As you calculate your tax returns, be careful not to commit any of these home-related tax mistakes, which tax pros say are especially common and can cost you money or draw the IRS to your doorstep.
Mistake #1: Deducting the wrong year for property taxes
You take a tax deduction for property taxes in the year you (or the holder of your escrow account) actually paid them. Some taxing authorities work a year behind — that is, you’re not billed for 2015 property taxes until 2016. But that’s irrelevant to the feds. Enter on your federal forms whatever amount you actually paid in that tax year, no matter what the date is on your tax bill.
Mistake #2: Confusing escrow amount for actual taxes paid
If your lender escrows funds to pay your property taxes, don’t just deduct the amount escrowed. The regular amount you pay into your escrow account each month to cover property taxes is probably a little more or a little less than your property tax bill. Your lender will adjust the amount every year or so to realign the two.
For example, your tax bill might be $1,200, but your lender may have collected $1,100 or $1,300 in escrow over the year. Deduct only $1,200 or the amount of property taxes noted on the Form 1098 that your lender sends. If you don’t receive Form 1098, contact the agency that collects property tax to find out how much you paid.
Mistake #3: Misjudging the home office tax deduction
The deduction is complicated, often doesn’t amount to much of a deduction, has to be recaptured if you turn a profit when you sell your home, and can pique the IRS’s interest in your return. But there’s good news. There’s a new simplified home office deduction option if you don’t want to claim actual costs. If you’re eligible, you can deduct $5 per square foot up to 300 feet of office space, or up to $1,500 per year.
Mistake #4: Failing to track home-related expenses
If the IRS comes a-knockin’, don’t be scrambling to compile your records. File or scan and store home office and home improvement expense receipts and other home-related documents as you go.
This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but shouldn’t be relied upon as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice.