
  • Leasehold Improvements – Generally, leasehold improvements are depreciated over 15 years. But through 2019, bonus depreciation may be elected, allowing between 30% and 50% of the cost of interior qualified improvements to non-residential property after the building is placed in service to be deducted in the first year. In addition, the Sec 179 expense deduction is allowed for qualified leasehold property, qualified restaurant property and qualified retail improvements.
  • Start-Up Costs – Taxpayers can elect to deduct up to $5,000 of start-up costs in the first year of a business. However, the $5,000 amount is reduced by the amount of the start-up costs in excess of $50,000. If the election is made, the start-up costs over and above the first-year deductible amount are amortized over 15 years. If the election is not made, the start-up costs must be capitalized, meaning the expenses can only be recovered upon the termination or disposition of the business. Start-up costs include:
    • Surveys/analyses of potential markets, labor supply, products, transportation, facilities, etc.;
    • Wages paid to employees, and their instructors, while they are being trained;
    • Advertisements related to opening the business;
    • Fees and salaries paid to consultants or others for professional services; and
    • Travel and related costs to secure prospective customers, distributors and suppliers.
  • Organizational Expenses – If the new business involves a partnership or corporation, the business can elect to deduct up to $5,000 of organization expenses in the first year of a business. This is in addition to the election for start-up expenses. Like start-up expenses, the $5,000 amount is reduced by the amount of the start-up costs in excess of $50,000. If the election is made, the start-up costs over and above the first-year deductible amount are amortized over 15 years. If the election is not made, the start-up costs must be capitalized. Organizational expenses include outlays for legal services, incorporation fees, temporary directors’ fees and organizational meeting costs, etc.

The foregoing is an overview of some of the expense issues in a business’s first year. As you can see, major decisions and elections need to be made that can have a lasting impact on the new business. You are encouraged to consult with this office for additional details and assistance in preparing a tax plan for your planned new business.

Deducting More Than $250 for Teachers’ Classroom Supplies

Many devoted teachers spend a significant amount of their own money on classroom supplies. Recognizing this, several years ago, Congress created a special deduction for teachers that would allow them to annually deduct up to $250 on their tax returns for classroom supplies—even if they don’t itemize their deductions. This type of deduction is termed an “above-the-line” deduction, and it is available even for taxpayers who claim the standard deduction.

Those who teach kindergarten through grade 12 are eligible for the special $250 deduction. In addition to teachers, those eligible include counselors, principals, and aides who work at least 900 hours during a school year. Because of the 900-hour requirement, many substitute teachers do not qualify for this above-the-line deduction.

However, most conscientious teachers spend far more than $250 for classroom supplies every year. What are the options for teachers who spend more than the $250 on classroom supplies or for teachers and other qualified individuals who do not meet the 900-hour test or other requirements to deduct the $250 above the line?

When eligible, teachers should always claim the above-the-line deduction first; then, they should consider the following possibilities for the excess amount. This advice may also help colleagues who are ineligible for the above-the-line deduction.

Employee Business Expense – One option is to claim expenses for classroom supplies beyond the $250 deduction as employee business expenses, which can be used as a miscellaneous itemized deduction. To claim employee business expenses, the teacher must itemize his or her deductions, which eliminates any benefit for those who use the standard deduction instead of itemizing (usually because the standard allowance is more than the total itemized deductions).

Even for those who itemize, miscellaneous itemized deductions are only deductible to the extent that they exceed 2% of the teacher’s adjusted gross income (AGI), so the deductible amount might be wiped out or substantially limited by the AGI reduction. In addition, if the teacher is subject to the alternative minimum tax, some or all of the employee business expense deduction will not be allowed.

Charitable Contribution – According to the tax code, the term “charitable contribution” refers to a contribution or gift for the use of a state, the United States itself, or the District of Columbia—or any political subdivision of any of the foregoing—but only if the contribution or gift is made for exclusively public purposes.

Since public schools are part of a political subdivision of a state, any contribution to a school, in either cash or goods, would be a charitable contribution.

Therefore, a teacher’s classroom supplies, if the teacher properly documents them and if the school provides a written acknowledgment, would qualify as a noncash charitable contribution. Caution: Supplies or equipment that the teacher retains are not considered a completed gift, and their cost does not qualify as a charitable contribution. For example, if a science teacher purchases a microscope that students use in the classroom, but the teacher then keeps it for personal use when the school year ends, the cost of the microscope would not be deductible as a charitable contribution.

To meet the requirements for noncash contributions, the teacher claiming the contribution must obtain and keep an acknowledgment from the school; the contents of this acknowledgement are based upon the value of the contribution claimed, as detailed below. The acknowledgment must be in the taxpayer’s possession before he or she files a return for the year in which the contribution was made, or before the due date (including extensions) for filing that return, whichever is earlier.

Deductions of Less Than $250 – These acknowledgments must include

  1. the name of the charitable organization,
  2. the date and location of the charitable contribution, and
  3. a reasonably detailed description of the property.

Deductions of at Least $250 but Not More Than $500 – These acknowledgments must include

  1. the name of the charitable organization,
  2. the date and location of the charitable contribution,
  3. a reasonably detailed description (but not necessarily the value) of any property contributed, and
  4. whether the qualified organization gave the taxpayer any goods or services as a result of the contribution (other than certain token items and membership benefits).

If the taxpayer received goods and/or services in return, the acknowledgement must also include a description and good-faith estimate of their value. (The portion of the donation attributable to the goods and services that the taxpayer received is not deductible.)

Deductions Over $500 but Not Over $5,000 – A taxpayer claiming a deduction over $500 but not over $5,000 for a noncash charitable contribution must have the same acknowledgement and written records as for the contributions described in the previous section (for donations of at least $250 but not more than $500). In addition, the records must include

  1. how the property was obtained (for example, by purchase, gift, bequest, inheritance, or exchange);
  2. the approximate date when the property was obtained or (if created, produced, or manufactured by the taxpayer) substantially completed; and
  3. the cost or other basis (and any adjustments to that basis) of property held for less than 12 months and (if available) the cost or other basis of property held for 12 months or more.

Deductions Over $5,000 – There are additional requirements for noncash contributions of this size, including certified appraisals. However, the details are not included here.

If you have additional questions related to deducting classroom supplies, please give this office a call.