7 Things to Know Before Taking a Work From Home Tax Deduction

Working from home is great, but it often comes with surprise expenses. Here are 11 tax deductions you can’t afford to overlook.

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Your Guide to Claiming a Legit Home Office Tax Deduction

I’d bet that on just about every city block or long country road, someone is operating a business from their residence. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, about 50 percent of businesses are home-based, with a larger percentage (60 percent) working as solopreneurs with no employees.

Having a home-based business is one of the easiest and least risky ways to become an entrepreneur, test your business ideas, and increase your income. No matter if you run a business full-time or as a side gig, claiming the home office deduction can significantly reduce your taxes.

No matter if you run a business full-time or as a side gig, claiming the home office deduction can significantly reduce your taxes.

I received an email from John, who says, “My New Year's resolution is to earn more money working during my off-hours and on weekends. Since the work will likely entail making deliveries for different mobile apps, I’m not sure if it qualifies me for the home office tax deduction. Can you explain more about it?”

Thanks for your great question, John! In this post, I’ll give an overview of the home office deduction. You’ll learn who qualifies, which expenses are deductible, and how to legitimately claim this money-saving tax break no matter what type of business you have.

Who can claim the home office tax deduction

If you work for yourself in any type of trade or business, either full- or part-time, and your primary office location is your home, you have a home business. The designation applies no matter whether you sell goods and services, are a freelancer, consultant, designer, inventor, Uber driver, or dog-walker.

If you work for yourself in any type of trade or business, either full- or part-time, and your primary office location is your home, you have a home business. 

You can have a home-based business even if you’re like John and mostly earn income away from home. This is common for many trades and solopreneurs, such as musicians, sales reps, and those working in the gig economy. If you’re self-employed and do administrative work like scheduling, invoicing, communication, and recordkeeping at home, you have a home business.

Note that employees who work from home can’t claim a home office deduction. W-2 workers used to be allowed to include certain expenses if they itemized deductions. But tax reform took away that benefit starting with the 2018 tax year.

The home office deduction is available for any self-employed person no matter whether you own or rent your home, with the following two requirements:

  1. Your home office space is used regularly and exclusively for business
  2. Your home office is the principal place used for business

You must regularly use part of your home exclusively for conducting business. For example, if you use a guest room in your house or a nook in your studio apartment to run your business, you can take a home office deduction for the space.

You don’t need walls to separate your office, but it should be a distinct area within your home. The only exception to this “exclusive use” rule is when you use part of your home for business storage or as a daycare. In these situations, you can consider the entire space an office for tax purposes.

Additionally, your home must be the primary place you conduct business, even if it’s just the administrative work you do. For example, if you meet with clients or do work for customers away from home, you can still consider the area of your home used exclusively for business as your home office.

Your home doesn’t have to be the only place you work to qualify for the deduction. You might also work at a coffee shop or a co-working space from time to time.

You could also consider a separate structure at your home, such as a garage or studio, your home office if you use it regularly for business. Also, note that your home doesn’t have to be the only place you work to qualify for the deduction. You might also work at a coffee shop or a co-working space from time to time.

RELATED: How to Cut Taxes When You Work From Home

Expenses that are eligible for the home office tax deduction

If you run a business from home, two types of expenses are eligible for the home office deduction: direct expenses and indirect expenses.

Direct expenses are the costs to set up and maintain your office. For instance, if you work in a spare bedroom, you might decide to install carpet and window treatments. These expenses are 100 percent deductible, no matter the size of the office.  

Indirect expenses are costs related to your office that affect your entire home. They’re partially deductible based on the size of your office as a percentage of your home. 

For renters, your rent, renters insurance, and utilities are examples of indirect expenses. You’d have these expenses even if you didn’t have a home office.

For homeowners, you can't deduct the principal portion of your mortgage payment, which is the amount borrowed for the home. Instead, you’re allowed to recover a part of the cost each year through depreciation deductions, using formulas created by the IRS.

Other indirect expenses typically include mortgage interest, property taxes, home insurance, utilities, and maintenance. Allowable indirect expenses actually turn some of your personal expenses into home office business deductions, which is fantastic!

