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If you’re an employee of a company and you work from home, you’re amongst a group that’s growing in size. Today, millions of employees work remotely or telecommute. And historically, one of the added benefits for working at home was your ability to take tax write-offs on a home office in your tax return (among several other deductions).

But sadly, you can’t do this anymore. That’s right. In case you missed the news, this perk went away a couple of years ago. As a salaried employee, you used to be able to take deductions for specific job-related expenses. But that ended in 2018.

So since the 2018 tax year, any sort of employee expenses that are not reimbursed by your organization are not tax-deductible. And as mentioned, individuals who work from home have become associated with a big chunk of the workforce. That said, this has a big impact.

So where do you turn?

In this article, I’ll lay out exactly what has changed, what you should know, and how to best manage your unreimbursed expenses. Let’s first start with the biggest disappointment – the home office deduction.

What’s Changed With the Home Office Deduction?

Before the tax reform bill that came in 2018, you could deduct employee-related business expenses. This included any home business office expenses (assuming you were a staff member who telecommuted). However, the new income tax law removes miscellaneous itemized tax deductions for employees.

This means expenses your company doesn’t pay for are no longer offered as tax deductions if you’re a telecommuting worker. This includes the home office deduction. Some other things you can no longer deduct include:

  • Materials and equipment needed for the job
  • Business-relevant travel and meal costs
  • Expenses for schooling
  • Professional licensing costs
  • Professional society dues

Can Anybody Take the Home Business Office Deduction Anymore Then?

The quick response is yes. The good news is that the write off wasn’t COMPLETELY wiped out. But it’s only in effect for self-employed people.

Also, you can find a select number of employed staff members who may be qualified to take a home business office deduction for any expenditures that weren’t reimbursed by their company.

Some examples are remote personnel that have specific job expenses linked to impairments, government officials (either state or local) that are fee-based, those involved with the Armed Force reserves, and some types of artists.

For people who fit into this little group, you’ll also have to show your remote working costs are an ordinary expense (meaning, it can’t be an over-the-top version of what you need), accrued or paid for in the current tax year, and completely essential to do the job.

State Taxes as a Remote Worker

Your state regulations may not be the same as the federal income tax legislation in how they tax remote workers – adding to the confusion. Also, they may have a different means of considering employee earnings and income tax deductions (including the home office deduction).

Usually, workers who operate remotely are going to pay income tax in the state where they perform their job. As an example, if you live in Pennsylvania and work at home, but your company is based in Ohio, the company should have their company registered in Pennsylvania, and your W-2 will show income taxes withheld from Pennsylvania.

If you aren’t sure which state you should pay your taxes to or what deductions you’re allowed to take, I would recommend you contact both a tax professional as well as your company’s human resources department. HR will undoubtedly help, but they’re not necessarily tax professionals.

Taxable Earnings as a Remote Worker

It’s equally important to know that the new income tax legislation may affect your taxable income–your state taxable earnings are similar to federal tax. While some states use their definition, the majority of states use the federal adjusted gross income as a base for taxable earnings.

Even the states that start with federal AGI make adjustments. AGI is calculated by using your gross earnings and subtracting the adjustment.

Also, this most recent tax law has changed other components of your tax return. Because of this, the impact of losing the ability to deduct unreimbursed expenses for work will be different for everyone.

Contractor or Employee?

Are you aware of whether you’re an independent service provider or an employee who works remotely? In case you don’t know, you absolutely should. Be sure that you have an understanding of the main difference between someone who has a home-based company and being an employee who telecommutes (i.e., works remotely).

It sounds like a no-brainer, but to spell it out, an employee is somebody that works directly for the employer. Alternatively, an independent contractor operates separately from the customer.

To be more specific, if you get a form 1099-MISC at the outset of the year for any earnings the prior year, you’re viewed as an independent contractor. Alternatively, when you get a W-2 every year in addition to a regular paycheck (including income tax withholding), you’re an employee.

The IRS is the one that decides if you’re a contractor or employee. There are three different things they look at during their determination:

  1. Whether the business and staff member possesses a written contract or employee benefits and if the job is often a vital aspect of the business
  2. Whether or not the business controls or has the right to control precisely what the staff member does when they do the job, as well as how the employee is performing their job
  3. Whether the company controls employee compensation, reimbursed expenditures, and supplies tools and materials

It’s important to remember that the IRS is going to make its determinations on an individual basis. They take a look at the total worker-to-organization connection, not merely one element. Now, if you happen to be an independent contractor, you’ll file Schedule C with your taxes. This form permits you to deduct business-related expenses, which ultimately lessens your tax bill.

