Individual Tax

COBRA – Continuation Health Coverage

Are You Covered?

Congress passed the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act that has health benefit provisions since 1986. This law amends Employee Retirement Income Security Act, Public Health Service Act and Internal Revenue Code. The goal of COBRA is to continue health coverage for groups that must be terminated otherwise.

COBRA has provisions giving former retirees, employees, dependent children and former spouses the right for temporary continuation of coverage on health insurance plans in terms of group rates. However, the coverage can only be made available when this is lost because of specific needs. The Group health plan coverage for participants in COBRA is more expensive than the health coverage of employees who are currently active. Usually, it is the employer that pays the portion of the premium for the employees who are currently working while the COBRA participants pay the full premium themselves. Surprisingly, it is less expensive than the usual health policies.

Employers who have 20 or more individuals in their company are required to provide COBRA coverage for them. It is also their responsibility to notify the employees that this coverage is available. COBRA also applies to the health plans that have been maintained by the employers in the private sector as well as those that are sponsored by local governments and most state.

Who are entitled to COBRA benefits?

There are three qualifications for COBRA benefits. In fact, COBRA has already established specific and clear data for the policy plans, qualifying events and qualified beneficiaries.

Plan Coverage: Employers who have 20 employees under their wing for more than half of the typical business days in the year before are required to be under COBRA. Both the part time and full-time employees are included in the tally of determining whether the health plan is more suitable for COBRA> Every part-time employee is a fraction of the other employee, therefore what one gets is equal to what the others guest, if they share the same number of rendered hours. The calculation is the hours that part time employee rendered divided by hours that the employee will work if he will be rendering full time hours in the future.

Qualified Beneficiaries: To be considered as a qualified beneficiary, the individual must be covered by a health plan for groups on the very day before an even that is considered to be qualifying by either the employee, the spouse of the employee or the dependent child of the employee. There are cases wherein the retired employee or the spouse of retired employee and dependent children of retired employee are also qualified beneficiaries. Aside from this, a child that was born or placed through adoption with an employee who is covered during COBRA coverage is also regarded as a beneficiary that is qualified. Independent contractors, agents and directors who are part of the health care for groups can also be eligible beneficiaries.

Qualifying Events: As mentioned earlier, these are events that cause the employee to lose or discontinue his health coverage plan This kind of qualifying event can also determine who among them will be qualified beneficiaries as well as the time duration that the plan will be offered to cover them through COBRA. The plan, using its discretion, can also provide a longer period of coverage that will continue for a long time.

These are qualifying events specifically for employees:

  • Voluntary termination as well as involuntary termination of the individual’s employment due to reasons aside from gross misconduct.
  • Reducing the total hours of the individual’s employment.

These are qualifying events specifically for the spouses of the employees:

  • Voluntary termination as well as involuntary termination of the individual’s employment due to reasons aside from gross misconduct
  • Reducing the total hours that are worked by the employee who is covered by the plan
  • The individual who is covered by COBRA is entitled to get Medicare
  • The legal separation or divorce of the individual who is covered
  • The death of the individual who is covered

Qualifying events for the dependent children of the individuals who are covered are similar to that of the spouse but has this addition:

  • Losing the status of being a dependent child as listed in the rules of the specific plan.

 What are the Benefits Covered Under Cobra?

 The qualified individuals and beneficiaries must also receive a coverage that is similar and available to those who are situated in the same beneficiary as those not receiving the coverage of COBRA. In general, this is the similar coverage that an eligible beneficiary has as immediately as possible before he or she has qualified for a coverage that continues. If there is a change in benefits due to the specifics of the plan for an employee who is currently working, this will still apply to the beneficiaries who qualify. Qualified beneficiaries can also make similar choices that are offered to the individuals who are not under COBRA, like periods of enrollment in the plan in an open setting.

Who is charged for the COBRA coverage?

The beneficiaries are required to pay for the coverage under COBRA. This premium may not go beyond the 102% of the total cost of the plan especially for individuals who are similarly situated but have no incurred the qualifying events as specified. This also includes the portion that is covered by the employees as well as the portion that the employer has already paid for even before the event that qualifies, atop the 2% rendered to cover the administrative costs.

For beneficiaries who qualify, they receive the 11-month disability that is the extended duration of the coverage. This is also the premium targeted for the additional months that can also increase to as much as 150% for the total cost and coverage of the health plan.

COBRA premiums can also increase if there are costs to the said plan that also increases but these can also be fixed when set in advance for every premium cycle of 12 months. The plan can also let the qualified beneficiaries pay the premiums indicated on monthly basis if they requested for this. The plan can also let them make the payments in other intervals, the choices are weekly basis and quarterly basis.

The initial payment of the premium can also be made during the 45 days after the COBRA election date of the qualified beneficiary. The payment can also cover the coverage period after the COBRA election date that is retroactive to the loss of coverage date because of the event that is considered to be qualifying. The premiums for successive coverage periods are due and set on the date that is stated and mentioned in the plan coverage with 30-day minimum for grace period payments. Payment is also considered to be made accordingly on the specific date that is directly sent to the plan coverage.

If the premiums have not been paid on the first day of the coverage period, then the plan can opt to cancel the coverage until the payment for this has been received and immediately reinstate the coverage as retroactive to the start of the coverage period.

If the amount of payment that was made to the coverage was conducted in error but not significantly lower than the amount due, then the plan requires to be notified by the beneficiary that is qualified and report it as a deficiency. The individual will then be granted a period that is reasonable, which is usually 30 days, to pay for the difference. The plan coverage is also not required to send the individual monthly notices of the premium.

The COBRA beneficiaries stay as subject to the rules especially to the plan and must also satisfy the costs that are related to deductibles and co-payments. These are also subject to benefit limits.

The Federal Government and COBRA

The continuing coverage of COBRA as administered by the several agencies like Department of Treasury and Department of Labor have jurisdiction especially on the private-sector and health group plans. Meanwhile, Department of Health and Human Services also administers the coverage as it continues because it has an effect on the plans for the health of the public sector.

The regulatory and interpretative responsibility of the Labor Department can be limited to the notification requirements and disclosure of COBRA. If further information is needed about ERISA in general, then the individual can just write to the office of EBSA that is nearest to him or her. It is also possible to consult the US Department of Labor as well as the US Government for the listing in the phone directory of the office near them. EBSA is Employee Benefits Security Administration under US Department of Labor.

The Department of Treasury as well as the IRS has also issued regulations on the provisions of COBRA that is related to the coverage, eligibility and premiums. Both the Department of Treasury and the Department of Labor share the jurisdiction for enforcing the said provisions.

COBRA coverage and the Marketplace

When the individual loses the insurance that is received from his job, then he is also offered the continuation coverage of COBRA by his or her former employer, if the latter opts to do so.

If the individual chooses not to take the coverage of COBRA any longer, then he or she can just enroll in the Marketplace plan. Losing the coverage from the job-based health premium lets the individual qualify for the Special Enrollment Period. This is a period of 60 days that allows the individual to enroll the health plan and this can be done even if it is outside the Open Enrollment Period.

Is it possible to change from COBRA to a Marketplace Plan?

If the individual’s COBRA is running out, he or she can still change during Open Enrollment. It is also possible to change outside Open Enrollment as long as the individual qualifies for the Special Enrollment Period.

If the individual is ending his or her COBRA coverage earlier than expected, he or she can still change to the Marketplace plan during Open Enrollment. It is however a different case outside Open Enrollment. The individual can no longer change from Cobra to Marketplace in this scenario. He or she has to wait for the COBRA to run out and for him or her to qualify for the Special Enrollment Period in one way or another.

If the COBRA costs have changed because the individual’s former employer have also stopped contributing and is required to pay the full cost of the coverage, the individual can still change to the Marketplace Plan during Open Enrollment. It is the same during outside Open Enrollment. He or she can still change especially when he qualifies for the Special Enrollment Period.

More information on COBRA

COBRA also qualifies as the health coverage or what is also regarded as the minimum essential coverage. That being said, if the individual has the COBRA coverage, then he or she does not have to pay the complete fee that other people who are not covered by COBRA are required to pay.

If the individual has already signed for COBRA coverage but then eventually finds the premium and payments to be too expensive, his or her options depend entirely on whether it is the Open Enrollment Period. He or she can change to the Marketplace but that can cost him or her more than usual because he or she has to opt out of the coverage.

As for people who are wondering if it is possible to switch to Medicaid from their COBRA coverage but outside the period of Open Enrollment, it is important to note that it is also possible to apply for as well as enroll to be covered by Medicaid at any time. The process is to drop the COBRA coverage earlier than expected and to check if the individual qualifies for both Medicaid and CHIP. This is done by people who leave the employers and those who find the COBRA coverage more expensive than expected.

Child Support and Taxes: Non-Custodial and Custodial Parent FAQs

Child custody arrangements and income are two factors that are very important when determining child support and income tax return. Generally, the non-custodial parent of the child (the parent who takes care of the child for less than half) pays child support to the custodial parent (the one who primarily cares for the child every day.) Custody, child support and income are connected, therefore the responsibilities due to child support also affect the tax returns of the non-custodial parent.

Income affects Child Support orders

When a child support order is established, a judge follows specific guidelines from the state. Those guidelines are “income driven.” This means that the support amount is determined by the income of both parties involved. Income also goes beyond salary and wages. Nonetheless, it is also important for parents to comprehend the funds that are defined us “income” when talking about the guidelines of child support. Take this for example, the new spouse’s income, if the income is deducted from the expenses of the custodial parent, then it is regarded as the income for child support.

The IRS does not consider child support as income

According to the IRS, payments from child support cannot be considered as income that is taxable. This means that child support payments will not be deducted by the noncustodial parent (the payer) and not taxable to the custodial parent (payee). When calculating for the gross income to check if the payer and payee are qualified for filing of tax return, one must not include the payments received from child support.

 Form 8332 affects the Child Tax Credit

Certain individuals can claim tax credit for their children, as long as they have been claimed as dependent. Only the tax paying parent can use the dependency tax exemption when claiming the Child Tax Credit. A parent who is custodial can use Form 8332 and release the exemption for the parent who is non-custodial. Based on the circumstance, the latter can qualify for the dependency exemption and the Child Tax Credit. For explanation on the qualification for Child Tax Credit and its calculation, there are Instructions for Form 1040 as well as Instructions for Form 1040 index for Child Tax Credit.

The non-custodial parent cannot be eligible for EIC even if he or she has received permission from the custodial parent to claim the tax return.

The Earned Income Credit is tax credit for who work and earn income that is less than a specific amount. There are rules that individuals must meet in order to qualify for an EIC. There are some parents who can receive EIC if their child is considered to be a qualifying child. Generally, non-custodial parents have no claim for the EIC because the children do not live with them. This means they do not qualify and pass the residency test. Since the custodial parents meet the requirements, then he or she can claim the EIC.