Allowable indirect expenses actually turn some of your personal expenses into home office business deductions, which is fantastic!

However, expenses that are entirely unrelated to your home office, such as remodeling in other parts of your home or gardening, are never deductible. So, your ability to deduct an expense when you’re self-employed depends on whether it benefits just your office (such as carpeting and wall paint) or your entire home (such as power and water).

Also, remember that business expenses unrelated to your home office—such as marketing, equipment, software, office supplies, and business insurance—are fully deductible no matter where you work.

How to claim the home office tax deduction

If you qualify for the home office deduction, there are two ways you can calculate it: the standard method or the simplified method.

The standard method requires you to determine the percentage of your home used for business. You divide the square footage of the area used for business by the square footage of your entire home.

For example, if your home office is 12 feet by 10 feet, that’s 120 square feet. If your entire home is 1,200 square feet, then diving 120 by 1,200 gives you a home office space that’s 10 percent of your home. That means 10 percent of the qualifying expenses of your home can be attributed to business use, and the remaining 90 percent is personal use. If your monthly power bill is $100 and 10 percent of your home qualifies for business use, you can consider $10 of the bill a business expense.

To claim the standard deduction, use Form 8829, Expenses for Business Use of Your Home, to figure out the expenses you can deduct and then file it with Schedule C, Profit or Loss From Business.

The simplified method allows you to claim $5 per square foot of your office area, up to a maximum of 300 square feet. So, that caps your deduction at $1,500 (300 square feet x $5) per year.

The simplified method truly is simple because you don’t have to do any record-keeping, just measure the space and include it on Schedule C. It works best for small home offices, while the standard method is better when your office is larger than 300 square feet. You can choose the method that gives you the biggest tax break for any year.

But no matter which method you choose to calculate a home office tax deduction, you can’t deduct more than your business’ net profit. However, you can carry them forward into future tax years.

As you can see, claiming tax deductions for your home office can be complicated. I recommend that everyone who’s self-employed use a qualified tax accountant to maximize both home office and business tax deductions.

Yes, professional advice costs money. But it’s well worth it, and it usually saves money in the long run when you know how to take advantage of every legit tax deduction.

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How to Get Your Kid Started With Investing

Kid learning the basics of investing

My daughter recently lost $80 in her bedroom. It’s just gone. One theory is that we accidentally donated it to Goodwill, since she had stored it in an old book and we’d been clearing out a lot of junk. But it got me thinking: What would be a better place to keep money she’s not using?

She’s been bringing in some respectable allowance earnings with the chores she’s taken on recently. Plus, she always receives some money for birthdays, and she doesn’t spend much. Maybe an investment account?

While the investing rules are a little different for minors compared to adults, it’s not hard to get your child started investing. Even if they only make a little money, the experience may encourage them to start investing for retirement early in adulthood, which can set them up for life. Here’s how to show your kid the basics of investing.

Determine what kind of account to set up

Children can set up savings, checking, or brokerage accounts using the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA) or the Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA). All they need is an adult (presumably you) to sign on as the account’s custodian. This means you have to approve what your child does with the money until your kid is of age, which is 18 or 21, depending on what state you live in. Because the funds or investments in a UTMA legally belong to your child, once they’re in this account, they can only be spent for your child’s benefit. You can’t deposit $100 in your child’s UTMA account and later decide you want it back or transfer it to another child.

Setting up a UTMA account is much like setting up any other account. You can walk into a bank or credit union and open one for your child by filling out some paperwork and showing your identification, or you can go online to sign up for one with a firm such as Vanguard.

Your child could also set up a UTMA 529 savings plan. The 529 is a college savings vehicle that has tax advantages, but also comes with restrictions on how it can be spent. More on that below.

Aside from a traditional brokerage account, your child could also try a micro-investing account, since they’re likely to be starting with a small amount of money. You can set up a custodial account through Stash or Stockpile — in fact, Stockpile even works with BusyKid, an app that helps families track kids’ chores and pay their allowances digitally.

