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Home Office Deduction Rules Get a Remodel

If you run a business out of your home, it's important to understand the associated federal income tax deductions that you might be entitled to. That's especially true this year, with new rules that make it easier than ever for some to claim a deduction.

What's a home office?

A home office is generally a room in your home, a portion of a room in your home, or a separate building next to your home (such as a converted garage or barn) that you use to conduct business activities. In order to deduct associated expenses, though, certain requirements apply.

Basic requirements

Your home office must be used regularly and exclusively as your principal place of business, or as a place where you meet or deal with clients, patients, or customers, in the normal course of your business. If you have a business outside your home, but conduct substantial administrative and management tasks for your business at home (e.g., billing clients, keeping books and records) you may qualify, provided that you have no other fixed location where you could conduct these activities.

The portion of your home used for business purposes (i.e., your home office) must be usedexclusively for business purposes. You will not qualify for a deduction if the portion of your home is also used for personal purposes. There are two exceptions, however, relating to the storage of inventory and product samples, and the use of part of your home as a day-care facility.

Separate structures

What if your home office is in a separate unattached structure next to your home, like a shed or garage? In this case, the office doesn't have to be your principal place of business, or a place where you regularly meet with clients. However, to qualify for the deduction, you must use that office regularly and exclusively in connection with your trade or business.

Employees can claim deduction

If you're an employee and use part of your home for business, you may qualify for the home office deduction. You'd have to meet all other requirements (i.e., your home office must be used regularly and exclusively as your principal place of business), and in addition, your home office must be for the convenience of your employer. You also can't have an arrangement in which you're renting that portion of your home to your employer.

Regular method of determining allowable deduction

Under this method, you determine your actual expenses relating to your home office. Deductible expenses can include both direct expenses and indirect expenses. Direct expenses are costs that apply only to your home office, like the cost of a second telephone line used exclusively for your business.

Indirect expenses are costs that benefit your entire home. Only the business portion of your indirect expenses is deductible as part of the home office deduction (even if you don't claim a home office deduction, some of these indirect expenses may be deductible as itemized deductions on Schedule A of Form 1040). Some examples of indirect costs include rent, deductible mortgage interest, real estate taxes, and homeowners insurance. The business percentage of your home is determined by dividing the area exclusively used for business by the total area of the home. For example, if your home is 2,000 square feet and your home office is 200 square feet, your business percentage is 10% (200 divided by 2,000). In such a case, if you rent your home, you can deduct 10% of your rent as part of your home office deduction.

New simplified option available

Starting in 2013, a new simplified option is available for calculating the home office deduction. Under this method, instead of determining and allocating actual expenses, you calculate the home office deduction by simply multiplying the square footage of the home office by $5. There's a cap of 300 square feet, so the maximum deduction available under this method is $1,500. You can't use this method if you are an employee with a home office and receive advances, allowances, or reimbursements for expenses related to the business use of your home under an expense or reimbursement allowance with your employer.

Each year, you can choose whether to use the regular or simplified method of calculating the deduction. If you use the simplified method in one year, and in a later year use the regular method, special rules will apply in calculating your allowable depreciation deduction. Additionally, if you are carrying forward an unused deduction from a prior year (because your business deduction exceeded your business income in a prior year), you will not be able to claim the deduction in any year in which you use the simplified method--you'll have to wait for the next year you use the regular method to claim the unused deduction.