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.

Big Business Write-Offs Available

With the enactment of the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act, Congress made two significant business-friendly changes in the tax law, extending bonus depreciation and making the Section 179 deduction’s higher expensing amount permanent. This article examines these changes so that you can take full advantage of them in your trade or business.

Section 179 Deduction – This provision allows a business owner or entity to immediately expense, rather than capitalize (depreciate), the cost of new or used tangible property—both personal property and certain real property—placed in service during the tax year. The maximum amount is adjusted annually for inflation and is $500,000 for 2016. However, based on Code Section 179, the maximum amount is reduced dollar-for-dollar by the cost of property placed in service during the tax year in excess of $2,010,000 (for 2016; this is also inflation-adjusted annually).

The PATH Act also dealt with the option to revoke the Section 179 election without the consent of the IRS, making it permanent as well; however, once an election is made and revoked, it becomes irrevocable.

In addition, the PATH Act permanently allows the ability to apply Section 179 expensing to off-the-shelf computer software and qualified real property, which is defined as qualified leasehold or restaurant property and retail improvements. In addition, the $250,000 expense limitation and the carryover limitations have been removed. Finally, air conditioning and heating units are eligible for expensing after December 31, 2015.

Bonus Depreciation – Although the PATH Act did not make bonus depreciation permanent, it extended it through 2019 by slowly phasing it out by reducing the bonus percentage. Bonus depreciation allows businesses to take a depreciation deduction in the first year that the property, which must be acquired new, is placed in service. This depreciation can be for as much as 50% in the years 2012 through 2017 before phasing out in 2018 and 2019; it will no longer be available after 2019 without further Congressional action. The following are the bonus depreciation percentage rates through 2019:

  • 50% through 2017,
  • 40% for 2018 and
  • 30% for 2019.

Bonus depreciation generally applies to property with a class life of no more than 20 years. It also applies to:

  • Qualified leasehold property (qualified interior improvement to nonresidential property after the building is placed in service).
  • Certain fruit- or nut-bearing plants planted or grafted before January 1, 2020.

Luxury Automobile Rates – Bonus depreciation also impacts the first-year deduction for automobiles and small trucks; in the past, this has added $8,000 to the first-year allowable deduction. Now that the bonus depreciation is being extended and phased out, so is the bonus allowance for automobiles and small trucks. Thus, the luxury auto rates will increase based on the following bonus depreciation rates:

  • 2015 through 2017 – $8,000
  • 2018 – $6,400
  • 2019 – $4,800

If you need assistance regarding strategies for your business’s use of the Section 179 expense deduction or bonus depreciation, please call this office.

Can You Deduct Employee Expenses?

If you are an employee, you may be curious about which expenses relating to your employment are deductible on your tax return. This is a complicated area of tax law, and many expenses are deductible only if the expense is a “condition of employment” or is for the “convenience of the employer,” two phrases that are effectively the same.

Deducting Employee Expenses

In addition, other factors affect an employee’s ability to deduct expenses incurred as part of employment:

  1. If an employer would have paid for or reimbursed the employee for an expense, but the employee chooses not to apply for or take advantage of that reimbursement, the employee cannot take a tax deduction for the expense.
  2. Only those employees who itemize their deductions can benefit from business expense deductions. Thus, if you are using the standard deduction, you cannot receive any tax benefit for your job-related expenses. In addition, even when itemizing, miscellaneous itemized deductions must be reduced by 2% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Employee business expenses fall into the miscellaneous itemized deduction category. As an example: if your AGI is $80,000, the first $1,600 (2% x AGI) of your miscellaneous deductions provide no benefit.
  3. Miscellaneous deductions are not included in the itemized deductions allowed for computing the alternative minimum tax (AMT). Thus, if you are unlucky enough to be subject to the AMT, you will not benefit from your miscellaneous deductions for the extent of the AMT.

The following includes a discussion of the various expenses that an employee might feel they are entitled to deduct and the IRS’s requirements for those deductions.

