The home office deduction is one of the most significant tax benefits of running a small business out of your home. While the tax benefit often would be sufficient enough to prevent you from moving to a dedicated office space once the need arises, it should be taken advantage of until then. Many self-employed individuals tend to work from a home office in the beginning but often ignore the available tax deductions.
Like all tax deductions, there is some record-keeping involved to accurately claim your home office tax deduction. Most people turn to a home office deduction worksheet to simply the final calculations.
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You can make a copy of the excel sheet here.
The are two requirements to qualify for a home office deduction. First, you must use a portion of your home exclusively for conducting business on a regular basis. Second, your home must be your primary place of business.
The IRS has created six instances that meet the definition of "Exclusively conducting business" in a part of your home:
The IRS provided three guidelines to define what "home" means.
Make sure you meet these requirements as a lot of folks took advantage of this deduction when it was first rolled out. You don't want to risk a home office deduction audit by the IRS.
Expenses that can be included in the home office tax deduction are referred to as qualified expenses. Qualified expenses include any expenses for business use of your home. As a general rule, you cannot deduct expenses for parts of your home that are not used for business.
For example, if you host clients in your home, landscaping expenses are still not deductible because while landscaping may provide a more professional appearance for your home, it is not a portion of your home that is actually being used for business.
There are two ways you can calculate your deduction and choosing the right method is based entirely on your situation. The methods are referred to as the simplified option and regular method. Selecting the most appropriate method is based on how much your home you use for business and how much your annual home office business expenses are. This will not only determine the total available amount to deduct but also whether it is worth the effort required for the regular method.
The simplified home office deduction calculation is straightforward, easy to use, and requires minimal documentation. It was introduced for tax years starting on or after January 1, 2013 for this very reason. The regular method can be considered too cumbersome for small home-based businesses so many home-businesses found it less expensive to not take the deduction but also not pay for the additional record-keeping that was required.
It is important to keep in mind that choosing the simplified option does not change the criteria for how qualifies for the home office deduction in general.
The regular method uses your actual expenses to determine the applicable tax deduction amount. This means you will need to track the actual expenses of your home office which will include expenses such as your mortgage interest, insurance, utilities, general home repairs, and depreciation.
Along with tracking these expenses you will need to prorate the deductible amount based on what percentage of your home you used.
Tracking all of the applicable expenses can be taken care of within your current bookkeeping system regardless of whether you do it yourself in excel, use bookkeeping software, or hire someone to handle this for you. Like all tax deductions that require documentation, you will need to make sure to keep receipts of your expenses.
Note: if you need help tracking your actual expenses as well as discover more tax deductions, try Bonsai Tax. Our expense tracking app can stop you from leaving money on the table when tax season rolls around by helping you maximize your deductions. The majority of our users save at least $5,600 from their tax bill. Claim your 14-day free trial here.
If you are already keeping track of your expenses on your own then using a spreadsheet with all of the calculations built-in should be a straightforward process. If the spreadsheet has the necessary calculations built-in then are a few tax definitions worth remembering. As always, talking to a tax professional whenever you have questions is recommended. They can also double-check your work for you.
Make a copy of our free sheet here.
With the regular method, you will be tracking all of your home expenses and your home office-related deduction is based on the part of your home used for business purposes. To get started you must determine how much of your home is used for business.
If you use an entire room then you can take the square footage of your entire room to determine what percentage of your home is used for business. If you are only using part of a room then you can only use the portion of the room dedicated to business.
Since smaller areas, such as the square footage of desk space, can be relatively small those situations are often best served by using the simplified method. Either way, the calculation is the square footage of your dedicated office space divided by the total square footage of your house.
Ensuring this calculation is accurate is essential to a majority of the additional calculations required to claim this deduction.
To determine your allowable deduction it is essential to understand the difference between Direct Expenses and Indirect Expenses.
Direct expenses are expenses tied directly to your business. While it is a slight oversimplification the easiest way to think about direct expenses is by asking yourself this question - "Would I incur this household expense if I did not have a business?"
For example, if you have a dedicated business phone line then it is considered a direct expense. If you did not have a business, then you would not have a dedicated business phone line.
Indirect expenses are those which would exist even if you did not have a home business. For example, you will pay real estate taxes on your home and insurance on your home regardless of whether or not you operate a business out of it.
Understanding the distinction is important because you can typically deduct 100% of your direct expenses but your indirect expenses are prorated based on the percentage of your home used for business. If you pay $100 in real estate taxes and use 10% of your home for business purposes then your home office deduction in relation to your real estate taxes is $10 (10% of $100).
On the IRS form this section focuses on four expense categories: casualty losses, deductible mortgage interest, and real estate taxes. Most of time these will all be indirect expenses but there can be situations where there are direct casualty losses.
The next step is determining your deduction limit. There are clearly defined limitations on the amount your home office deduction. Your deduction limit is based on your gross business income. If you generate more gross business income than your total expense amount then you will be able to deduct all of your expenses. If your expenses exceed your gross income then you will not be able to deduct all of your expenses.
Similar to determining your allowable deduction, determining your deduction limit will include both direct and indirect expense calculations. The IRS has defined the following categories of expenses for this calculation: excess mortgage interest, excess real estate taxes, insurance, rent, repairs and maintenance, utilities, and other expenses.
When looking at the "other expenses" category remember this is for home office expenses only. This is not designed for all other business expenses. That is taken care of elsewhere on your tax return.
The final piece of your deduction limit is any carryover home office deductions from the prior year. Since your limit is tied to your gross business income there may be years are cannot take your full deduction. You don't lose your excess - it carries over to the next year.