Some Other Strategies for Remote Workers

Save Receipts and Be Thorough

Keep correct records for any business expenses you claim as a deduction. The IRS advises using a written logbook in the event questions arise relating to the deductions, but you can also just keep track of this information on your computer (try Mint, Personal Capital, or Quicken).

You should also keep evidence of payment for all tax-related expenses. This could mean a canceled check, itemized sales receipt, or bank statement. Note that if you pay in cash, your receipt needs to have the payee’s name, the amount, and the date of the transaction. Personally, I’d avoid using cash for business expenses, though.

Track Your Travel

In case you’re utilizing your car for business-relevant travel, or perhaps you cover meals and accommodations using your own funds, you might get an income tax deduction. First off, keep in mind you can’t write off any business expense your workplace already repaid or is going to repay.

However, one little hack to know about is the mileage write-off. In case your organization only refunds a part of the basic business mileage rate, you’re able to deduct any extra amount to each mile. So if your company gives you 50% of the mileage, you can write-off the other 50%. In case this is happening a lot, I would talk to a tax professional, considering this could get dicey in exactly how you’re calculating mileage.

Always be Mindful of Limitations

If you have business expenses to deduct, you’ll report all of them in Form 2106–Employee Business Expenses–and also attach it to your Form 1040. The tax-deductible expenses coming from Form 2106 are inserted on Line 21 of Schedule A, Itemized Deductions. Obviously, if you use great tax software, this will be done for you automatically.

You can’t write off unreimbursed employee expenses if you don’t itemize your deductions. Also, employee expenses become part of the “miscellaneous deductions” and are subject to a 2% floor. That denotes that only amounts in excess of 2% of your adjusted gross income may be written off.

This can get complicated, so let me provide you an example. Say your adjusted gross income is $150,000 and your overall miscellaneous deductions are $10,000. You can write off just $7,000, because 2% of $150,000 is $3,000, and only the total in excess of that is tax-deductible. Again, in case you have this type of scenario, it may be more ideal to simply consult with a professional.

Comparing the Best Tax Software Programs

SoftwareFederal eFile CostBest For
TurboTax$0 to $150Those who want extra guidance and advice while filing, along with an easy-to-use interface.
H&R Block$0 to $139.99Those at a higher risk of being audited, since they offer free in-person audit support.
TaxAct$0 to $74.95Those who want to save money but still need some guidance on taxes.
TaxSlayer$0 to $47Those who are confident in filing their taxes and want to save as much as possible.
FreeTaxUSA$0 to $6.99Those who want to save money when filing taxes more than anything else.
eSmart Tax$44.95 - $89.95Those who want to save but also have the security and backing of a trusted company.
e-File$0 to $34.95Those who have more complex tax situations but still want to save money.

Bottom Line

Taxes for remote workers can get super complex, so I always recommend talking to a tax professional if you have a lot of work-related expenses as a remote worker. Unfortunately, most of the tax benefits you used to get are no longer available, so you have to make sure you’re tracking everything meticulously so you can make the most out of your tax return.

Author Bio

Total Articles: 126
Chris has an MBA with a focus in advanced investments and has been writing about all things personal finance since 2015. He’s also built and run a digital marketing agency, focusing on content marketing, copywriting, and SEO, since 2016.

Article comments

4 comments
David S says:

The Schedule C is if you are running your own business to report profit and loss. You want schedule A (line 21) for unreimbursed business expenses and to itemize your deduction.

Standard Disclaimer when talking about taxes or other legal issues:
BTW I am not a tax attorney nor do I play one on TV. This suggestion is solely for entertainment purposes only. Please see your tax attorney for any tax related questions.

Good advice to those who might qualify. A couple additional thoughts.

If you are trying to qualify your home office as an employee, try to obtain a letter from your employer. Letter should say something to the effect that the use of your home is for their convenience and necessary for your work with the company. That letter will help support your position if you are audited.

Also, please be aware that the unreimbursed employee expense deduction on Schedule A will not save you any Federal income tax if you are subject to alternative minimum tax (AMT).

I think tax deductions for home-based workers is a great initiative. It may serve as that extra incentive to skip the morning commute, which cuts down a lot in our pollution. Plus, for the worker, it cuts down on time lost commuting!

Carol says:

I work for the airlines, taking a pay cut to work at home. I come in once a month for a team meeting but cant return to the office unless there is space as they have hired so many people to work in office. They provide the equipment, I provide everything else. As a W2 with this being my primary source of income I can’t figure out what form to use. Is there an income phase out etc.