Child Support is not Tax Deductible

The person paying for child support cannot deduct payments on the tax return. Neither is child support included in the income of the person in charge of making those payments.  IRS states that Child Support payments are not deducted from the payer and not taxable for the payee. Furthermore, when calculating the gross income, child support payments that have been received are not included. The reason behind this is that two tax laws work together in determining the tax for child support. On one hand, it can be said that child support is taxable because of the rule that gross income is all income from the source. However, there is an important qualifier. This is ruled that if it is stated in the subtitle, gross income pertains to any source. Therefore, this includes amounts that have been received as separate maintenance payments or alimony.

But there is also a general rule for exceptions for child support.  Any payment, in terms of divorce or separation as a sum can be considered as payable for Child Support of the payor’s spouse.  In other words, Child Support cannot be regarded as gross income of the recipient of the funds.

The person paying can deduct amounts that qualify as alimony. However, because child support is not regarded as alimony, then the person who is paying child support cannot reduce the payments as part of any tax deduction or alimony. In order to qualify as child support, there are payments that must be designated as such in a separation agreement or divorce.

Child Support in Arrears

The Treasury Department re-directs federal tax refunds from those who have not been paying their child supports.  As mentioned in Treasury Offset Program, the government pays the tax refund money to the child support agency of the state and they then get the funds to the child. There are a number of single parents who are not sure how child support can impact their tax bill. This also holds true to parents who have been receiving the child support for their children as if they were the ones who were paying it monthly.

Child Support is Not Taxable

The parents who are receiving child support must know that money does not affect the taxes that they need to pay. The commonly asked questions are “Will I owe more taxes this year? And “Is child support taxable?” These are nagging questions and the US government does not regard child support as taxable income in whatever form.

While individuals regard child support as part of their income because these checks arrive monthly, the government does not see this the same way. Here’s the truth: people pay income tax on their income. On the other hand, child support is the money that is received for the kids. For the government, it is not income so there are no taxes. Therefore, for single parents, these make it easier for them.

For those who are on the receiving end, this is what they can take away from it: Any money that has been received as child support for the income tax year is not regarded as taxable income and they won’t pay federal or state taxes from it. They will not pay for it today, nor will they pay for it tomorrow.

As mentioned earlier, child support is not deductible. It is actually two fold. The payments from child support cannot be deducted. A lot of parents ask this because they do not miss a single payment of child support. There are tax breaks for single parents but this is not counted as one. If parents pay child support to their children, they cannot reduce this from their total income so that they can adjust their taxable income. However, they must not forget that providing financial support to their children is a contribution to the well-being of their lives and therefore is a meaningful act. They must keep doing it even if they will not receive any deduction in doing so.

Another upside is that parents who pay child support can declare their children as dependents, and this in turn, provides them with the tax benefits that they are requesting for. If the children are living with them for more than six months, then they can file the income taxes as Head of Household status and also regard them as dependents. The money for child care can then be qualified for Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit.

If kids haven’t been living with the tax payer for more than six months, they should consider that in some cases there are parents who have a right to claim the children as their dependents but opt not to do so. If this is the case and it is alright with the ex-spouse, then the tax payer can pay a Form 8332 with the IRS or the Internal Revenue Service, then they can claim their children as their dependents in their place. If this is the case, the ex-spouse should be the one to file the form first because the children cannot be claimed as the dependent of both parents. This might make the taxpayer vulnerable to an audit conducted by the IRS.

The IRS treats the payment as child support when the child is still a minor. It may come in amounts in the form of fluctuating income and childcare needs. These qualifying childcare expenses and specific healthcare costs for minors, school expenses, and college tuition can have deductions but these are not often discussed. Tuition and Fees Deduction and the American Opportunity Tax Credit can allow that payers to deduct a total of $8,500 from these.

The Tuition and Fees Deduction can also reduce payments that the tax payers made for the tuition and fees of their dependents. Total deduction is $4,000 annually and this is for a single filer with income that amounts to as much as $65,000. It reaches up to $130,000 for those who filed jointly. It’s $2,000 for a single filer who earns between $65,000 and $80,000 (It’s between $130,000 and $160,000 for those who filed jointly.)

The American Opportunity Tax Credit is also regarded as refundable credit for those who qualify for graduate expenses like tuition, school supplies and books. These are pretty much for the tax payers who earn more than $80,000. If they file jointly, it’s $160,000. The payor can also claim his or her own expenses of that of the dependents, like the child’s.

The credit is $1,000 for the first $2,000 from the expenses that have been paid and what follows is an additional 25% from the $2,000 that follows, therefore generating a potential of $2,500 credit. 40% of the whole $4,000 is also refundable so that is more than $1,000 that will come back to the tax payer.

Paying child support for dependent children who do not live with the tax payers mean the taxpayer cannot claim the children as their dependents.

As mentioned previously, there is no child support tax deduction that is available in this setup. Also, for the child to be qualified as dependent, he or she must not be providing for his or her own child support for the income tax year. The child must have also been residing with the tax payer for more than six months. So, for the child of separated or divorced parents, the qualifying child is declared of the parent who is living with the child. According to the tax law, this person is regarded as the custodial parent.

For the non-custodial parent, the child can be a qualifying child if these requirements are met:

  • One or both parents have provided for more than half of the total support of the child for the year.
  • One or both parents have the custody of the child for more than six months.
  • The parents are legally separated or divorced and have been living apart the whole time for the past six months.

If this is the case, then the noncustodial parent takes the dependency exemption:

The custodial parent has given up the exemption and signed the Form 8332 which is Release Revocation of Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent. The noncustodial parent then attaches this specific form to his income tax return.

The noncustodial parent also attaches that the agreement has taken effect. He must declare:

  1. That the noncustodial parent claims the child without any condition, specifically payment of support
  2. The years that the noncustodial parent is eligible to claim the child
  3. That the custodial parent will not claim the child during mentioned years

In a nutshell, child support does not affect taxes as much as alimony does:

  • If the taxpayer pas child support, this cannot be deducted. The tax payer just has to report their actual income and not decrease the amount of the payments they make for child support.
  • If they receive child support, then they should not include that in taxable income. They also cannot regard this as earned income for them to qualify for an EIC.

Discussion About EITC or Earned Income Credit

The EITC or EIC, also known as the Earned Income Tax Credit is what working people with low up to moderate income acquire as a benefit. However, there are qualifications to get this. They must meet specific requirements and also file their tax return. EITC also deducts the amount of tax that the taxpayers owe and can give them a refund.

The amount of the benefit from the EITC depends on the taxpayer’s income as well as the total number of children. For the individual to claim one or more EITC per qualifying child, there must be requirements like a relationship, shared residency and age, and these three must be met. Taxpayers with no child and earn income below the standard that is stated by the IRS receive a small amount of EITC benefit. The US tax forms 1040A, 1040 and 1040EX are used to claim EITC for those who do not have qualifying children as their dependents. Taxpayers with qualifying children can claim their credit by filling up forms 1040 and 1040A.

EIC phases slowly and has a medium-length plateau. After this, it phases slower than before because it constantly phases in. For example, if the credit phases at 21% for taxpayers that have more than one qualifying child, it has 16% of taxpayers who have one qualifying child. Therefore, taxpayers must always choose one more dollar of their actual wages or salary and increase this by fifty-dollar increments. It is also preferred to allot extra fifty-dollar increment per wages and salary by considering just the EITC. However, if the EITC is combined with other tested programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or Medicaid, the Marginal Tax Rate exceeds 100% in some circumstances. It depends on the state of residence of the tax payer. Under these circumstances, net income rises faster than the increase in the taxpayer’s wage due to the phasing in of the EITC.

History of the EITC

The EITC was enacted in 1975. It was created with the intention that it expanded by the tax legislation on certain occasions, which included the publicized Tax Reform Act of 1986. It was then expanded in the years 1990, 1993, 2001 and finally 2009, even though the act raised taxes in general (specifically 1990 and 1993) and lowered the taxes in 2001. It also eliminated the other credits and deductions in 1986. Nowadays, EITC is one of the largest anti-poverty tools that Americans turn to. However, it is important to note that most income measures that also includes the poverty rate, do not account this credit.

A qualifying child, when defined, can be the taxpayer’s son, daughter, adopted child, stepchild or foster child or even any descendent. It can also be the taxpayer’s sister, brother, half-brother, half-sister, stepsister, stepbrother or other descendants like nephew, niece, great nephew, great niece. A qualifying child can also be an adopted child provided that he or she has been placed lawfully in the home of the taxpayer.

When the taxpayer is claiming for the EIC from a qualifying child, he or she must be older than the latter. The only exception for this is if the qualifying child is classified as totally and permanently disabled for that specific income tax year. A qualifying child can be as old as 18. A qualifying child is also a full-time student who can be as old as 24. A qualifying child with no age limitation are individuals who are disabled. Taxpayers who are parents claim their child or children as their dependents unless they are also waiving the credit for that year to another family member who is an extended relative with a higher AGI. It is also important to note that there is no support test for Extra Income Credit. There is just the six month plus one day shared residency test.

When Are Refunds Expected?

If the taxpayer claims the EITC as well as the ACTC (which is additional tax credit) on the tax return that they filed, the IRS must hold onto the refund of the taxpayer – even if the portion does not have anything to do with the ACTC or the EITC.

Qualifications for Earned Income Credit

To qualify for the EITC, the taxpayer must have income because he has worked or he is running his firm or business and can meet the standard rules.

How to Claim EITC

Taxpayers must have filed a tax return before they can claim EITC. They need to submit the required documents and be on the lookout for the common errors that are made on filling up the forms. They should also be aware of the consequences when they file an EITC return, and an error was discovered. They should also be knowledgeable on how they can get help preparing for their return as well as what they should do just in case the EITC was denied. Most importantly, they need to know how they can claim the credit for previous tax years.

Why did I receive a letter from IRS regarding EITC?

IRS sends letters out regarding EITC because they are suggesting the taxpayer to claim their EITC because, upon careful review of their taxes, they qualify for this. They also ask the taxpayers to follow up on the additional information and send these to the IRS so that their claim can be verified. IRS also calls to gather more information about the claim.

Who claims the credit and how to get the EITC

The taxpayer or his or her spouse (if a joint return was filed) and others listed as the dependents must all have SSNs that are valid and required for their employment and issued before the due date of the return. This is one of the requirements to claim the credit and also qualify for an ETIC. The taxpayers must also have enough earned income by working for a company or a business or running or owning his own.

If married, the IRS should not be filed separately. The taxpayer must also be a US citizen or a resident alien.  It is very important that the taxpayer is not a qualified dependent (whether qualified child or qualified relative) of another taxpayer.  He or she must also have met the earned income, investment income limits and AGI for the specific tax year.

If these requirements are all met, then the taxpayer is qualified for EITC. The next step is to file the tax returns with the IRS even if the taxpayer owes no tax or not required to file in the first place.

