There's a tax deduction for people working from home, but it won't apply to most remote workers during the pandemic

KT images/The Image Bank/GettyOnly self-employed people qualify for the home office deduction.
  • The home office deduction is only available to self-employed people who use their home “regularly and exclusively” for business during the tax year.
  • If you meet those requirements, you may be entitled to a partial deduction for expenses like utilities, mortgage interest, depreciation, and insurance.
  • If you started working from home in 2020 and qualify for the deduction, you can claim it next tax season.
  • Ready to file your taxes for 2019? See Business Insider’s picks for the best tax software »

Millions of Americans have been working from home for months now as the country tries to contain the spread of the coronavirus – and they’re the lucky ones.

A record 50 million people have applied for unemployment benefits over the course of the pandemic, a painful marker of the economic destruction the crisis has caused.

Working from home isn’t the cake walk it may seem. With kids, spouses, and pets to attend to, it can be chaotic and stressful. But as employees hole up in their homes, many wonder whether there’s a financial upside.

A March 31 tweet posted by CBS News Correspondent Omar Villafranca asks the questions likely on many people’s minds: “Had a talk w/a friend, which ended w/questions: Since many news folks are working from home & using their home as a studio, is there some sort of tax write-off? Electricity/internet/use of space? Any tax experts out there? Any WFH tax guru out there? Curious.”

You can only take the tax deduction if you work from home and you’re self-employed

There is indeed a tax deduction for home offices, but it’s only available to self-employed people, Mike Savage, a CPA and the CEO of 1-800Accountant, told Business Insider. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) suspended the home office deduction for employees for tax years 2018 to 2025.

“One of the principal requirements of the home office deduction is the space you use for business must be regularly and exclusively used for business,” Savage said. “This means you cannot use the space for both business and personal. So, for example, if you use a room for work, that your family uses for personal use as well, it will not qualify.” It must also be the principal location of your business.

That’s a high bar to meet for many people who don’t normally work from home but have been forced to as companies go remote. If you are able to meet those requirements, you may be able to deduct part of the cost of rent, repairs, and utilities, or if you’re a homeowner, mortgage interest, depreciation, property tax, and insurance on next year’s tax return, Savage said.

Lastly, the deduction is limited to your business’ annual profit, he said. While you can’t take the home office deduction if your business operated at a loss, you may be able to carry forward your expenses and take the deduction in the future, Savage added.

The deduction can be calculated in two ways: the simplified method or the actual method. “Under the simplified method, taxpayers can calculate the amount of their home office deduction by multiplying their business square footage by $US5 per a square foot, not to exceed 300 square feet,” Savage explained.

“Under the actual method, taxpayers can calculate the potential deductible amount by pro-rating their expenses with their business use,” he said.

But remember that if you started working from home in 2020, you won’t be able to claim the deduction until next year, on your 2020 tax return.

Here’s a handy chart from the IRS that can help you figure out if you qualify for the home office deduction:

IRS home office deductionInternal Revenue Service
  • Related Content Module: Countdown to Tax Day

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