  • Home Office – An employee can deduct a home office only if his or her use of the home office is for the convenience of the employer. According to the U.S. Tax Court, an employee’s use of a home office is for the convenience of his employer only if the employee must maintain the home office as a condition of employment. In an audit, the auditor will require a letter from the employer to verify that fact. Most employers are reluctant to make a home office a condition of employment due to labor laws and liability. In addition, an employee would also have to comply with the IRS’s strict usage requirements for home offices.
  • Computer – An individual’s property, such as computers, TVs, recorders, and so on, that is used in connection with his or her employment is eligible for expense or depreciation deductions only if that property is required for the convenience of the employer and as a condition of employment. Even if the condition of employment requirement is satisfied, a computer’s usage must be prorated for personal and business use.
  • Uniforms and Special Work Clothes – The cost and maintenance of clothing is allowed if:(1) The employee’s occupation is one that specifically requires special apparel or equipment as a condition of employment and(2) The special apparel or equipment isn’t adaptable to general or continued usage (so as to take the place of ordinary clothing).Generally, items such as safety shoes, helmets, fishermen’s boots, work gloves, oil clothes, and so on are deductible if required for a job. However, other work clothing and standard work shoes aren’t deductible—even if the worker’s union requires them.
  • Education – To qualify as job-related, courses must maintain or improve the skills required by the employee’s trade or business (such as by helping the employee to meet professional continuing education requirements) or be required as a condition of employment. However, these courses must not be necessary to meet the minimum requirements of the job and must not qualify the employee for a new trade or promotion. If a course meets this definition, its cost is considered deductible as an ordinary and necessary business expense, and as such, it may be excluded from an employee’s income if the employer reimburses the employee for its cost. Note: Some education expenses may qualify for more beneficial education credits or an above-the-line-deduction.
  • Impairment-Related Work Expenses – Taxpayers who have a physical or mental disability that limits their activities can deduct impairment-related work expenses. For example, an allowable expense would be the cost of attendant care at the place of the taxpayer’s work.
  • Job-Search Expenses – Expenses related to looking for a new job in the taxpayer’s current occupation are deductible even if a new job is not obtained. To be deductible, the expenses cannot be related to seeking a first job or a job in a new occupation. If there is a substantial time gap between the taxpayer’s last job and the time when he or she looks for a new job, the expenses are not deductible.

Of course, all sorts of employee situations exist, including those in which the employee works at his or her local employer’s office and those in which the employee lives and works in a remote location. The deductions available to each employee vary significantly based upon that individual’s unique situation.

For more information related to employee expenses and what might be deductible in your situation, please give this office a call.

Not All Home Mortgage Interest Is Deductible

One of the current IRS audit initiatives is checking to see if taxpayers are deducting too much home equity debt interest. Generally, taxpayers are allowed to deduct the interest on up to $1 million of home acquisition debt (includes subsequent debt incurred to make improvements, but not repairs) and the interest on up to $100,000 of home equity debt. Equity debt is debt not incurred to acquire or improve the home. Taxpayers frequently exceed the equity debt limit and fail to adjust their interest deduction accordingly.

The best way to explain this interest deduction limitation is by example. Let’s assume you have never refinanced the original loan that was used to purchase your home, and the current principal balance of that acquisition debt is less than $1 million. However, you also have a line of credit on the home, and the debt on that line of credit is treated as equity debt. If the balance on that line of credit is $120,000, then you have exceeded the equity debt limitation and only 83.33% ($100,000/$120,000) of the equity line interest is deductible as home mortgage interest on Schedule A. The balance is not deductible unless you can trace the use of the excess debt to either investment or business use. If traceable to investments, the interest you pay on the amount traceable would be deductible as investment interest, which is also deducted on Schedule A but is limited to an amount equal to your net investment income (investment income less investment expenses). If the excess debt was used for business, you could deduct the interest on that excess debt on the appropriate business schedule.

Alternatively, the IRS allows you to elect to treat the equity line debt as “not secured” by the home, which would allow the interest on the entire equity debt to be traced to its use and deducted on the appropriate schedule if deductible. For instance, you borrow from the equity line for a down payment on a rental. If you make the “not secured” election, the interest on the amount borrowed for the rental down payment would be deductible on the Schedule E rental income and expense schedule and not subject to the home equity debt limitations.

However, one of the rules that allows home mortgage interest to be deductible is it must be secured by the home, and if the unsecured election is used, none of the interest can be traced back to the home itself. So, for example, if the equity line was used partly for the rental down payment and partially for personal reasons, the interest associated with the personal portion of the loan would not be deductible since you elected to treat it as not secured by your home.