If IRS denied the taxpayer an EITC last year and he or she is qualified in the current income tax year, the taxpayer must attach the completed Form 8862 or what is also known as the Information to Claim Earned Income Credit After Disallowance to claim EITC. Taxpayers need not file Form 8862 if the IRS has decided to reduce or not allow the taxpayer to receive an EITC  due to intentional disregard or recklessness concerning EITC rules.

Earned income also includes wages and taxable income that the taxpayer obtains from working for a company or running or owning his firm or business.

Taxable earned income covers the following:

  • Salaries, wages, tips
  • Benefits from union strikes
  • Disability benefits that the taxpayer receives before reaching the minimum age for retirement
  • Net earnings from self-employment

Combat Pay

Taxpayers can choose to include their nontaxable combat pay in their earned income that is taxable to get the EITC. They either have to include it or not include it at all. If they choose to do this, then they have to check if they can include this whenever the taxable increases the refund or deducts the amount of tax that is owed. If the spouse of the taxpayer is also eligible for nontaxable combat pay, then both of them can opt for one that is best. The amount of the nontaxable combat pay is shown on the Form W2 in box 12 with the code Q.

How is credit calculated?

After the taxpayer determines that he or she does qualify for EITC, there are two choices to calculate the credit:

  1. Let the IRS do the work. Follow the instructions stated on Line 64 on Form 1040. It is found on Line 38a on the Form 1040 as well as on Line8a on Form 1040EZ.
  2. They can calculate the credit themselves. They must use the EIC Worksheet and follow the instructions stated in the booklet for Forms 1040, 1040A and 1040EZ as well as the EIC Table. They can also use online tools such as the EITC Assistant Tool which is available in both the English and Spanish language.

If taxpayers are prohibited to claim their EITC for years and the year after that due to an error from reckless or intentional disregard of the rules for EITC, then the taxpayer is prohibited to claim EITC for two years. If the error was because of fraud, they could not claim EITC for the next decade. The date that IRS denies the EITC of the taxpayer and the date on which the taxpayer files the return affects the next time frame of 2 to 10 years, then they will be barred from ever claiming their EITC.

Other Requirements for EITC

  • The investment income cannot be more than what is stated in the income tax year.
  • The taxpayer must be a US citizen or a resident alien. If he or she is married and is filing jointly and one is a citizen, and one is not, then the taxpaying couple must regard the non-resident partner as a resident who then concludes that their entire income would be subject to taxes. Only then will they be able to qualify for EIC.
  • Files with or without children that are qualified should have lived in the 50 states or District of Columbia for more than six months and one day. The Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa and Puerto Rico are not included. However, a taxpayer who is on an extended military duty is still considered to have met the requirement of the duration of his stay even if he or she is serving time away.
  • Taxpayers who do not have a qualifying child must be 25 to 64 years old. Married couples without a qualifying child must only have one spouse within that age range. A single individual with a qualifying child has no age requirement, aside from the fact that he is not the qualifying child or dependent of another taxpayer. A married couple with one qualifying child is classified as claimable by a qualifying relative, and the couple must also have earned income before once can qualify for an EIC.
  • All taxpayers and qualifying children must have valid social security numbers. This includes the SSN cards that have “Valid for work only with DHS authorization” and “Valid for work only with INS authorization.”
  • For Single, Qualifying Widows, Qualifying Widowers, Heads of Households and Married but Filing Jointly taxpayers, they must have valid filing status for the EIC. It still depends on the total income of both the husband and the wife. Married couples who file jointly can have a better advantage depending on the phase out. A legally married couple can also file jointly despite that act that they have lived apart for the entire income tax year and even if they do not have any expenses or revenues that they share throughout the income tax year. As long as both the husband and wife agree to file together, then they can do so.

Finally, another important note to look at is that it phases out by the adjusted gross income or the greater of the total earned income. For example, a married couple whose overall income amounts to $21,500 but has $3,100 investment income is eligible for the maximum credit, depending on the number of their qualifying child. That investment income cannot get any greater than $3,100. They also receive zero EIC. There are some incomes that range beyond this, depending on the increase of dollar investment as well as the result of the losses after dollars that have been taxed.

A Closer Look on Personal Exemptions in Regards to Deductions and Tax Breaks

As stated in the tax law of United States, “personal exemption” is the amount that resident taxpayers can claim as a form of tax deduction alongside their income whenever taxable income and federal income tax are calculated. It can decrease the income tax payable to the point of it reaching a level that is tax-free. However, it will never lead to a tax refund. It must be noted that the amount of personal exemption depends on the inflation of that year. For example, in 2016, the exemption was $4,050. The year before, which was 2014, it was $50 less ($4,000).

Exemptions consist of personal exemptions for taxpayers that are calculated individually. It can also include family or dependents whenever the situation is appropriate. To determine this, they must check the Internal Revenue Code. The liability of income tax can be calculated by associating the proper tax rate to the income that is taxable. This is also stated in the Internal Revenue Code.

Overview

 To elaborate more on the Internal Revenue Code, it is under Section 151 that personal exemptions from taxes are stated. This was put into action in August 1953. “Personal Exemptions” allowed a particular level of income and was not subjected to federal income tax. The purpose of this exemption was to insulate from the whole process of taxation one way or another. It intends to reach the very minimum amount of cash that someone can get to a level that is extremely subsistence. This means the amount requested is just enough for necessities, such as clothes, food, shelter. Some exemptions are always adjusted to go with inflation and sometimes it is inadequate for the law-abiding citizen who pays taxes. It can be so low that it is not enough to subsist on it. Aside from personal exemptions, taxpayers can also claim deductions that can deduct the income level that is critical for taxation.

All in all, personal exemptions are claimed by the taxpayer along with their dependents (but they have to be qualified.) The spouse of the individual can also claim this under the following conditions: 1. the couple applied separately and individually, 2. the spouse does not have a gross income and, 3. the spouse is not listed as a dependent of the individual. As for the taxpayers who have filed joint returns with their spouses, it is stated in the IRS Regulations that two personal exemptions are possible.

If the taxpayer is the dependent of another taxpayer (whether there are claims or not), this taxpayer cannot file for a personal exemption.

Who Can Be Exempted?

 The taxpayer is allowed one exemption. If he or she is married, he may have one exemption for his or her spouse. These are “personal exemptions.” Taxpayers can take exemptions for themselves. It is also possible to be claimed as the dependent of another tax payer. If the other taxpayer is eligible to claim another as dependent, then the latter cannot take an exemption for himself or herself even if the former does not claim the other as their dependent. However, it should be clear that the spouse is never considered as the dependent – immediately upon filing.

There is also the difference between Joint Return and Separate Return. On joint returns, taxpayers claim one exemption for himself/herself and the spouse. For separate returns, taxpayers claim exemptions for themselves and their spouse if there is no gross income, not filing for returns and these two individuals are not dependent on the other. This holds true even if one taxpayer does not claim that the spouse is his/her dependent.

Exemptions for the spouse can be claimed if he/she is a non-resident alien. However, the qualifications are they must not have any gross income that is for US tax purposes, they must not have filed any return, and they are not dependent on the other taxpayer.

If the spouse died sometime during a particular year when the joint return was filed for the taxpayer and the deceased taxpayer, then the surviving taxpayer can claim the spouse’s exemption under rules that have been mentioned here, in the definition of a Joint return. If the filing was made under a separate return for that year, then the surviving taxpayer can claim the exemption of the spouse under the rules that have also been stated here, in the definition of a Separate Return.

If taxpayers remarried during that year, then they can take exemptions for the spouse that passed away.

If they are a surviving spouse with no gross income and they remarry in the same year that the spouse passed away, then they can claim as the exemption on the separate return of the spouse that passed away. If taxpayers file joint returns with the current spouse, then they can claim as the exemption on that return.

For divorced or separated spouses, taxpayers can obtain the final decree of the separation or divorce maintenance in the year that this was filed. They also cannot take the exemptions of the former spouse. This can also apply even if the former spouse has provided the support.

Exemptions for Dependents

 Taxpayers are allowed to have one exemption for every individual that they can claim as their dependent. They can claim the exemption for the dependent even if the latter has filed a return. Dependent when defined means either a qualifying child or a qualifying relative. These terms are elaborated later on in this article.

Phase Out

Personal Exemptions started phasing out when the Adjusted Gross Income has exceeded the threshold amount of the personal exemptions. For example, the threshold in 2014 tax returns for individuals listed as single was $254,000 while it was $305,050 for joint returns.

If the taxpayer is the dependent of another taxpayer (whether there are claims or not), this taxpayer cannot file for a personal exemption.

Whenever taxable income is calculated, taxpayers can claim personal exemptions that they are eligible for as stated under Section 151 and decrease this amount from the AGI which is also known as the adjusted gross income.

Using 2014 as an example, the personal exemption at that time was $3,950, and it started phasing out once it reached the maximum phase out.

The beginning of phase out and the maximum phase out of AGI varies based on the filing status of the individual. These are grouped together as married individuals who are filing for joint returns, the heads of the households, single individuals and married individuals who are filing separately. Married Individuals filing joint returns have the highest AGI whereas married individuals who are filing separately have the lowest.

Who Can File as Dependent?

 Section 152 of the Internal Revenue Code has requirements that should be met before taxpayers claim another individual as a dependent that can get a personal exemption. The general rule is personal exemptions can be taken for dependents that qualify – either a child or a relative. There are still lots of exceptions nonetheless.

Taxpayers who claimed as dependents of others will not be able to file for personal exemptions for their dependents who qualify, as stated in Section 152. Married individuals who also filed joint returns will not be able to claim themselves as dependents of other taxpayers, also stated in Section 152. Non-US Citizens like permanent residents or nationals from foreign countries cannot also claim themselves as dependents. Taxpayers who are US citizens can claim a child or children who live in the same residence as the taxpayer and is part of the family of the taxpayer.

Children as Qualified Dependents

 Qualifying children must be children, as stated in section 152. “Children,” as defined, also include those who are adopted, foster children and step children. As mentioned above, qualifying children should be living in the same house as that of the taxpayer for a given time, which is more than six months.

Individuals can also include children, siblings, half-siblings, step siblings, or descendants of the tax payer as long as they are not yet 19. If they are studying, then the case is different, and they are considered to be qualified until they turn 24. The exemption to this limitation in the age of children is if they are totally or permanently disabled.

Children cannot qualify as dependents on multiple tax returns. The IRS code contains a series of rules that make sure that this does not happen. It limits taxpayers who are eligible to only the parents of the child. If the parents are not available, then the non-parental taxpayer with the highest gross income after adjustments can file for them.

Qualifying Relatives as Dependents

 Relationships that are allowed and considered to be eligible for the relative of the taxpayer to be considered as a dependent are innumerable. These are allowed for as long as the local law is not violated. As mentioned earlier, relatives can include siblings, step siblings, half-siblings, descendants of children, ancestors of parents, father, mother, nieces, nephews, step parents and even in-laws for as long as they are under the same roof as the tax payer.

