Losing the Home Office Space Means Losing the Tax Deduction, Too

Overtime2A recent article in Bloomberg reported that dedicated space for a home office is “less of a selling point” than it once was for home sellers. It’s appearing less often in real estate ads and marketing, and new-home developers are shifting toward open-floor plans containing flexible spaces, workspace nooks, and lots of handy electrical outlets.

That’s all very well as a reflection of how modern connectivity allows many people to work from their sofa, in their pajamas, or at just about any time and place in their home. But if you’re operating some sort of business principally from your home, it’s worth also considering what you might lose out on when tax time rolls around if you don’t have a dedicated home office space.

The home office tax deduction lets people who meet various legal requirements deduct a percentage of their home-related costs, such as utilities, rent, insurance, depreciation, mortgage interest, real estate taxes, and certain casualty losses, repairs, and improvements.

But here’s the key thing to remember: the deduction applies only if you regularly use part of your home exclusively for your trade or business. The IRS can be a stickler on this point–if, for instance, your office is also the family TV room, an auditor who notices that might not allow the deduction.

Any shared use of a room or equipment can be problematic. So if it gets to the point where you can’t point to ANY part of your home that’s solely used to run your business, say bye bye to the deduction.

Check out Nolo’s articles on Home Deductions for more on the exact rules and benefits of the home office tax deduction.

 

Keep Your Eyes on the Road: 2017 Brings New Cellphone Restrictions for California Drivers

Existing California law restricts motorists from talking on a cellphone or texting while driving, except when using a device in voice-operated, hands-free mode. The current text messaging restriction applies to writing, sending, and reading texts on a cellphone or other wireless device while driving. The law doesn’t, however, address other uses of cellphones and wireless devices. So common smartphone and tablet features like internet browsers and GPS—which don’t involve text messaging—aren’t covered. (Cal. Veh. Code §§ 23123, 23123.5, 23124 (2016).)

Realizing the deficienciesroad-people-street-smartphone in the current law, the California Legislature passed legislation (Assembly Bill 1785, “A.B. 1785”) this past year to fill the gap. The new law will prohibit California motorists from “holding and operating” any cellphone or wireless device while driving. By using this broad wording, the Legislature presumably intended to restrict motorists from doing anything on their devices that could be a distraction. Several exceptions apply to the new rule, one of which permits drivers to turn on or off a mounted GPS, so long as it requires only one tap or swipe to do so. Manufacturer-installed systems that are embedded in the vehicle are also exempt. (Cal. Veh. Code § 23123.5 (version effective Jan. 1, 2017).)

(Read more about California’s distracted driving laws and the penalties for a violation.)

Holiday Season Great for Home Deals—If You Can Cope With the Downsides

holiday lightsA recent, informal survey by the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (NAEBA) asked its members—real estate brokerages that only represent home buyers—to report in on the challenges of shopping for a home during the holiday season.

The responses are in most cases either entertaining—“Aftermath of a New Year’s Eve party including passed out guests complete with open and spilled adult beverages”—or daunting—“Sellers reluctant to show because house is a wreck or too much company in house” and “difficulties in meeting deadlines when financial institutions or other offices are closed or industry personnel (loan officer, inspector, etc.) take time off.”

Difficulties aside, however, the NAEBA agents noted a silver lining to home shopping while everyone else is gift shopping: “Since we know anyone whose home is on the market during the holidays is highly motivated, we can be more aggressive in offering price and terms of the contract.”

Translated, that means that no seller in their right mind would put a home on the market during this cold, dreary, and distracted time of year—and therefore anyone who does so probably has a pressing reason.

Divorce, job change, or other change in life circumstances might be among the reasons. The seller basically needs to move, and move now.

That puts the prospective home buyer in a strong negotiating position. For help, see Nolo’s articles on Buying a House or Property.  Just step carefully on those frozen front steps, and don’t close the purchase until you have a chance to persuade a home inspector to put down the eggnog and come check the roof for leaks.

How Many Green Cards Were Misdelivered?!

green cardThe title of the recent report from the U.S. Office of the Inspector General says it all: “Better Safeguards Are Needed in USCIS Green Card Issuance.”

According to the OIG’s findings, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) “continues to struggle to ensure proper Green Card issuance.”

Among other problems over the last three years, USCIS made mistakes on, or produced duplicate versions of, at least 19,000 cards. What’s more, the agency received over 200,000 reports from approved applicants saying that their cards went missing before they got them–in many cases, because the cards were sent to the wrong address.

The latter problem isn’t always USCIS’s fault. However, the OIG found that the number of misdelivered green cards could be reduced if the process for updating one’s address with USCIS were easier.

Do these problems affect only the immigrants awaiting a valid green card? Not if you’re, say, an employer waiting to hire a recent immigrant, or a concerned citizen wondering about whose house that misdirected green card actually went to!

If you are an immigrant and USCIS made an error on your green card, see Mistake on Your Green Card: Who Pays the Replacement Fee? for tips on getting a free replacement. And if you’re awaiting your green card, and plan to move, be sure to either submit your change of address online, call USCIS’s customer service number, 800-375-5283, or complete Form AR-11 (available at www.uscis.gov/ar-11) and mail it to the address listed on the form.

How to Make Your Nonprofit’s Emails Stand Out on Days Like Giving Tuesday

clock and faceAlthough it has been around only since 2012, Giving Tuesday (on the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving) has become the established “opening day” for year-end online donations to nonprofit organizations.

Last year (in 2015) for example, almost 700,000 online donors collectively gave over $116 million dollars to charitable causes, according to a report by ImpactLab.

Suffice it to say that no nonprofit wants to be left out of the action. And judging from the number of emails in my inbox this morning (they haven’t stopped yet!) most nonprofits have realized this fact. The sheer number of emails is verging on annoying–problematic, as it might lead some recipients to give up and delete the whole lot.

But politely staying out of the fray is no longer a realistic option. So the question becomes, how can a nonprofit distinguish itself from the others within an email subject line or (if it’s lucky and the recipient actually opens it) within the short space of an email?

Here’s what I’m observing various groups trying:

  • Matching gifts. Subject lines like, “Donations matched for Giving Tuesday!”, “Urgent: Your gift will go twice the distance today,” and “3-1 Match for Giving Tuesday Only” are so common that they hardly attract attention. But on the plus side, if a donor was already thinking about making a gift to a particular group, seeing a time-delimited match might tip the balance. Matching gifts also offer a subtle way with which to establish a group’s credibility, if the donor offering the match is well respected.
  • Specific reminders of what a gift will support. With every other nonprofit asking for money to help its cause, it can be eye-catching to see something like, “Send a Girl to School for $58” or “$50 will plant five native trees.”
  • An end-of-day goal. The National Wildlife Federation, for example, set a goal of receiving sufficient donations with which to “plant 5,000 native trees, in order to help wildlife survive and thrive for years to come.” On the one hand, such a goal seems rather arbitrary (couldn’t it wait until tomorrow?); on the other hand, it effectively reminds donors what their collective response can achieve.
  • Humor and/or baby seals. I did enjoy Oceana’s email subject line: “There’s a sea lion pup who wants you to open this email.” The photo inside is, of course, adorable. (Those baby seal pictures never get old!)

Sad to say, some of the email subject lines are just plain dull, such as, “Today we celebrate Giving Tuesday.” (That’s the only one I saved long enough to quote!) But at least that nonprofit didn’t sit this year’s Giving Tuesday out!