Using the unsecured election can have unexpected results in the current year and in the future. You should use that election only after consulting with this office.

Generally, people not familiar with the sometimes complicated rules associated with home mortgage interest believe the interest shown on the Form 1098 issued by their lenders at the end of the year is fully deductible. In many cases when taxpayers have refinanced or have equity loans, that may be far from the truth and could result in an IRS inquiry and potential multi-year adjustments. In fact, for Forms 1098 issued after 2016 (thus effective for 2016 information), the IRS will be requiring lenders to include additional information, including the amount of the outstanding mortgage principal as of the beginning of the calendar year, the mortgage origination date and the address of the property securing the mortgage, which will provide the IRS with additional tools for audits.

When in doubt about how much interest you can deduct or if you have questions about how refinancing or taking on additional home mortgage debt will impact your taxes, please call this office for assistance.

All You Need to Know about the New Tax Extender Legislation

Congress has reached a bipartisan agreement on tax extenders, aptly named “Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015”. Much to everyone’s surprise, some were made permanent while others were only extended for a period of time. Congress also modified several provisions and added new ones to reduce tax fraud. Here is a look at some of the key provisions included in the legislation that pertain to individuals, small businesses, and certain energy-related provisions:

INDIVIDUAL PROVISIONS:

  • Child Credit – This credit was made permanent; it provides a $1,000 credit for each dependent child who is under the age of 17 at year’s end, who lived with the taxpayer for over half of the year and who meets the relationship test. The credit phases out for higher-income taxpayers, and a portion of the credit is refundable for lower-income taxpayers. The changes also include program integrity provisions that prohibit an individual from retroactively claiming the child credit by amending a return (or filing an original return if he or she failed to file) for any prior year in which the individual for whom the credit is claimed did not have an ITIN – generally a Social Security number). After 2015, when a taxpayer improperly claims the credit, the legislation includes a disallowance period when no credit is allowed. For fraud, the disallowance period is 10 years, and for reckless or intentional disregard of rules and regulations, the disallowance period is 2 years.
  • American Opportunity Credit (AOTC) – This credit, which was due to expire after 2017, has been made permanent. This is a tax credit equal to 40% of the cost of tuition and qualifying expenses for higher education, with a maximum credit of $2,500. The credit applies to 100% of the first $2,000 and 25% of the next $2,000 of qualifying expenses. The credit offsets any tax liability, and 40% of the credit is refundable even if the taxpayer does not have any tax liability. It also phases out between $160,000 and $180,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly and between $80,000 and $90,000 for others – except for married taxpayers filing separately, who get no credit.After 2015, when a taxpayer improperly claims the credit, the legislation includes a disallowance period when no credit is allowed. For fraud, the disallowance period is 10 years, and for reckless or intentional disregard of rules and regulations, the disallowance period is 2 years.A provision was added that prohibits an individual from retroactively claiming the AOTC by amending a return or filing a late original return for any prior year when the individual or a student for whom the credit is claimed did not have an ITIN (generally a Social Security number).
  • Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) – The EITC is a refundable credit allowed to certain low-income workers who have W-2 wages and self-employed income. The credit is larger for taxpayers with children. The credit for taxpayers with children is based upon the number of children; those with three or more children receive the highest credit – as much as $6,269 in 2015. The higher credit for three or more children, which was a temporary provision that was set to expire after 2017, has been made permanent.The changes also include added program integrity provisions that prohibit an individual from retroactively claiming the AOTC by amending a return (or filing an original return if the individual failed to file) for any prior year in which the individual for whom the credit is claimed did not have an ITIN (generally a Social Security number). The changes also reduced the marriage penalty by increasing the income phase-out for those filing jointly.
  • Teachers’ $250 Above-the-Line Deduction – This provision, which was available from 2002 through 2014, allows teachers and other eligible educators (levels kindergarten through grade 12) to take an above-the-line deduction of up to $250 for unreimbursed expenses incurred as part of their educational work. This deduction has been made permanent and modified by adjusting the $250 for inflation in years after 2015. In addition, professional development expenses were added to the qualified expenses allowed as part of the $250 deduction.
  • Transit Pass & Parking Fringe Benefit Parity – From 2010 through 2014, the monthly exclusion amount for employer-paid transit passes and qualified parking were temporarily the same. The parity of these two fringe benefits has been made permanent. Thus, for 2015 they will both be $250.
  • Optional Deduction of State and Local General Sales Taxes – Since 2004, taxpayers who itemized their deductions have had the option to deduct the Larger of (1) state and local income tax paid during the year, or (2) state and local sales tax paid during the year. This provision, which had been previously extended through 2014, provides the greatest benefit to those taxpayers who reside in a state that has no income tax (which include Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming). This election has been made permanent.
  • Above-the-Line Deduction for Qualified Tuition and Related Expenses – This above-the-line deduction for qualified higher education tuition and related expenses had been available from 2002 through 2014. The deduction includes adjusted gross income (AGI) limitations; it is not allowed for joint filers with an AGI of $160,000 or more ($85,000 for other filing statuses). This deduction has been retroactively extended through 2016.
  • Tax-Free IRA Distributions For Charitable Purposes – This provision was temporarily added in 2004 and originally expired in 2011; it was not extended until late in the year during the years 2012, 2013 and 2014, thus limiting its application in those three years. The provision allows taxpayers age 70.5 and over to directly transfer (not rolled over) funds from their IRA accounts to a qualified charity. The distribution is not taxable, but it does count toward the individuals’ required minimum distribution (RMD) for the year. The maximum allowable transfer is $100,000 per year. No charitable deduction is allowed, as the distribution is not taxable. This provision has been made permanent; it provides four potential tax advantages:
    1. The distribution is not included in income, thus lowering the taxpayer’s AGI, which in turn helps to avoid various AGI phase-outs and limitations.
    2. Keeping the AGI lower also helps to minimize the amount of Social Security income that is subject to tax for some taxpayers.
    3. Taxpayers using the standard deduction cannot get a charitable deduction, but they are essentially deducting the charitable deduction from their gross income when making contributions this way.
    4. The transferred distribution counts towards the taxpayer’s RMD for the year.
  • Discharge of Qualified Principal Residence Indebtedness – When an individual loses his or her home to foreclosure, abandonment or short sale or has a portion of his or her loan forgiven under the HAMP mortgage reduction plan, that person generally will end up with cancellation of debt (COD) income. COD income is taxable unless the taxpayer can exclude it. A taxpayer can exclude the COD income in the extent that he or she is insolvent (with debts exceeding assets immediately before the event occurs) using the insolvency exclusion.Due to the housing market crash, in 2007, Congress added the qualified principal residence COD exclusion, which allowed taxpayers to exclude COD income to the extent that it was discharged acquisition debt. Acquisition debt is debt originally incurred to acquire a home or substantially improve it – not debt used for other purposes, which is called equity debt. However, equity debt is deemed to be discharged first, thus limiting the exclusion when both equity and acquisition debt are involved in the transaction.The qualified principal residence COD exclusion had been previously extended but had expired at the end of 2014. This exclusion has been retroactively extended through 2016 (a two-year extension).
  • Mortgage Insurance Premiums – For tax years 2007 through 2014, taxpayers could deduct (as an itemized deduction) the cost of premiums for qualified mortgage insurance on a qualified personal residence (first or second home). To be deductible, the premiums must have been related to acquisition debt incurred after Dec. 31, 2006. However, this deduction phases out for higher-income taxpayers (generally those whose AGI exceeds $100,000). This provision, which had expired after 2014, has been retroactively extended through 2016, a two-year extension.

BUSINESS PROVISIONS:

