Career and Work-Related Tax Deductions

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Whether you're an employee or self-employed, you may have work-related expenses you can deduct on your income tax return.

Business Deductions for Home Office

More people now work at home at least part of the time. If you work in your home, you may be able to take an employee expenses deduction or a business deduction for a home office.

You can only take a deduction for a home office if you use an area in your home regularly and exclusively for business. It must be your principal place of business or a place you meet with clients, or it can be used in connection with your business if it is a separate structure not attached to your personal residence, such as a shop.

With the simplified option, you can deduct $5 per square foot (up to 300 square feet and with a $1,500 limit). This option greatly reduces time spent on paperwork and tracking expenses.

If you are an employee, the use of the home office must also be for your employer's convenience - not yours.

If you can deduct expenses for a home office, you can deduct a proportionate amount of all indirect expenses for your home, including mortgage interest, real estate taxes, rent, utilities, and so on.

If you are using the simplified method of reporting the deduction, you list these deductions on Schedule A, but you do not need to allocate them to business or personal use. Unlike the regular reporting method, the simplified option does not allow you to depreciate the portion of your home used to conduct your business.

Employee Expenses

If you are an armed forces reservist, qualified performing artist, fee-basis state or local government official, or an employee with impairment-related work expenses, you may also be able to deduct unreimbursed travel and transportation costs, supplies, uniforms, and other expenses. Employee expenses must be significant before they actually lower your tax bill.

Self-Employed Expenses

If you are self-employed, you can deduct your ordinary and necessary expenses for your trade or business. Some expenses, such as the cost of inventory or business equipment, may not be deductible in full in the year you pay them. TaxAct asks you questions about your inventory expenses to calculate your deductible cost of goods sold. TaxAct also calculates depreciation or first-year expensing for business assets you acquire.

If you pay people in the course of your business, it's important to correctly determine if they are independent contractors, or if they are really employees.

The IRS uses common law rules to determine if a worker is an employee or an independent contractor. Revenue Ruling 87-41 contains 20 of these rules you should take into consideration.

According to these rules, a person is likely to be an independent contractor if he or she requires little training, and has latitude over how the job is completed. An independent contractor is more likely to have a temporary relationship, to provide tools and supplies, and to work for more than one company.

A person is likely to be an employee if he or she is an integral part of the business and works only for one company. If an employee has travel or other expenses, the employer is more likely to reimburse them. Employees generally have set work hours and work on the employer's premises.

It's easier to write a check to independent contractors, rather than dealing with the paperwork that comes with hiring employees. However, it's important to classify employees or contractors correctly, to avoid reclassification by the IRS. If the IRS reclassifies a worker at some later date, you will be liable for back payroll taxes, plus penalties and interest.

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