Overview of Rules for Claiming Personal Exemptions for Dependents

 This section makes it easier for you to view the rules that have been mentioned in this article. It is pretty much the gist of what has been discussed throughout.

  1. Taxpayers cannot claim any dependents if they are claimed as a dependent of another taxpayer.
  2. They cannot claim a married person who is also filing a joint return himself/herself as a dependent unless the said joint return has been filed with the intention of claiming a refund or withholding income tax or an estimation of paid taxes.
  3. They cannot claim another individual as their dependent unless this person is a US citizen, a resident alien, a national, or a Canadian or Mexican citizen.
  4. They cannot claim the individual as their dependent unless this person is eligible to be considered a qualifying child or a qualifying relative.

For the Child to be Qualifying

  1. He or she must be the direct descendant, foster child, stepchild, sister, brother, half-sister, half-brother, step sister or step brother.
  2. He or she must be below 19 at the end of the year when this was filed and also younger than the taxpayer who is filing for him or her. If the child is a student, then he or she must be under the age of 24. There are no limitations on the age of the qualifying child if the individual is totally and permanently disabled.
  3. He or she must have resided with the taxpayer for more than six months.
  4. He or she must not have provided for his or her financial support for the specific year.
  5. He or she must not have filed a joint return for that year unless that return has been filed for the sole purpose of receiving a refund of withheld or estimated income tax.

If he or she met the rules to be eligible and regarded as a qualifying child of more than one taxpayer, only one taxpayer can declare the child as his or her qualifying child.

For the Relative to be Qualifying

  1.  He or she cannot be the qualifying child or that of another taxpayer.
  2. He or she must be your relative and must have lived with you for a year in the household that you have stated in your tax returns.
  3. His or her gross income for that year is less than $4,050.
  4. The taxpayer must be paying for more than half in the form of support for the individual for a duration of the year.

These are the terms and requirements and everything you need to know to understand personal exemptions alongside tax and deductions better. It may be a bit overwhelming to comprehend at first, but once you get the gist and the requirements for the eligibility, then you will have the 411 on the matter.

Treatment of Transportation Expenses When Not Traveling Away from Tax Home

When you ride a cab or get in your own car to do business somewhere, have you ever thought of your transportation costs and how much of it you can actually write off? So many materials have been written about deductible expenses when people travel away from their tax homes for business, but those that tackle deductible expenses when not traveling away from home are scarce.

Here, let’s focus on your transportation costs when you are technically not traveling away from home. But before we go to your expenses, remember first that you are considered traveling away from home if you meet the following criteria:

  • Your business or job requires you to be away from your tax home considerably longer than your ordinary day at work.
  • You need to sleep to meet the demands of your work.

If you don’t meet the above mentioned criteria, then you are not traveling away from home so this chapter is for you.

You probably know that the law mostly does not allow deductions for personal expenses, so we’re talking about business expenses here.

Transportation Expenses

By definition, transportation expenses cover your cost of transportation– may it be by rail, bus, taxi or air, as well as the cost of maintaining and driving your own car.

According to the IRS rule, these expenses include all ordinary and necessary costs of the following:

  • Going from one location to another while conducting business or performing your profession, as long as you are traveling within the general area of your tax home.
  • Visiting your customers or clients.
  • Going to a business meeting that is not within the area of your regular workplace.
  • Temporarily going from your home to a workplace when your business or job requires you to have more than one regular place of work. Here, it doesn’t matter whether your temporary workplaces are within the general area of your tax home or not.

Remember that generally, the transportation expenses that will be discussed in this chapter do not include those that you incur when you travel away from your tax home overnight, though the rules here apply when you use your own car to travel away from home overnight as this will cover car expense deductions.

Basically, the transportation expenses that you incur daily when traveling from your home to one or more of your regular workplaces are considered nondeductible. That means that if you ride a bus to travel from your home to one of your regular workplaces, you are generally not allowed to write off the commuting expenses that you incur. However, there are certain exceptions to this rule.

If you go between your home and your temporary workplace outside the general area of your residence, you are allowed to deduct the transportation expenses that you incur. You can also deduct your daily transportation expenses in the following situations:

  • If you have at least one regular work location away from your home.
  • If your home is your regular workplace or place of business and you incur transportation expenses when you go to your home and another work location. However, that work location should fall in the same industry or business, regardless of the distance and regardless of whether the work you do there is permanent or temporary.

When Transportation Expenses are Deductible

Before we go into the finest details, here is a summary of the key locations you should consider and the instances when you can and cannot deduct your transportation expenses:

  • This home is not necessarily your tax home but the place where you live. The transportation expenses that you incur when you travel to and from your regular or main place of work are considered personal commuting expenses and are therefore nondeductible.
  • Regular or Main Job. This refers to your main place of work or business. In the event that you have more than one job, you can determine which of your workplaces your main workplace is by considering the time you spend at each, as well as the activities you have at each and the income you earn at each. While your transportation expense from your main job to your home are nondeductible, your expenses from your main work location to your temporary work location or second job and vice-versa are always deductible.
  • Temporary Work Location. Your temporary work location is any place where you are expected to perform your job in a year or less. You can only write off your transportation expenses to your temporary work location if it is not within your metropolitan area, unless you have a regular workplace or place of business.
  • Second Job. You are allowed to deduct your transportation expenses when you get from one workplace to another if you have more than one job and are required to regularly work in more than one place in a day. Whether or not your two or more jobs are for the same employer, your transportation expenses are always deductible. However, you cannot deduct your transportation expenses if you’re coming from your home going to your second job. Remember that you have to go directly from your first job to your second job for your transportation expenses to be deductible. If you go somewhere else after leaving your first job, the amount you spend for your transportation going to that place is nondeductible.

The above-mentioned rules apply when you incur transportation expenses since you have a regular job away from your home. If your main workplace or place of business is your home, do not use the rules for reference.

How to Know if Your Work Location is Temporary

 If your regularly incur commuting expenses because you have more than one regular work location in the same business away from your residence, you can write off the transportation expenses that you incur for your daily round trip between your home and your temporary workplace, regardless of how near or far that workplace is from your home.

In case you are expected to complete your employment at a particular workplace in a year or less, then your employment is considered temporary. Your employment is not considered temporary if your employment at a work location is expected to last for more than a year.

But what if your employment was initially expected to last for less than a year, but due to unavoidable circumstances, you are suddenly expected to work for more than a year?

In that case, your employment will be treated as temporary and same rules on tax deductions apply. If your temporary workplace is not within the general area of your regular workplace and you stay there overnight, then you are considered traveling away from home and the treatment of your transportation expenses depends on the rules under the Traveling Away From Home section of the IRS Publication 463.

 If You Do Not Have a Regular Place of Work

 If you do not have a regular place of work but usually works in the metropolitan area of your residence, you can write off your daily transportation expenses between your home and temporary workplace that goes beyond that metropolitan area. The IRS defines this metropolitan area as the area which covers the area within the city boundaries, as well as the outskirts of the city.

Keep in mind that you cannot write off your daily transportation costs if your temporary workplace is located just within the metropolitan area because these expenses are considered nondeductible.

When You Have Two Places of Work

 Some people have more than one job in a day, and therefore have to go to two work locations in a day. If you are one of them, you are allowed to deduct your transportation expenses when you get from your first work location to the other and vice-versa. That is regardless of whether or not your two jobs are for the same employer.

But what if for some personal reason you fail to go directly from your first work location to the next?

In that case, you are not allowed to deduct your transportation expenses because the rule states that you cannot write off more than the amount it costs you to go directly from your first workplace to the next.

For instance, it’s your day off from your main job and you incur transportation expenses when you go between your home and your part-time job, such costs are considered commuting expenses and are therefore nondeductible.

When You are a Member of the Armed Forces Reserve Unit

 Specific laws are set in place for people who are members of the Armed Forces reserve unit.

Say you have a meeting in that unit. If that meeting is held on a day when you are not off from your main job, then the venue of the meeting is considered as a second place of business and the transportation expenses you incur in getting there from your main workplace are deductible.

However, if the meeting is held on a day when you don’t work at your regular job, your transportation expenses become nondeductible.

The story is different if the place where the meeting is held is temporary and you have more than one regular place of work.

Say you regularly work in a certain metropolitan area but not at any specific location in that area, and the meeting is temporarily held outside that metropolitan. In that case, you are allowed to deduct your travel expenses.

Your transportation expenses also become deductible if your being a reservist requires you to travel more than 100 miles away from your residence. If you travel that distance in connection with your performance as a reservist, you can deduct some of your costs not as itemized deductions but as an adjustment to your gross income.

Commuting Expenses

 Generally, commuting expenses are the transportation costs you incur when you commute from your home to your main place of work and vice-versa. The costs of taking a trolley, bus, taxi or subway between your home and your regular work location are nondeductible since the law sees them as personal commuting expenses.

Regardless of how far your residence is from your regular place of work, you cannot deduct your transportation expenses.

You may ask, what if you still work during the commuting trip?

Performing your job during your commuting trip does not change your commuting expenses from personal to business expenses.

Take this as an example. You use your phone to make business calls while commuting. Or you have your own car and colleague rides with you on your way home. During you travel, you engage in a business discussion. In both cases, your transportation expenses remain personal and nondeductible.

When you commute to and from work, your taxi fare usually is not the only cost covered by your transportation. Take a look at these accompanying commuting expenses:

  • Parking Fees. When you bring your own car to work and pay to park your car at the parking lot of your business location, the parking fee is nondeductible. The only parking fee that is considered deductible is that which you pay for when you visit a client.
  • Advertising Display on Car. Just because you put display material advertising your company does not necessarily mean that your car is for business use, so the expenses you incur for putting such displays on your car are all nondeductible.
  • Car Pools. When you use your car in a nonprofit car pool, you still cannot write off the cost of doing that. You should not include the payments that you receive from your passengers in your income. However, you may do otherwise if you operate a car pool for a profit. In that case, you may include their payments in your income and then deduct your car expenses.
  • Hauling Tools or Instruments. Hauling instruments in your car when you are commuting to and from work does not make your transportation expenses deductible.

 When Your Home Qualifies as a Principal Place of Business

 If you consider the place where you live as your main place of work or business, your daily transportation costs between your home and your other work location are deductible. Take note, however, that the work you do in your home and in the other workplace must be in the same business.

All things considered, it is safe to say that nothing in tax law is straightforward, no matter how easy you may find identifying deductible transportation expenses is.

Where is Your Tax Home?

If your job requires you to travel from time to time, some of the expenses that you incur while traveling away from home may be entitled to tax deductions. In this sense, however, home does not necessarily refer to the place where you live but the place where you work. This is what the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) refers to as your tax home.

Determining where your tax home is is the first and most fundamental thing that you need to do if you want to determine if you are really traveling away from home.