The final portion of worksheet includes a few additional calculations but all of the information needed is either something you will already have from prior year tax returns or a one-time calculation. Your carryover information will be on your prior tax return. The depreciation of your home is a calculation using the MARCS depreciation table provided by the IRS.
If you dig into the calculations on the spreadsheet you will notice there are several built in calculations which input the lesser of two values. This is because several lines on the IRS form require the lesser of two or three variables to be entered into a line.
Deciding whether or not using a worksheet for your home office reimbursement is your best option there are several factors to consider.
A verbal contract (formally called an oral contract) refers to an agreement between two parties that's made —you guessed it— verbally.
Formal contracts, like those between an employee and an employer, are typically written down. However, some professional transactions take place based on verbally agreed terms.
Freelancers are a good example of this. Often, freelancers will take on projects having agreed on the terms and payment via the phone, or an email. Unfortunately, sometimes clients don't pull through on their agreements, and hardworking freelancers can find themselves out of pocket and wondering whether a legal battle is worth all the hassle.
The main differences between written and oral contracts are that the former is signed and documented, whereas the latter is solely attributed to verbal communication.
Verbal contracts are a bit of a gray area for most people unfamiliar with contract law —which is most of us, right?— due to the fact that there's no physical evidence to support the claims made by the implemented parties.
For any contract (written or verbal) to be binding, there are four major elements which need to be in place. The crucial elements of a contract are as follows:
Therefore, an oral agreement has legal validity if all of these elements are present. However, verbal contracts can be difficult to enforce in a court of law. In the next section, we take a look at how oral agreements hold up in court.
Most business professionals are wary of entering into contracts orally because they can difficult to enforce in the face of the law.
If an oral contract is brought in front of a court of law, there is increased risk of one party (or both!) lying about the initial terms of the agreement. This is problematic for the court, as there's no unbiased way to conclude the case; often, this will result in the case being disregarded. Moreover, it can be difficult to outline contract defects if it's not in writing.
That being said, there are plenty of situations where enforceable contracts do not need to be written or spoken, they're simply implied. For instance, when you buy milk from a store, you give something in exchange for something else and enter into an implied contract, in this case - money is exchanged for goods.
There are some types of contracts which must be in writing.
The Statute of Frauds is a legal statute which states that certain kinds of contracts must be executed in writing and signed by the parties involved. The Statute of Frauds has been adopted in almost all U.S states, and requires a written contract for the following purposes:
Typically, a court of law won't enforce an oral agreement in any of these circumstances under the statute. Instead, a written document is required to make the contract enforceable.
Contract law is generally doesn't favor contracts agreed upon verbally. A verbal agreement is difficult to prove, and can be used by those intent on committing fraud. For that reason, it's always best to put any agreements in writing and ensure all parties have fully understood and consented to signing.
Verbal agreements can be proven with actions in the absence of physical documentation. Any oral promise to provide the sale of goods or perform a service that you agreed to counts as a valid contract. So, when facing a court of law, what evidence can you provide to enforce a verbal agreement?
Unfortunately, without solid proof, it may be difficult to convince a court of the legality of an oral contract. Without witnesses to testify to the oral agreement taking place or other forms of evidence, oral contracts won't stand up in court. Instead, it becomes a matter of "he-said-she-said" - which legal professionals definitely don't have time for!
If you were to enter into a verbal contract, it's recommended to follow up with an email or a letter confirming the offer, the terms of the agreement , and payment conditions. The more you can document the elements of a contract, the better your chances of legally enforcing a oral contract.
Another option is to make a recording of the conversation where the agreement is verbalized. This can be used to support your claims in the absence of a written agreement. However, it's always best to gain the permission of the other involved parties before hitting record.
Fundamentally, most verbal agreements are legally valid as long as they meet all the requirements for a contract. However, if you were to go to court over one party not fulfilling the terms of the contract, proving that the interaction took place can be extremely taxing.
So, ultimately, the question is: written or verbal agreements?
Any good lawyer, contract law firm, or legal professional would advise you to make sure you formalize any professional agreement with a written agreement. Written contracts provide a secure testament to the conditions that were agreed and signed by the two parties involved. If it comes to it, a physical contract is much easier to eviden in legal circumstances.
Freelancers, in particular, should be aware of the extra security that digital contracts may provide. Many people choose to stick to executing contracts verbally because they're not sure how to write a contract, or they think writing out the contract terms is too complicated or requires expensive legal advice. However, this is no longer the case.
Today, we have a world of resources available at our fingertips. The internet is a treasure trove of invaluable information, platforms, and software that simplifies our lives. Creating, signing, and sending contracts has never been easier. What's more, you don't have to rely on a hiring a lawyer to explain all that legal jargon anymore.
There are plenty of tools available online for freelancers to use for guidance when drafting digital contracts. Tools like Bonsai provide a range of customizable, vetted contract templates for all kinds of freelance professionals. No matter what industry you're operating in, Bonsai has a professional template to offer.
A written contract makes the agreement much easier to prove the terms of the agreement in case something were to go awry. The two parties involved can rest assured that they're legal rights are protected, and the terms of the contract are sufficiently documented. Plus, it provides both parties with peace of mind to focus on the tasks at hand.
Bonsai's product suite for freelancers allows users to make contracts from scratch, or using professional templates, and sign them using an online signature maker.
With Bonsai, you can streamline and automate all of the boring back-office tasks that come with being a freelancer. From creating proposals that clients can't say no to, to sealing the deal with a professional contract - Bonsai will revolutionize the way you do business as a freelancer.
Why not secure your business today and sign up for a free trial?