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.