Basically, your tax home refers to the general area of your workplace, regardless of where you actually live. So, if you work in New York, your tax home is New York.

Do not be confused if the place where you work is different from the place where you lay your head at night, because your tax home designation has nothing to do with where you live. In fact, you may travel miles from your permanent residence to your workplace every day, but your workplace will still and always be your tax home.

 Why You Need to Determine Your Tax Home

Often, when you attend a cocktail party and are asked where your home is, your answer is your current place of residence. However, that is not necessarily the case if the one asking you is from the IRS.  While their tax home is the same as their personal home for some taxpayers, the story is different for those who frequently travel for work or business. Don’t think that your tax home doesn’t deserve a thought, because it does matter especially for taxpayers like you.

According to the IRS, your travel can be considered deductible if your work or business requires you to be away from home longer than your normal work hours. Given that, it is clear that the key criterion in determining if your travel expenses are deductible is if your travel takes you away from your tax home.

Differentiating your tax home from your personal home is crucial because only those expenses incur while you are away from your tax home are considered by the law as deductible.

Your Tax Home, As Per the IRS

 IRS’ definition of tax home is plain and simple—Your tax home is your regular place of business or post of duty, regardless of where you maintain your family home.

Basically, your tax home covers the general area or the entire city where your business or workplace is located. If your office is somewhere in Cortlandt Street in New York, then your tax home is New York. If you travel to Louisville every week for your business but return to your permanent residence in Nashville on weekends, your tax home is still Louisville even if you call Nashville home.

 Why Your Workplace Must Be Your Tax Home

There is a reason the IRS requires every taxpayer to know their tax home, and there is a reason the tax home designation exists in the IRS law. The purpose of the tax home designation is for the deduction of travel expenses associated with work or business. This explains why in the eyes of the tax-collecting agency, your workplace is your home and not your apartment.

Imagine living miles outside Louisville but working in the city. If there is no tax home designation, then you must also be counting your house in Nashville out as your tax home. If that is the case, then theoretically, you can declare each and every expense you spend in Nashville as a business or work-related expense. The IRS is wise enough not to fall for such tricks.

When You Have More Than One Regular Place of Business

 Some taxpayers find it hard to determine their tax home because they have multiple places of business. Should that be your case, then your tax home must be your main place of business or the place where you conduct majority of your business. So, if you have offices in Nashville, Louisville and Franklin, then you must declare the place where you do most of your work as your tax home. In this case, the IRS expects you to consider the following in determining your tax home:

  • How much is the total time that you normally spend in each workplace?
  • How much work do you usually accomplish in each workplace?
  • How much money do you make in each workplace? Is the income you earn from conducting business there significant or insignificant?

Of the above mentioned criteria, the first one is the most important since the IRS states that the place where you conduct most of your business should be your tax home. Logically, the workplace where you spend most of your time is the same place where you conduct majority of your business.

Take this as an example. You reside in Birmingham since you have a seasonal job there for nine months each year. Annually, you earn around $50,000 from your seasonal job there. For the rest of the year which is equivalent to three months, you work in Atlanta where you earn $20,000. In that case, you may consider Birmingham as your main place of business since you spend most of your time there and you earn most of your significant income there.

When You Do Not Have a Regular or Main Place of Business

 Taxpayers who have more than one regular place of business and those who do not have a regular or main place of business usually have the same dilemma in determining their tax home. According to the IRS, for taxpayers whose nature of work causes them to not have a regular or main place of business, their tax home must be the location of their residence or where they regularly live.

Say you are a freelance web designer and do not have a regular office where you conduct business. Since your job requires you to visit offices of your clients to discuss business with them, and since you do not really have a workplace of your own, then your tax home is your house.

Freelance workers and travel bloggers are perfect examples of taxpayers who do not have a regular workplace, since they do not have a fixed place where they conduct business. In this case, you do most of the work at home so your tax home may be your actual home or your personal residence.

Take a look at these factors which the IRS considers in determining your tax home if you do not have a regular place of business:

  • You at least perform part of your business in the area of your personal residence and use it for lodging while conducting business.
  • There are living expenses in your personal residence that you are compelled to duplicate because your job or business needs you to travel away from home.
  • You do not abandon the area of both your place of lodging and personal residence are located, members of your family live with you in that residence, and you use that home for lodging most of the time.

Remember that you need to meet all the three criteria so you can consider your personal residence as your tax home. If you meet all the three factors, then any travel expense that you may incur away from your personal home can be considered deductible since they meet the “away from home” requirement for business travel deductions.

Unfortunately though, if you only meet one of the three factors, then the IRS can consider you as not having a true tax home so you can write off none of your travel expenses.

For example, your family residence is located in Indianapolis. In that city, you work 15 weeks a year. For the rest of the year, you work for the same employer in Cincinnati, where you dine in expensive restaurants and sleep in a rented apartment. For you, it doesn’t really matter whether you are in Indianapolis or in Cincinnati because your salary is the same whether you are in one city or the other. However, since you conduct most of your business in Cincinnati, that city is considered your tax home. That means that even if your expenses there are bigger than when you are in Indianapolis, you cannot deduct any of your expenses for meals and lodging while you are there. When you return to your family home in Indianapolis, you are away from your tax home so you can deduct the cost of your round trip between Indianapolis and Cincinnati, as well as part of your family’s living expenses for meals and lodging while working in your personal home.

When You Do Not Have a Fixed Workplace and a Fixed Home Address

 In determining your tax home, there is something much worse than having more than one regular workplace or not having a regular workplace at all– Not having a regular place of business or post of duty and no personal residence at the same time.

While determining your tax home is not that easy if you have more than one regular workplace, it becomes easy when you finally determine which among your workplaces is your tax home. And while determining your tax home is not that easy when you do not have a regular workplace, it becomes easy when you have a personal residence which you can call your tax home.

However, things become a bit complicated when you do not have a regular place of business and you do not have a place where you regularly live at the same time. In that case, the IRS considers you as an itinerant.

The IRS law states that the tax home of an itinerant or a transient is wherever he works. If you belong to this category, then you are not entitled to travel expense deductions because no matter where you work, you are never considered to be traveling away from home.

Since as an itinerant, everywhere you work is your tax home, you are never really away from home, which means that you cannot write off any of your travel expenses.

An outside salesman is an example of an itinerant. Say you are an outside salesman whose sales territory covers different states. The main office of your employee is in Memphis but you do not work or conduct any business there. Your work assignments are relatively temporary and you have no idea about the locations of your future assignments. Your sister is renting out a room somewhere in Saint Louis so you stay there for a couple of weekends each year, but you do not conduct any business in that area. You do not pay for your accommodation there either. Since you do not satisfy any of the previously mentioned factors that will make your regular home your tax home, then you are considered an itinerant and therefore have no deductible travel expenses.

 When Traveling is Considered Traveling Away from Your Tax Home

 Regardless of which of the abovementioned categories you fall under, all the said criteria boil down to the fact that determining your tax home is critical in determining your tax liability when traveling. Once you have already identified your tax home, it will become easier for you to know which of your travel expenses you should write off and which you should not.

It is also worth mentioning that these tax home rules are the same whether you are an employee or a self-employed individual, although there are certain instances when the degree to which you can write off your business travel expenses may differ.

For instance, employees can only deduct work-related expenses that they have not reimbursed from their employers, while self-employed individuals can deduct the full amount of their travel expenses as long as they are incurred away from their tax homes. In any case, remember to keep well-organized records like receipts, checks and other documents to support your deduction claims.

Employment Matters: The Difference Between Contractors and Employees

When there’s extra work that needs to get done and there are no sufficient employees to do the job, companies usually hire more workers to keep up with the customer rush. If you happen to find a job in a company, make it a point that you understand your status in that company. That way, you will know how you are supposed to be treated by your new employer.

More often than not, problems arise because independent contractors think of themselves as employees, and vice-versa. For some, knowing whether they are contractors or employees doesn’t matter because all that matters to them is that they got a job and an income. However, they don’t realize that not knowing which classification they belong to—independent contractor or employee—will put them at the risk of tax troubles in the future.

But how does the law classify contractors vs. employees?

Telling Between Contractors and Employees

On the surface, you probably cannot tell what sets contractors apart from employees because most of the time, they do the same work. However, the law views them differently. The law also views the companies that hire them just as differently.

Basically, the thing that makes contractors different from employees is their degree of independence and control over the work that’s assigned to them. Usually, while an employee performs tasks that are dictated by others and are provided trainings to effectively do the job, an independent contractor has more than one client and sets his own hours at work. A contractor typically does not have a boss and he uses his own tools in performing his job. Also, his salary doesn’t automatically come at a definite date because he invoices for each of his completed assignments.

While that seems pretty much understandable, there can sometimes be gray areas, too.

In many cases, companies prefer hiring contractors instead of employees so they can save on labor costs. Financial-wise, hiring contractors makes more sense because contractors are not entitled to benefits. Also, companies save considerably on taxes since in hiring contractors, it no longer becomes necessary for the employer to pay portion of the state unemployment taxes.

Companies that follow the law and take the employee route usually regret their decisions at some point in the future because of the cost that making someone an employee entails. That explains why small businesses that operate on tighter margins are often tempted to hire contractors instead of employees, even when the job that needs to get done calls for an employee.

To minimize their costs, business owners make people believe that it is more advantageous to be a contractor than an employee since contractors’ take-home pays are bigger. While that may be true on the surface, that is not as simple as it seems.

The Tax Implications of Contractual Work 

If you are an employee, your employer is the one that pays half of your Social Security and Medicare taxes and withholds half of these taxes from your salary. That and the withholding of your federal and state income taxes are the reasons why those employees who work at $9 per hour at fast-food restaurants take home less every payday.

So, does that prove that being a contractor is better than being an employee?

The answer is not necessarily. Why? Because independent contractors pay 100% of all their Social Security and Medicare taxes when they file their tax returns, and pay all the income taxes that were not withheld. And if you are a contractor and you failed to make estimated tax payments every quarter to cover your taxes, prepare yourself for an unfortunate surprise come April. This only goes to show how tax responsibilities affect the amount that employees take home during payday versus the amount taken home by contractors.

Contractors Escaping Taxes

 Sounds common, doesn’t it? Many contractors believe that one of the advantages of being an independent contractor is that they get to escape taxes. Actually, they don’t. Well, that’s always possible. But that is not legal.

If you are a contractor and are paid in cash, don’t think that that already lets you get out of paying taxes and not report it. Whether your pay comes in the form of a check, cash, digital transfer or barter, and regardless of its amount, remember that every pay you get for each work that you do is taxable income.

Many contractors get all the more confused about taxable contract income because of the amounts that the IRS uses to require reporting of earnings. Remember that when you are a contractor, you get Form 1099-MISC to lay down the details of how much you have made for each job. Form 1099-MISC is what you need, not a W-2. However, as a contractor, an employer does not need to send you a form 1099 if your earnings during the tax year in question is less than $600.

