Optional Safe Harbor Method for Claiming Home Office Deduction for 2013

On January 15, 2013, the IRS today announced a simplified option for claiming home office deduction (i.e. deduction for the business use of a home). The new optional deduction, capped at $1,500 per year based on $5 a square foot for up to 300 square feet, will reduce the paperwork and recordkeeping burden on small businesses by an estimated 1.6 million hours annually.

Background Information

Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 280A generally deals with the tax treatment of home office expenses. Generally, IRC Section 280A(a) disallows any deduction for expenses related to a dwelling unit that is used as a residence by the taxpayer during the taxable year. However, Provisions 280A(c)(1) through (4) allow a deduction for expenses related to certain business or rental use of a dwelling unit, subject to the deduction limitation in § 280A(c)(5).

Section 280A(c)(1) permits a taxpayer to deduct expenses that are allocable to a portion of the dwelling unit that is exclusively used on a regular basis (A) as the taxpayer’s principal place of business for any trade or business, (B) as a place to meet with the taxpayer’s patients, clients, or customers in the normal course of the taxpayer’s trade or business, or (C) in the case of a separate structure that is not attached to the dwelling unit, in connection with the taxpayer’s trade or business.

Section 280A(c)(2) permits a taxpayer to deduct expenses that are allocable to space within the dwelling unit used on a regular basis for the storage of inventory or product samples held for use in the taxpayer’s trade or business of selling products at retail or wholesale, if the dwelling unit is the sole fixed location of the trade or business.

Section 280A(c)(3) permits a taxpayer to deduct expenses that are attributable to the rental of the dwelling unit or a portion of the dwelling unit.

Section 280A(c)(4) permits a taxpayer to deduct expenses that are allocable to the portion of the dwelling unit used on a regular basis in the taxpayer’s trade or business of providing day care for children, for individuals who have attained age 65, or for individuals who are physically or mentally incapable of caring for themselves.

Optional Safe Harbor Method

After recognizing that Section 280A(c)(1) imposes a substantial compliance burden on taxpayers (and, perhaps, with the desire to cut its own enforcement costs), the IRS decided to provide for the very first time a new method of calculating home office deductions – the optional safe harbor method.

Under this safe harbor method, taxpayers determine their allowable deduction for business use of a residence by multiplying a prescribed rate (currently set at $5 per square foot) by the square footage of the portion of the taxpayer’s residence that is used for business purposes (“allowable square footage”). The allowable square footage is the portion of a home used in a “qualified business use” of the home, but not to exceed 300 square feet.

“Qualified Business Use” is a term of art. Under the Rev. Proc. 2013-13, this term means (1) business use that satisfies the requirements of § 280A(c)(1), (2) business storage use that satisfies the requirements of § 280A(c)(2), or (3) day care services use that satisfies the requirements of § 280A(c)(4) (see above).

The safe harbor method provided by this revenue procedure does not apply to an employee with a home office if the employee receives advances, allowances, or reimbursements for expenses related to the qualified business use of the employee’s home under a reimbursement or other expense allowance arrangement (as defined in § 1.62-2) with his or her employer.

Note that the current restrictions on the home office deduction, such as the requirement that a home office must be used regularly and exclusively for business and the limit tied to the income derived from the particular business, still apply under the new option.

Advantages and Disadvantages of the New Optional Safe Harbor Method

The new option provides eligible taxpayers an easier path to claiming the home office deduction. Currently, they are generally required to fill out a 43-line form (Form 8829) often with complex calculations of allocated expenses, depreciation and carryovers of unused deductions. Taxpayers claiming the optional deduction will complete a significantly simplified form.

The new option does not affect business expenses unrelated to the home (such as advertising, supplies and wages paid to employees). Such expenses are still fully deductible.

The down side of the new option is that the homeowners cannot depreciate the portion of their home used in a trade or business. However, they can still claim allowable mortgage interest, real estate taxes and casualty losses on the home as itemized deductions on Schedule A. These deductions need not be allocated between personal and business use, as is required under the regular method.

A taxpayer using the safe harbor method for a taxable year cannot deduct any depreciation (including any additional first-year depreciation) or § 179 expense for the portion of the home that is used in a qualified business use of the home for that taxable year. The depreciation deduction allowable for that portion of the home for that taxable year is deemed to be zero.

Switching the Methods

The election of whether to use safe harbor method is made on a annual basis. Therefore, in one year, a taxpayer may use the safe harbor method, while the next year he can choose to calculate and substantiate actual expenses for purposes of § 280A. A change from using the safe harbor method in one year to actual expenses in a succeeding taxable year, or vice-versa, is not a change in method of accounting and does not require the IRS consent.

It is important to remember that an election for any taxable year, once made, is irrevocable

More complications arise if the taxpayer depreciates his home subsequent (or even prior to) electing to use the safe harbor method.

Safe Harbor Method Available in 2013

The new simplified option is available starting the tax year 2013.