On December 20, 2019, President Trump signed into law the Appropriations Act of 2020, which included a number of tax law changes, including retroactively extending certain tax provisions that expired after 2017 or were about to expire, a number of retirement and IRA plan modifications, and other changes that will impact a large portion of U.S. taxpayers as a whole. This article is one of a series of articles dealing with those changes and how they may affect you.
For tax years 2007 through 2017, when taxpayers itemized deductions, they could deduct the cost of premiums for mortgage insurance on a qualified personal residence as home mortgage interest.
This deduction has been retroactively extended back to 2018 and through 2020. If you paid premiums for mortgage insurance in 2018 or were amortizing prepaid mortgage insurance premiums from an earlier year’s home purchase, you may be able to amend your 2018 return for a tax refund.
Looking back a few years, a taxpayer who had higher education expenses could generally take advantage of four* possible tax benefits: an itemized deduction if the education was job-related, a higher education tuition and expenses tax credit using either the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) or the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit (LLC), or an above-the-line deduction for higher education tuition and fees. However, the 2017 tax reforms did away with the itemized deduction through 2025, and Congress allowed the above-the-line deduction for higher education tuition and fees to expire at the end of 2017, leaving only the two education credits as options.
As part of the Appropriations Act of 2020, Congress has retroactively reinstated the above-the-line deduction for 2018 through 2020.
People often say that an expense is “a tax write-off”; most everyone interprets this to mean that the expense will have a tax benefit. Generally, such a benefit takes the form of either a deduction or a credit; these benefits’ effects are quite different, however, and each type has various categories. As a result, the tax implications may not be as expected. This is especially true when the write-off claim comes from a salesperson who is touting the tax benefits of a product or service, as such individuals often leave out key details. In general, a deduction reduces taxable income, whereas a credit reduces the tax itself.
“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. One of the following must apply to be able to deduct home office expenses. The home office:
Must be the taxpayer’s main place of business. OR
Must be a place of business where the taxpayer meets patients, clients or customers. The taxpayer must meet these people in the normal course of business. OR
Must be in a separate structure that is not attached to the taxpayer’s home. The taxpayer must use this structure in connection with their business. OR
Must be a place where the taxpayer stores inventory or samples. This place must be the sole, fixed location of their business. OR
Under certain circumstances, must be where the taxpayer provides day-care services.
Generally, except when used to store inventory, an office area must be used on a regular and continuing basis and be exclusively restricted to the trade or business (i.e., no personal use).
Because people are living longer now than ever before, many individuals are serving as care providers for loved ones (such as parents or spouses) who cannot live independently. Such individuals often have questions regarding the tax ramifications associated with the cost of such care. For these individuals, the cost of such care may be deductible as a medical expense.
Tax reform eliminated the deduction for casualty losses but did retain a deduction for losses within a disaster area. With the wild fires in the west, hurricanes and flooding in the southeast and eastern seaboard we have had a number of presidentially declared disaster areas this year. If you were an unlucky victim and suffered a loss as a result of a disaster, you may be able to recoup a portion of that loss through a tax deduction. If the casualty occurred within a federally declared disaster area, you can elect to claim the loss in one of two years: the tax year in which the loss occurred or the immediately preceding year.
If you are a business owner who is accustomed to treating clients to sporting events, golf getaways, concerts and the like, you were no doubt saddened by the part of the tax reform that passed last December that did away with the business-related deductions for entertainment, amusement or recreation expenses, beginning in 2018. You can still entertain your clients; you just can’t deduct the costs of doing so as a business expense.
While the ban on deducting business entertainment was quite clear in the revised law, a lingering question among tax experts has been whether the tax reform’s definition of entertainment also applied to business meals, such as when you take a customer or business contact to lunch. Some were saying yes, and others no. Either way, both sides recommended keeping the required receipts and documentation until the issue was clarified.
The IRS recently issued some very business-friendly guidance, pending the release of more detailed regulations. In a notice, the IRS has announced that taxpayers generally may continue to deduct 50 percent of the food and beverage expenses associated with operating their trade or business, including business meals
It is quite common for teachers to spend their own money on classroom supplies – so common, in fact, that a few years back, Congress created a special deduction that allowed teachers to deduct up to $250 above-the-line for classroom supplies. “Above-the-line” means the deduction can be claimed whether or not the taxpayer itemizes their deductions. Although the $250 amount is subject to an inflation adjustment, there has been no increase to the limit, at least through 2018.
Eligible educators are those who work in a school as teachers of kindergarten through grade 12, instructors, counselors, principals, or aides for 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.
But $250 is not much, and even if the teacher is in a tax bracket as high as 24% (most are in lower brackets), the deduction will only net them a tax savings of $60. A $60 tax savings is nothing to write home about, and the $250 special deduction was nothing more than a token gesture by Congress. Many conscientious teachers spend far more than $250 for classroom supplies every year.
Taxpayers with higher 1040 taxable incomes who are self-employed but are not “specified service businesses” may find it beneficial to structure new businesses, or restructure an existing business, as an S corporation to avoid taxable income limitations that apply to the new 20% Sec. 199A pass-through deduction.
To make up for the tax reform’s reduction of the C corporation tax rate to 21%, from which other forms of business activities do not benefit, Congress created a new deduction and code section: 199A. The 199A deduction is for taxpayers with other business activities – such as sole proprietorships, rentals, partnerships and S corporations – since, unlike C corporations, which are directly taxed on their profits, the income from the other business activities flows through to the owner’s tax return and is taxed at the individual level, i.e., at the individual’s tax rate, which can be as high as 37%.
One major difference between being an employee and being self-employed is how you deduct the expenses you incur related to your work. A self-employed individual is able to deduct expenses on his or her business schedule, while an employee is generally limited to deducting them as itemized deductions.
That means self-employed individuals benefit by deducting their expenses directly on their business schedule, which can then result in a reportable business loss if the expenses exceed their business income.