The law can’t stress enough that the abovementioned rule is just a reporting requirement and has nothing to do with your taxable income. However much you earn, your earnings are always legally taxable and should be reported either on Schedule C or as other income on Form 1040.

For your FICA taxes, which refer to your Social Security and Medicare taxes, these taxes are self-employment taxes which you are responsible for in full. If you are an independent contractor, you should report the amount of your FICA taxes and pay them via Schedule SE.

While being an independent contractor has its share of advantages when it comes to taxes, there are instances when a business hires a contractor who is eventually deemed as an employee. In such cases, both parties lose significant amount of taxes, interests, penalties and premiums.

Since the relationship between a company and a worker sometimes tends to be a gray area, it is imperative that you protect your status as an independent contractor. Well, that is if you are really an independent contractor. To make sure that your work as a contractor remains independent of your employer, it should be able to pass the Four Point Test.

Determining Your Status

 If one asks you now whether you are a contractor or an employee and what makes you think so, do you know how to answer?

In Canada, a four-point test helps workers to determine their relationship with the business that you are working for. The agency clearly sets out a method that lets tax payers and workers identify the nature of their relationship with their companies.

The four-point test makes clear-cut distinctions between contractors and employees based on their control, tool ownership, risk of loss and integration.

  • Here, the issue is who controls the worker. If the employer has all the right to hire or fire you, determine your salary, decide on the time and place of your work as well as the manner in which you should perform your work, then you are an employee. Even if the employer does not directly control how you do your job, if he still has the right to do so, then an employer-employee relationship exists between the two of you.

 On the other hand, if you are a contractor, it is not necessarily the employer that runs the ship. As a contractor, you decide how you are going to perform your job and you maintain your right to decide where and when you are going to get the work done. In short, you are the only person responsible for planning the job that you need to get done.

  • Ownership of Tools. When it comes to tool ownership, the common notion is that what sets contractors apart from employees is that contractors supply their own tools. While that may be true, the problem is that it is also customary for other employees to provide tools for themselves so they can perform their jobs, such as in the case of garage mechanics and painters.

If that is the case, then how does tool ownership differentiate a contractor from an employee? According to CRA, the cost of using the tools is a better indication of whether you are a contractor or an employee. As per the CRA rule, you are considered an independent contractor if you purchase or rent large tools that call for major investment and expensive maintenance. Otherwise, you are an employee. Another good example of a self-employed, independent contractor is a home-based IT worker who uses his own computer to perform his job.

  • Chance of Profit/Risk of Loss. Here, determining which type of relationship exists between the business and the worker heavily depends on the financial involvement of the latter. Take a look at these questions:
  •  Do you have a chance of gaining profit?
  • Are you at risk of incurring losses due to damage to materials, delays or bad debts?
  • Do you cover the operating costs?

If your answer to all of these three questions is a Yes, then you are considered an independent contractor.

  • This criterion seems to be an attempt to presume the intention of the involved parties. According to CRA, a business relationship exists if the worker integrates the payer’s activities to his own commercial activities. On the other hand, an employer-employee relationship exists if the worker integrates his activities to the commercial activities of the payer.

The CRA does not lay out how to determine such integrations. However, an obvious way of proving that you integrate your own commercial activities is by having multiple clients. If you have only one client, it becomes easy for others to presume that you share an employer-employee relationship with that client. But be careful when having a single client, because that puts you at risk of being declared as a personal services corporation by the CRA.

Deciding Whether to Become an Employee or a Contractor

 Based on the facts discussed, it looks like being a contractor can be beneficial for you in terms of earnings and taxes, so long as you are prepared. However, remember that being an employee or a contractor is not really one of those decisions that you make when you look for a job. In reality, it is the business or company that decides whether you are a contractor or an employee.

Most of the time, employees are carried on the books, unlike contractors. So as a contractor, it is your responsibility to enshrine your relationship with the company you are working for through a contract. This contract should focus on the first three points of the four-point test and set out the intentions of both parties. Since you are an independent contractor, you have to make sure that such a written agreement is carefully crafted so your status is protected in case the other party subsequently changes his mind and argues that your relationship is not what you think it is.

At the end of the day, it is the business’ responsibility to weigh certain factors to determine whether a worker is an independent contractor or an employee. While other factors may indicate that one is an employee, other factors may indicate that he is an independent contractor. Apparently, there is no magic that stands alone in determining one’s status, but the key to making the right determination is by looking at the entire relationship that the person has with the company he is working for.

In a nutshell, what makes a worker an independent contractor is his being his own boss, although his work should still stay within the definitions of a contract with the party he is working for. Also, he is not eligible for benefits provided by the employer and retains a certain degree of independence and control. On the other hand, a worker is an employee if he treats the business as his stable source of income, is eligible to benefits and pensions, and gives up elements of control to his employer. He should also be working within the time and place specified by the employer.

Thinking About Becoming An Enrolled Agent ?

 Do you want to be called a tax expert? Is it your goal to represent taxpayers before the IRS? Do you desire to be respected as a professional?  If so, you should work towards becoming an enrolled agent or EA.

Enrolled agents are specialists who represent the cream of the crop when it comes to taxation. They are the only federally recognized tax practitioners who can represent taxpayers before the Internal Revenue Service.

EAs and CPAs can help taxpayers facing the various tax problems:

  • Tax evasion
  • Tax fraud
  • Tax debt
  • Failure to file/pay tax penalties
  • IRS audit
  • Tax liens
  • Tax levies
  • Unfiled tax returns
  • Appeals
  • Collection issues

There are only less than 50,000 practicing EAs in the United States, according to the National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA).

The relatively small number of practicing enrolled agents in the US can be attributed to the expertise necessary to become one, as well as the stringent requirements for maintaining the license.

While it isn’t easy to become an enrolled agent, the rewards are more than worth it, so to speak.  Enrolled agents are highly in demand. They are needed by law and accounting firms.  These professionals can also find employment in banks and investment firms. Some pros also choose to put up their own private practice.

How to Become an Enrolled Agent

 Unlike other professional designations, there is no educational requirement for a person wanting to become an enrolled agent.

However, you must prove your knowledge on tax related matters by either passing the EA exam or working with the IRS for at least five years.

The EA exam is also called the Special Enrollment exam. It consists of three parts, with each one testing your knowledge on taxation.

The first part concerns individual taxpayers, covering sections on income and assets, deduction and credits, taxpayer information, taxation and advice, and returns for individuals.

The second part focuses on business entities with sections on businesses, specialized returns and tax payers, and business financial information. It is widely considered by EAs as the toughest section in the exam.

The third part focuses on representation, practice, and procedure.

Aside from passing the test, you will be subjected to a thorough investigation conducted by the IRS.

Maintaining Certification 

If you successfully passed the exam, you will be federally recognized as an enrolled agent. However, you will need to do the following to maintain your certification:

  1. Renew your Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) annually.
  2. Renew your status as an EA every three years
  3. Undergo 72 hours of continuing education (CE) every three years. There’s a minimum requirement of 16 hours of CE per year, with at least two hours on ethics.  The need to undergo at least two hours of ethics training annually is in line with the Department of Treasury’s Circular 230.

 Joining Professional Organizations

 There are numerous professional organizations of enrolled agents. The NAEA is perhaps the biggest and most prestigious of them.

The Washington, DC-based organization aims to promote the highest level of professionalism, skills, and knowledge among its members. It is also a staunch advocate of taxpayer rights.

Established in 1972 as an offshoot of the Chicago-based National Association of Enrolled Federal Tax Accountants, the NAEA has grown into a large organization with more than 11,000 members.

Those members are demanded to take 30 hours of CE every calendar year, or 14 hours more than the 16 hours set by the IRS. They are then required to report the number of hours of CE they’ve garnered in the past year for renewal of their membership in the upcoming year.

The NAEA lets its members earn missing CE hours in the next calendar year to make up for the less than 30 hours that they accumulated in the previous year.

NAEA Membership Benefits

 While there are other professional groups of enrolled agents, the NAEA is widely considered to be the most prestigious in the country. Aside from completing annual continuing education that surpasses the requirements of the IRS, NAEA members are known to abide by a code of ethics. They also conduct themselves in a very professional manner.

Once you become an enrolled agent, you should aim to join the NAEA. Becoming a member of this organization opens the door to numerous professional benefits such as:

  1. Continuing education. Members of NAEA can participate in seminars, conferences, and conventions that can update their skills and knowledge, and set them up for success. Some of the more common CE topics include ethics, tax preparation, accounting, advanced IRS summons, among others.
  1. Participation in year-long events. NAEA conducts seminars, conventions, and meetings during the entire year. These events provide networking and educational opportunities to its members.

A key event in the NAEA calendar is the NAEA national conference. This is the only annual educational event in the country designed particularly for Circular 230 practitioners looking to focus on client representation before the IRS. The event is anchored by the National Tax Practice Institute.

  1. Enhanced reputation. NAEA works to spread the word about the benefits of hiring an enrolled agent. It taps both traditional media such as print and broadcast and social media to effectively increase the public’s knowledge about enrolled agents, and thereby enhance the potential value of EA to taxpayers. Simply put, the organization strives to make the taxpaying public more appreciative of the value of enrolled agents.
  1. Information sharing. The NAEA offers a tax knowledge base where members can look for answers to some of the more frequently asked questions of tax practitioners.
  1. Marketing tools and membership discounts. The organization offers discounts for office supplies and software that their members can use in their respective offices.

Participating in NAEA Courses

 The NAEA as well as its state affiliates are known to host numerous continuing education (CE) courses. These courses are held all year-round and provide an opportunity for current EAs to hone their skills and keep themselves updated on the latest taxation issues.

Should you become an EA and eventually a member of the NAEA, you can browse the organization’s website, www.naea.org to find and apply for an organization-sanctioned course.

The website features the “Continuing Education” section where you and other EAs associated with the group can learn more about the requirements for continuing education credits.

There’s also the “Calendar” section in the website where NAEA events for the entire year are posted.  The events range from quarterly meetings, annual conventions, and seminars. Attending these events not only provide enrolled agents with the opportunity to earn CE credits, but also get some relaxation in a world-class resort.

For 2017, some of the cities where NAEA courses are scheduled to be held are Orlando, Las Vegas, Denver, and Reno.

Enrolled agents, thus, can improve their skills and knowledge, maintain their certification, and renew their NAEA membership while getting treated to a few days of leisure and vacation.

From a professional standpoint, NAEA courses also provide enrolled agents with the opportunity to network with some of the most dedicated tax professionals and learn from accomplished  tax authorities in the country.

NAEA and its state affiliates, in fact, offer its courses even to non-members.  There are seminars which are open to enrolled agents who are not members of the NAEA and its state affiliates. Signing up for a NAEA course may also benefits like complimentary membership, special member discounts, and access to special publications.