  • Research Credit – Tax law provides a tax credit of up to 20% of qualified expenditures for businesses that develop, design or improve products, processes, techniques, formulas or software (and similar activities). The credit has been available off and on since 1981 without being made permanent. It had been extended several times but had expired at the end of 2014. This credit has been retroactively made permanent. In addition, it is not a tax preference for small businesses.
  • 100% Exclusion of Gain – Certain Small Business Stock – Previously, for stock issued after September 27, 2010, and before January 1, 2015, non-corporate taxpayers could exclude 100% of any gain realized on the sale or exchange of “qualified small business stock” held for more than 5 years. In addition, there was no alternative minimum tax (AMT) preference when the exclusion percentage was 100%. Generally, the term “qualified small business” means any domestic C corporation with assets of $50 million or less. This provision has been made permanent.
  • Differential Wage Payment Credit – Through 2014, eligible small business employers – generally those that have an average of fewer than 50 employees and that pay a individual called into active duty military service all or part of the wages that they would have otherwise received from the employer – can claim a credit. This differential wage payment credit is equal to 20% of up to $20,000 of differential pay made to an employee during the tax year. This credit has been retroactively made permanent; for years after 2015, the credit will apply to any size employer.
  • Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) – Through 2014, employers could elect to claim a WOTC for up to 40% of employees’ first-year wages for hiring workers from targeted groups – not exceeding wages of $6,000 (a maximum credit of $2,400). First-year wages are wages paid during the tax year for work performed during the one-year period beginning on the date when the employee begins work for the employer. This credit has been retroactively extended for five years through 2019; it applies to veterans and non-veterans and adds qualified long-term unemployment recipients to the list of targeted groups for years after 2015.
  • Section 179 Election – Since 2003, the Section 179 election has been temporarily increased from its statutory limit of $25,000 to between $100,000 and $500,000. Since 2010, the expense cap has been $500,000 (or $250,000 on a married-filing-separate tax return), and the investment limit has been $2 million. However, the last extension expired after 2014; without an extension, the cap would have returned to the statutory $25,000 limit in 2015. The statutory expensing limit of $500,000 and the $2 million investment limit have both been made permanent.The application of the Section 179 election to “off-the-shelf” computer software, qualified leasehold improvements, qualified restaurant property and qualified retail improvements has also been made permanent.
  • Leasehold and Retail Improvements and Restaurant Property – The class life for qualified leasehold and retail Improvements and restaurant property had been temporarily included in the 15-year depreciation class life, as opposed to the 31-year category. Qualified leasehold and retail Improvements and restaurant property have been retroactively and permanently included in the 15-year MACRS class life.
  • Bonus Depreciation – As a means of stimulating the economy, a 50 percent bonus depreciation was temporarily implemented in 2008 and subsequently extended through 2014. For the period between September 8, 2010, and before January 1, 2012, it was even boosted to 100 percent. Bonus depreciation applies to personal tangible property placed in service during the year for which the original use began with the taxpayer.The 50% bonus depreciation has been extended for 2 years (through 2016) for property placed in service before January 1, 2017. This generally applies to property with a class life of 20 years or less, to qualified leasehold improvements and to certain plants bearing fruits and nuts that are planted or grafted before January 1, 2020.
  • Enhanced First – Year Depreciation for Autos and Trucks – This is the so-called “luxury limit” on the deprecation deduction of passenger automobiles and light trucks used for business. For such vehicles placed in service in 2015, the limits are $3,160 and $3,460, respectively. In the past, the bonus depreciation had increased the first-year luxury limits by $8,000. Under the new law, the bonus depreciation applicable to luxury vehicles will be phased out through 2019. Thus, the luxury auto rates will be increased by the following bonus depreciation rates: $8,000 for 2015 through 2017, $6,000 for 2018 and $4,800 for 2019.

ENERGY PROVISIONS:

  • Residential Energy (Efficient) Property Credit – From 2006 through 2014, a nonrefundable credit had been available for qualified improvements to make the taxpayer’s existing primary home more energy efficient. Qualified improvements generally included insulation, storm windows and doors certain types of energy-efficient roofing materials, and energy-efficient air conditioning and hot-water systems. The credit was equal to 10% of the improvement’s cost (not including installation), with a lifetime credit of $500. The credit has been retroactively extended through 2016 (two years).
  • Credit for Fuel-Cell Vehicles – Through 2014, a taxpayer could claim a credit for vehicles fueled by chemically combining oxygen with hydrogen to create electricity. Generally, the credit was $4,000 for vehicles weighing 8,500 pounds or less (and up to $40,000 for heavier vehicles, depending on their weight). An additional $1,000 to $4,000 credit was available for cars and light trucks to the extent that their fuel economy exceeded the 2002 base fuel economy set forth in the Internal Revenue Code. This credit has been retroactively extended for two years through 2016.

If you have questions related to these or other, less commonly encountered provisions of the new law (Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015), please give this office a call. Benefiting from these provisions for 2015 will require taking action before year’s end. Please call if you need assistance.