Here are the deductions you can (and can’t) take from your taxes
OK, real talk: Is there anything more confusing than doing your taxes? It’s something we’ve all gotta deal with, but the forms, the numbers, the terms — it can feel pretty overwhelming. Tax Day is on April 18th, and it’s coming faster than we’d like. . . which is exactly why HelloGiggles compiled our thorniest tax questions and reached out to experts to find out what’s what. With our nine-part tax series, you’ll be *totally* prepared for Tax Day! First up, we tackled the basics of doing your taxes. Now, let’s go over a few questions we’ve got about deductions:
Can I deduct driving to work?
Car payments, insurance, gas — having a car can add up. So it would be really nice if we could write off our time spent in the car, driving to work, wouldn’t it? Unfortunately, your daily commute is not eligible as a deduction, says Richard Gartland, senior tax professional at H&R Block. “However, if you use your vehicle for business, you may be able to deduct some expenses,” he added. Possible options might be business-related roadtrips, like a business trip or a company-related errand.
In order to claim those drives as a deduction, you’ll need to keep a lot of paperwork. “You should track your total miles driven for the year, total business miles driven for the year other than commuting, a contemporaneous log showing the business purpose of each trip, amount of parking and tolls paid and receipts or totals for gas, oil, car washes, licenses, personal property tax, lease or interest expense, etc,” Gartland explained.
But why can’t we deduct our commute? The reason is that commuting costs are “not directly related to your job description and therefore are not deductible as travel expenses,” Andrew Oswalt, CPA and TaxAct tax analyst, told us. Dang it. Oh well, it was worth a shot.
Does my bed count as a home office?
For those of us who work from home, we’ve gotta ask — can we write off our cozy, cozy bed? After all, it’s the *best* place to work from.
We hate to break it to you but while you *can* deduct a home office, a bed wouldn’t be your best bet. The reason? Because you use your bed for other stuff, says Henry J. Grzes, CPA, lead technical manager of Tax Practice & Ethics at the AICPA. “Although you may dream (or have nightmares) about work while you are sleeping, you cannot claim your bedroom as a home office,” Grzes told HelloGiggles. “In order to qualify as a home office, you must use the space in your home exclusively for trade or business. Since you presumably use you bed for sleeping, watching television or other recreation, you cannot claim a deduction for the business use of your bed!”
If you want to claim a home office, you have do some more legwork than that, but it’s totally worth it, Gartland told us. “[I]f you do have an eligible home office, all your expenses directly related to the room are deductible, such as painting or decorating, and general expenses that apply to the house as a whole,” he explained, adding that mortgage interest or rent, utilities, and insurance should be “prorated based on the square footage used for the office relative to the home’s total living space.”
However, home office deductions can be “tricky,” says Stephanie Gruenhagen, tax attorney at Davidoff Hutcher & Citron LLP. “You need to be able to establish that the designated space is used only for a home office and you conduct business there,” she said. In other words, you can’t just claim your TV room is a home office because you happen to work from the couch in there a lot. So what can you do to support a home office deduction? Gruenhagen suggested adding a separate phone line, seeing clients in your home office, ensuring there’s a separate entrance in the office, and supplying business cards or other advertisement with your home address.
Can I write off my gym membership?
OK, OK, so we can’t write off our bed, but what about the place where we’re gettin’ on our fitness? Uncle Sam wants us to be healthy, right?
Unfortunately, that’s a big no, too, unless you qualify for certain exceptions. “Gym or health club membership itself, no,” April Walker, CPA, lead technical manager of Tax Practice & Ethics at the AICPA, told us. “However, if you have a doctor’s diagnosis for a specific disease (such as obesity, hypertension, or heart disease), you can deduct as a medical expense the amount you pay to a gym that is specifically for weight loss activities. For example, a wellness program offered by the gym, supervised exercise training and fitness instruction, preparation of healthy meals, or weight loss support meetings may qualify under certain circumstances.”
However, even if the doctor tells you you need to lose weight, if the purpose is just for general health or appearance and not for a specific disease, your gym membership can’t be a deduction.