It is also possible to get discounts if a group of enrolled agents participates in a NAEA course. The NAEA and its state affiliates usually give discounts to groups of three or more colleagues who are joining a seminar, convention, or conference.

Enrolled agents can also attend one or two days of multiple-day seminars. The NAEA offers one-day only rates for most of its courses, meaning that EAs don’t have to attend the entire course.

The easiest way to register to any NAEA course is through the Internet. The NAEA website, as well as those of NAEA’s state affiliates, usually have downloadable PDF registration forms which enrolled agents can fill out to signify their participation in a particular course.

How to Save in NAEA Courses Participation

 Truth to be told, participation fees in NAEA courses and events aren’t cheap. The cost of participating in a continuing education course can run to hundreds of dollars. The cost may also be affected by other factors such as the location as well as the number of days of the event.

Yet enrolled agents can deduct the costs of their participation in NAEA courses in their next tax returns. After all, these are considered travel expenses which are defined by the IRS as common and accepted in a trade or business.

Enrolled agents can claim most of the expenses they incur while attending a NAEA organized event or conference. They can write off registration costs, lodging expenses, 50 percent of their meals, and incidental expenses.

Communication-related expenses during a NAEA convention, such as business calls and fax machine fees, may also be written off by enrolled agents. The same goes for other ordinary and necessary expenses related to the business travel like dry cleaning and laundry as well as tips paid for any expenses during the convention.

Transportation expenses can also be written off by enrolled agents who participate in a NAEA course. These include airfare, bus fare, or taxi fare between the enrolled agent’s home and the location of the event.

Since most NAEA events are held in the United States, enrolled agents should have no problems claiming the expenses they incurred in participating in a NAEA continuing education course. However, it is worth mentioning that even conventions held outside the United States may be deducted as a legitimate travel expense.

These include countries such as Aruba, Bermuda, Bahamas, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Republic of Palau, Panama, Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica, and Honduras, among others.

Of course, enrolled agents know very well that there are also other factors to be considered in justifying the location of a convention. These include, among others, the residence of the participants, purpose and activities of the convention, and locations of previous events.

Claiming travel expenses in the next tax return isn’t the only way for enrolled agents to save the next time they participate in a NAEA course. They can also seek the assistance of professional EA groups. There are numerous organizations of EAs – and not just the NAEA– that offer scholarship programs to  both current and aspiring enrolled agents.

For example, the California Society of Enrolled Agents offers scholarship to California residents wishing to pursue accounting, finance, and other courses in preparation for the special enrollment preparation.

It also offers scholarship to current EAs in California who wish to take up courses like Tax Court in their desire to broaden their knowledge in the field of taxation.

The NAEA, meanwhile, has its own scholarship program funded by its members. This grant covers the registration expenses of educational programs offered at NAEA conferences.

Joining Online Courses

Enrolled agents may also join online courses or webinars offered by the NAEA.  Online courses are a lot cheaper than seminars, conventions, and other continuing education classes offered by the organization.

Moreover, these courses are suited for enrolled agents who don’t have the time to attend seminars or meetings organized by the NAEA. Participants of online courses can also earn continuing education credits.

There is also a lot of variety in the topics discussed in online courses. Some may be aimed at enhancing the knowledge and skills of enrolled agents such as seminars on tax update, while others may be focused on enabling EAs to improve their practice such as using social media to reach out to more potential customers.

There are a lot of career opportunities awaiting enrolled agents in the United States. Organizations particularly the NAEA are more than willing to help professional growth of EAs. One way to  achieve this is the offering of various NAEA courses such as seminars, conventions, and meetings.  Enrolled agents should be pragmatic enough to grab the opportunity and participate in NAEA courses, whether held in or outside the US.

Ten Recordkeeping Rules and Five Bonus Tips in Claiming Travel Expense

Good recordkeeping may not be in the list of business secrets of successful entrepreneurs. But for the company’s accountant or bookkeeper, it is very important.  It can significantly reduce the amount of profit that a business will pay tax on. Keeping accurate and organized records make it easier for companies to track their cash flow, save time and trouble in filing their tax returns, and perhaps more important, ensure that they are tax-efficient.

Good recordkeeping is particularly vital for business owners and contractors who go on a business trip.  The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) allows business owners to claim tax deductions for travel-related expenses such as:

  • Lodging
  • 50 percent of the costs of meals
  • Baggage charges
  • Air, rail, and bus fare
  • Cleaning and laundry
  • Taxi fare and car rental
  • Computer rental
  • Public stenographer fees
  • Telephone or fax expenses
  • Tips on qualified expenses

If you are a business owner,  you should understand how good record keeping is vital. Keeping accurate records will back up your tax deduction claims. And it can spell the difference between winning an audit and the IRS possibly digging up your other tax returns.

The following are some of the recordkeeping rules you should keep in mind when you are to claim on a business trip:

  1. You can’t claim tax exemptions for estimated or approximated expenses.

The IRS doesn’t allow businesses to deduct amounts based on approximate or estimate. You cannot guess the amount you spent for your gas or toll fees,  neither for the cost of your meals during the business trip.

It is thus recommended for entrepreneurs or their bookkeepers to keep adequate records proving their business trip -related expenses.

You should be accurate on the amount to be written off. The IRS recommends keeping documentary evidence to prove your expenses, such as receipts, bills, and checks.

 However, documentary evidence isn’t required when the travel related expense is lower than $75.  You don’t also have to present receipt for meals and lodging expenses if you are to claim per diem, or you took public transportation for which a receipt isn’t readily available.

 You should keep timely records.

 The IRS also recommends keeping records of a business travel during or near the time of the trip. It should also be supported with sufficient documentary evidence. This can make the record more believable than a statement prepared at a later date.

 Let’s cite an example. A business owner wrote off more than $20,000 in his tax return, citing that the amount represented the gas expenses he had when he went out of town during several occasions in 2013 to meet several prospective clients.

 Two years after the trip, the IRS decided that it had enough grounds to audit his tax returns. In order to substantiate his claim, he presented a 2013 calendar as well as printouts of driving directions generated by an online web mapping service. The directions also specified the distance supposedly traveled by the business owner from his place to the offices of his clients.

 Despite those documents presented , the IRS will still disallow the claims of the business owner.  For one, the documents presented were prepared two years after the business trip. Therefore, there is a lack of truthful recall on the part of the entrepreneur to justify the said claim even though an online mapping service was used.

 This illustrates the importance of keeping timely records of your business trip. While you don’t have to record information as soon as you get home, you don’t have to wait for months to do so, either.

  1. You must state the business purpose of an expense.

The IRS encourages business owners and employees who are claiming a business travel exemption to provide a written statement indicating the purpose of an expense. You can indicate that a conference you attended is for networking and meeting potential clients.  You can back up your claim by showing the conference program or invitation from the organizer.

However, this may not be needed if the purpose of an expense is obvious given the surrounding circumstances.

The easiest example of this would be a sales representative. Given the job description of the worker, it is understood that he or she is constantly travelling.  Thus there is no need to submit a written statement detailing the business purpose of each and every trip. The sales representative would only have to record the date of each trip, total miles covered, and back up his or her claims with documentary evidence like receipt or record of delivery.

You can also withhold confidential information in stating the purpose of a business travel expense.  You don’t have to be explicit in stating the purpose of a business meeting like mentioning the amount of deals you booked over dinner.

  1. You can’t use credit card statements to claim an expense.

One of the more common mistakes that business owners make when writing off a business trip expense is using their credit card statements. The IRS, though, won’t accept this as documentary evidence.

A credit card statement can be likened to a canceled check. It only shows the costs but not any further evidence to prove that the expenses were for a legitimate and necessary business purpose.

You should present a receipt alongside the credit card statement to substantiate the travel expenditure.

  1. You should provide direct and supporting evidence in case you have incomplete records of an expense.

If you cannot provide complete records to support a tax deduction, you can still write off an expense by furnishing direct evidence in the form of a written or oral statement and supporting evidence. The written or oral statement details the cost, time, place, and date of a business trip expense like meals or transportation. It may be a written statement from you, your associates, and guests. Documentary evidence, on the other hand, may be receipts or paid bills.

In the absence of documentary evidence, you can present adequate evidence to prove the character of the expense. In the case of lodging expense, a hotel receipt can be presented to and admitted by the IRS if it provides essential information such as the name and location of the hotel, the dates of the stay, and separate amounts for lodging, meals, and communication expenses.

 Another example of adequate evidence would be a restaurant receipt. It can be presented to the IRS for meal expenses as long as it indicates the name and location of the restaurant, the number of people who were served, and the date and amount of the expense.

6. You should record expenses separately.

The IRS says that each payment is considered a separate expense.

Let’s say that you took a taxi to go to a restaurant where you met a client. The dinner expense and the taxi fare are two separate expenses. You should, thus, record them separately in your records.

It is also common for businessmen to treat their clients to sports events. If you bought season or series tickets, and then used these for business purposes, then each ticket in the series should be treated as a separate item.

You can divide the total cost of the season tickets by the number of games in the series to get the cost of each ticket.

 7. You can combine items if the expenses are of a similar nature.

You can combine expenses of a similar nature, and record them as a single expense. These expenses should have happened during the course of a single event.

For instance, you don’t have to record each and every drink during a cocktail party as separate expenses. You can record the total expenses for the refreshments as a single expense.

 8. You can record all vehicle/transport expenses and then divide them into business and personal expenses at the end of the fiscal year.

You can claim gas expenses if you used your car during a business trip. It is also possible to record all your expenses during the year, and then divide them into business trip and personal expenses at the end of the year.  However, you should keep an accurate mileage log if you are to claim a tax deduction for your business trip related expenses.

The mileage log should indicate the starting mileage on the odometer at the beginning of the year, as well as its ending mileage at the end of the year. Every time you use your vehicle for a business trip, you should record details such as the date of your travel, your starting point, and destination. You must also write the purpose of your trip, the starting and ending mileage of the vehicle, and other trip-related expenses such as tolls and parking fees. It is important to keep your mileage log updated regularly, so that your records will be precise.

 9. You can claim deductions using your actual expenses, or by using the standard mileage rate.

There are two ways of claiming transportation related expenses during a business trip. You can deduct your actual expenses, or use the standard mileage rate set by the IRS.

The latter is easier to follow, which makes it the more popular option among employees and entrepreneurs. For 2017, the mileage rage is 53.5 cents for every mile. You simply have to multiply the miles that your vehicle has accumulated for business-related expenses.

For example, your car drove 20,000 miles for business trips in 2017. You will then multiple 20,000 by 53.5, giving you a total of $10,700. This is the amount that you can write off in your next tax return.

You may opt to deduct your actual expenses instead of using the standard mileage set by the IRS. However, you should have a thorough record of your gas, parking, and toll expenses. You can also deduct other expenses like repair and maintenance, tires, car washing, car repair, and gas and oil replacement. While this method requires a lot of record keeping, it can save you a lot of money because it usually results in a larger tax deduction.