Besides an investment account, you may also need to open a checking or money market UTMA for your child and link it to the brokerage account, as a way to fund the brokerage account and a place to receive dividends and other proceeds.

Unless they have earned income from working, your kids can’t set up a traditional or Roth individual retirement account. (See also: 9 Essential Personal Finance Skills to Teach Your Kid Before They Move Out)

Figure out what investment vehicles to use

Once their account is set up, kids have access to the same investment products that adults do, such as mutual funds, individual stocks, or exchange-traded funds. Which products they choose depends on their interests, how much money they have to start with, and how actively they wish to invest.

A child who is interested in following one or more companies in the news and making active investment choices may want to buy individual stocks. Look for a brokerage firm with no minimum initial deposit (or a low one) and low trade fees. While this is a concrete and exciting way to start understanding the stock market, make sure that kids understand that for the long haul, many financial advisers recommend investing in funds over individual stocks.

If your child doesn’t have any individual companies in mind, but would like to invest in the market as a whole, a mutual fund such as an S&P 500 index fund is a great way to go. Good ones have low expenses, meaning that your kid gets to keep more of his/her investment. Unfortunately, mutual funds do tend to require minimum investments. For instance, to buy shares in Charles Schwab’s often-recommended S&P 500 index fund, you need to open a Schwab brokerage account with a $1,000 initial deposit. However, there is one way around that: You can also open a Schwab account with a $100 deposit — but you have to deposit an additional $100 each month until the account has a $1,000 balance.

Your child could also buy exchange-traded funds, which work a lot like mutual funds but tend to have lower minimum investments.

Another way to get started with a small initial investment is to use one of the micro-investing apps mentioned above, which split one share of stock or of an ETF and sells the investor a fraction of it. These apps can make getting started very simple for young kids by characterizing investments by category. In exchange for making things this simple for you, these services usually charge a monthly fee; Stash’s is $1 per month.

While your child could also opt to invest in Treasury bonds or certificates of deposit, at today’s low interest rates, this probably wouldn’t be a very exciting way for them to learn about investing.

What about taxes?

Does your child have to pay taxes on their investment gains? Do they have to file their own tax return? The answer to both questions is, "It depends."

If your child’s investment income is less than $1,050, don’t worry about it; you don’t need to report this to the Internal Revenue Service. If the child’s investment income is less than $12,000, the parent can opt to report it on their own tax return, or file a separate return for the child. At more than $12,000, you have to file a tax return for your child.

What rate will your kid pay? Unearned income up to $2,100 will get taxed at between 0 percent and 10 percent, depending on what kind of income it is. After that, your child’s unearned income will be taxed at your rate, no matter if you file separately or together. So don’t imagine that you can save a bundle on taxes by transferring all your investment accounts to your kids — the IRS caught on to that gambit years ago.

If your child chose to put their money in a UTMA 529 plan, they never have to pay federal taxes (and generally not state taxes either) on the earnings, as long as they spend it on qualifying educational expenses, such as tuition and textbooks.

Will investing hurt their chances of getting college aid?

It’s important to note that when it’s time to apply for college financial aid, assets in the child’s name count against them more than assets in the parents’ name. Unless you’re sure your family won’t qualify for financial aid — and outside of the 1 percent, that’s not usually something you can be sure of in advance — encourage your child to choose shorter-term goals for their investment account. They could choose a goal of anything from buying a new Lego set, to a week of sleep-away camp, to their first car.

Again, putting their investments in a 529 plan changes the situation a bit. Even if the child is the account owner, the financial aid officers consider assets in a 529 account a parental asset. This is great, because only about 5 percent of parental assets count against financial aid eligibility, compared to 20 percent of student assets in a non-529 UTMA account.

If your student does invest college savings in their own name, have them spend their own money first before you tap into a 529 plan or any other savings you are holding for their education.

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Want to know how to get your kid started with investing? It’s a great way to help your children make money for the future. For personal finance tips here's how to show your kid the basics of investing! | #investing #personalfinance #moneymatters


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