We’re a nation of freelancers and remote workers and it’s common for business owners to work out of their homes or apartments. In 2019, 57 million freelanced in the U.S., which means many people will want to deduct their home office on their taxes.
You may have heard that this kind of deduction is only for homeowners, but you can also use it as a renter. If you work from home, you may be able to use the deduction, as long as you meet the qualifications. The IRS doesn’t specify that you must own your home. Rentals work, too.
What to know about qualifications for home office deductions
There are two primary qualifications to take this deduction. Your home office must be your principal place of business and be used exclusively for your business.
1. Your home office must be your principal place of business
As the IRS puts it, the space must be used “substantially and regularly” for business. Often, simply meeting clients at your home as a normal course for business satisfies this rule.
You may still work elsewhere, such as a co-working space or a local coffee shop. Just make sure that your home office is your primary place of business.
2. Your home office must be used exclusively for business
You can’t use your home office space for any other purpose. You can, however, still work in other areas of your home, or even in a local coffee shop.
But just because you meet clients in your living room doesn’t mean you can deduct your living room. It also means that bringing your business laptop into your kitchen doesn’t make your kitchen count, either. That also means you may only store business items in your home office.
However, your home office doesn’t need to be separated from another room. If you use a corner of your living room exclusively for business, you may still deduct that corner even if there aren’t any doors to separate it.
3. If you’re not self-employed, you can still deduct your home office
Good news if you’re employed by a company. You may still get a home office deduction even if you work for a company and are not self-employed.
You must meet the previous requirements listed above, but your home office must be for your employer’s convenience. This means working from home is:
- A requirement for employment at your company
- Necessary for the employer’s business to run properly
- Necessary for you to do your job properly
Generally speaking, you would meet the requirements if your company didn’t provide an office for you or if you had some other business reason for you to work at home. Also, you must pay for all of your expenses. If your employer pays for your rent, for example, you may not deduct that rent.
You most likely won’t meet the requirements for a home office deduction if you have an outside office provided for you but you choose to take work home with you.
Calculating your deduction
When reporting your deduction with the IRS, you have two options: the simplified method or the regular method. You can use either method, any year. But once you choose a method for a particular year, you may not change mid-year.
If you don’t have the best record-keeping or live in a low-rent area, you may wish to choose the simplified method. Your deduction is then $5 per square foot dedicated to your home office.
For instance, let’s say your home office is 200 square feet. Your deduction is then 200 times $5 or $1,000.
Note: You may not deduct more than 300 square feet with the simplified method. So, if your office is 500 square feet, your deduction is only 300 times $5 or $1,500.
If you have a large office, are diligent about bookkeeping and pay a large amount in rent, you may want to use the regular method. The regular method also allows you to deduct depreciation and carryover losses.
With the regular method, your deduction is based on the percentage of your apartment you use for business.
Let’s say your apartment is 1,000 square feet, and your home office is 200 square feet. That means 20 percent of your home is office space (200/1000). Then, if your yearly rent and other expenses total to $8,000, you may deduct $2,000 ($8,000 x 20 percent). Again, this can include depreciation.
Mistakes to avoid for home office deductions
Beyond the qualifications mentioned above, there are other things you need to be careful with when trying to deduct your home office this year. This biggest mistakes are:
1. Not keeping proper documentation
If you take the home office deduction, make sure you document how your home office qualifies and to justify your expenses. Make sure your documentation clearly shows your office is used exclusively for business. Expenses may include things like utilities, including a landline phone and Wi-Fi.
2. Not separating your home office if it’s in a shared room
If your home office is located in another room, arrange your furniture to separate it from the rest of the room. That will help you create a clearly defined space that you can use on your taxes. Without that separation, it may be harder to justify that the area is used solely for business.
To help illustrate this point, in 2001, a San Francisco-based psychologist tried to use the deduction for her small apartment. However, because the home office was also the main pathway through the apartment, she wasn’t able to get the deduction and it did not hold in court.
3. Using your office for other work
If you’re both employed and self-employed, make sure to not use your home office for your employed work.
Unless you can show you can still take the deduction as an employee, using your home office for both types of work violates the exclusivity requirement.
4. Not taking the deduction
The deduction can save you hundreds or thousands of dollars in taxes each year. Be sure to ask your CPA or learn how to learn how and where to take the home office deduction.
Tax codes have changed
For the first time in more than 30 years, the U.S. Tax Code changed significantly from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. This left many with fewer taxes to pay, but others with substantially larger taxes. Talk to your CPA to find out how the tax code changes affect you and your deductions.