  1. Keep records and receipts as long as you can.

You may wonder how long should you keep those receipts related to a business trip that you had two years ago. The IRS recommends keeping records as long as you can, as there will always be a possibility that your tax return is audited up to three years from the date that you filed it.

Bonus Tips

While entrepreneurs are entitled to many tax deductions when they go on a business trip, they won’t be able to write off expenses if these are not properly recorded. The last thing you want to have is the IRS auditing your tax returns for making unsubstantiated claims. Here are some tips to keep in mind so that you will have an easier time in recording your expenses while on a business trip:

  1. Scribble down notes on receipts. This is particularly helpful if you are to claim meal expenses. You should list down the names of those who you dined with, and the business purpose of the meeting.
  1. Scan receipts. If you’re the type of person who keeps on losing receipts, you can simply scan or take photos of these essential documentary evidences.
  1. Keep track of your expenses in a daily business journal. You can download a good daily business journal that you can use to record all your expenses during a business trip.
  1. Use debit and credit cards as much as possible. Using cash can be disadvantageous for anyone on a business trip. It is easy to spend but hard to keep track of.  Instead of using cash, simply your debit and credit cards, then reconcile them with your receipts.
  1. Use an app. There are many apps that you can use to track your business travel expenses. These apps can make it a lot easier for you to document your expenses and make an accurate tax claim.

How to Get Reimbursed for Tips and Other Incidental Expenses During a Business Trip

Traveling for business has a lot of perks. It may mean spending some time away from the office and dealing with a lot of tasks as a result, but for the most part,  it can be very rewarding.

You do not have to be a boss to understand how rewarding business trips can be. Business owners and executives, for one, can meet prospective clients and suppliers.  They can seal deals by wining and dining their associates. Or they can strengthen their relationships with current partners.

Employees, meanwhile, can improve on their skills, update their knowledge, and network with peers when they attend conventions and business conferences. Plus, the time away from the office can re-energize them and make them more productive and inspired when they return to their respective work stations.

Claiming tax deductions

What’s more encouraging is that most business-related expenses can be claimed as tax deductible. Anything related to the business trip can be written off, from airfare, taxi fare, lodging, communication charges, and supplies.

Even incidental expenses can be claimed as tax deductible. These are small costs incurred during a business travel. It may cover for tips or fees that an employee or business owner gives to porters, baggage carrier, maids, and stewards.

In short, incidental expenses are gratuities given to staff of restaurants, hotels, cruise ships, and similar establishments.

Tipping Standards

Tipping is a customary practice in the United States. It should be noted that the federal minimum wage of $8 an hour, so tips can help make up for the low pay of servers.

Thus, business travelers will normally have to spend for gratuities extended to waiters, bell boys, porters, and other servers that they will encounter during their trip.

While there’s no standard rate as far as tips in the US are concerned, the following is a guide on how much business travelers tip for people who serve them:

  • Taxi/limousine driver—at least 15 percent of the total fare
  • Porter- $1 per bag
  • Valet parking attendant– $1-2 for every car retrieved
  • Restaurant waiter/waitress- at least 15 percent of the total bill less tax
  • Bell staff- $1 for every bag delivered to a room
  • Buffet service– $1 to $2
  • Bartender/cocktail—at least 10 percent of the total bill

Tipping, however, is not practiced in other countries.  In fact, outside the United States, the practice is not customary.

For instance, tipping in Australia is practically non-existent. This can be attributed to the fact that the minimum wage in Australia is $16 per hour, or around $622 a week.

It’s also not a practice in other countries such as Japan, Argentina, and Estonia. In most countries in Europe, such as France, United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Finland, tips are already included in the bill.

What’s Not Included in Incidental Expenses?

The IRS, however, does not consider the following as incidental expenses:

  • Costs incurred in cleaning and pressing of clothes
  • Long distance telephone calls
  • Local calls
  • Internet connection
  • Fax services
  • Gas for rental vehicles
  • Parking fees

These costs incurred, after all, are reimbursable as other expenses.  For example, costs of cleaning and ironing of clothes can be written off as cleaning expenses. Local and long distance calls, as well as fax and Internet services, may be claimed as communication expenses. Gas for rental vehicles and parking fees, meanwhile, are considered as transportation expenses.

Incidental Expenses-Only

Because incidental expenses are small, it is very common for business owners and employees usually pay out in cash.  The minimal amounts involved in a tip, and the fact that there’s no need to issue a receipt for such expense, has prompted the IRS to set a rule when it comes to claiming incidental expenses during a business trip.

According to the IRS, a business owner or employee who was on a business travel can opt for the incidental-expenses only method in claiming a deduction. In this method, the taxpayer can write off incidental expense of $5 a day.

This method spares taxpayers from the hassle of keeping tabs of the costs they incurred for the tips given during the course of a business trip. Since tips are very small, it can be difficult for business travelers to keep track of the expenses they have incurred.

This method, however, can only be used when the taxpayer did not incur any meal expense.

Thus, a taxpayer cannot claim incidental expenses if he or she had and claimed meal expenses during the business travel.

Let’s cite an example.  Victoria was sent by his boss to a three day business trip to New York.  She incurred meal expenses during that trip.  She could have claimed half of the total amount of those meals under tax rules, but because she could not present the actual costs of the meals,  she just opted to claim a standard meal allowance.

Standard Meal Allowance

For 2016, the federal standard meal allowance is $51 a day.

Thus, Victoria can write off $153 for her meals during that trip. However, because she had claimed meal expenses as tax deductions, then she won’t be allowed to deduct $15 as incidental expenses.

If Victoria didn’t claim any meal expenses, then she can write off the $15 incidental expenses that she incurred during the trip.

By using the standard meal allowance, Victoria has practically claimed both meal and incidental expenses.

Victoria can receive this allowance if her employer does any of the following:

  1. Provides her with lodging, or furnishes it in kind.
  2. Reimburses her for the actual cost of lodging basing on the receipts presented
  3. Pays for the lodging
  4. Expresses reservations about Victoria incurring lodging expenses. This may be due to her having friends or relatives in New York, where she can stay with.
  5. Devise an allowance based on a formula similar to computing Victoria’s compensation like number of hours worked or number of miles traveled.

As mentioned earlier, the M&IE allowance of $51 applies to most small localities in the United States. However, a higher allowance applies to bigger cities like San Francisco, and yes, New York. As of 2017, the M&IE allowance for New York is $74.

There’s also a special standard meal allowance for those working in the transportation industry.  The IRS defines workers in the transportation industry as those who are directly involved in moving goods and people by various modes of transportation such as airplane, bus, barge, ship, or train.

Workers who are regularly required to travel away from their residence, and have to travel to different areas that are qualified for standard meal allowance rates, are also considered to be transportation workers by the IRS.

Those who are in the transportation industry get a standard meal allowance of $64 a day.

Claiming Per Diem

There are instances, though, when claiming the standard meal allowance or using the incidental expenses only method won’t suffice to cover the expenses incurred by a business owner or employee.

For example, what if Victoria had to shell out more than $30 in tips alone during her three-day trip?  She might have brought a lot of bags so that meant she had to give tips to the bellboy and porter. She could have even given the taxi driver a tip for helping her carry her baggage.

One way that Victoria can reimburse those expenses is to claim per diem or per day. Per diem is a daily allowance for expenses that companies give to employees on a daily basis to cover expenses when on a business travel.

Per diem rates cover the costs of lodging, meals, and incidental expenses incurred by an employee during a business trip. If Victoria opts to use this method instead of the incidental expenses only method and the meal and incidental expenses allowance, then she can get reimbursed not just for the tips that she gave but also for her meals and lodging expenses.

Claiming per diem also has one distinct advantage—it spares employees from preparing documentation required to support business travel expenses.  If Victoria opts for this method, then she no longer has to collect every receipt she gets during the trip. There’s also no need for her to note the time, place and purpose of each business meeting she attends. Moreover, she no longer has to hold on to those receipts and other documentation for two to three years, just in case the IRS calls in and questions her business travel deductions.

It can also mean faster reimbursement of expenses on the part of the employee, as there is no need to review and approve monthly expenses reports. It can also prevent processing delays caused by incomplete documentation, or when a supervisor inquires on the reasonableness of a claim.

Simply put, claiming per diem rate simplifies life for employees like Victoria.

However per diem rates aren’t paid to individuals who own more than 10 percent of the business. Thus, business owners cannot opt for this method in claiming tax deductions.

The IRS uses the high-low method in determining the per diem in certain areas in the United States.  Simply put, employees who work in areas like San Francisco, Boston, and Washinton D.C. have a higher per diem rate than those working in areas in the ‘low cost’ list.

For the fiscal year 2017, the IRS has set the per diem rate for high costs areas at $282. The breakdown is $214 for lodging, and $68 for meals and incidental expenses. This applies to all high cost areas within the continental United States.

Some of the high cost areas for 2017 are Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Monica, Santa Barbara, and San Jose in California; Denver and Aspen in Colorado, and Sedona in Arizona.

Chicago, Maine, Maryland, and Seaside in Oregon are other high cost areas as defined by the IRS. In Florida, cities like Miami and Fort Lauderdale are classified as high cost areas.

Other areas where the per diem rate is $282 for 2017 are Hershey and Philadalphia in Pennsylvania, Park City in Utah, Seattle in Washington, Jamestown, Middletown, and Newport in Rhode Island, and Virginia Beach and Wallops Island in Virginia.

For all other areas, the per diem rate is $189 with lodging at $132 and meals and incidental expenses at $57.

Compared to the previous year, the rates have gone up by $7 for high cost areas and $4 for the low cost areas.

Employers should take note that lodging and meal and incidental expenses are separated from each other. Thus under certain circumstances, they can only reimburse for the meals and incidental expenses of their employers. For instance, if Victoria’s company paid for her hotel or lodging then she is only entitled to a per diem reimbursement of her meals and incidental expenses.

In such case, she can only receive a reimbursement of $68 for M&EI as the lodging costs have been shouldered by her employer.

Exclusions

It should be noted that transportation costs and mailing costs aren’t included in incidental expenses. These include transportation between places of business and lodging, as well as mailing expenses incurred for filing travel vouchers.

The IRS states that the high-low method must be used by companies in reimbursing their employees’ travel expenses within the continental United States for the fiscal year. However, it is up to them to use permissible method when it comes to reimbursing their employee expenses for business travel outside of the United States.

Employers are also required to continue using this method for an employee in the last three months of the fiscal year.  This means that the same method utilized in the first nine months of the year should also be used for the final three months.

Conclusion

While tips extended to waiters, bellboys, and other servers are not as costly as meals and transportation expenses, the amount can quickly accumulate during a business trip. Fortunately for most employees, the IRS allows these expenses to be reimbursed either through the incidental expenses-only method, per diem, or the meal and incidental expenses method.