If you're thinking of setting up an office in your home, there are a number of considerations you'll want to take into account.
Zoning and Insurance
Perhaps the first issue you'll need to address is making sure your home business meets zoning regulations and that any required licenses or permits are obtained. Many towns and homeowners associations have restrictions on home business activities. If customers will be coming to your home, you may need to comply with other requirements as well. These include parking, disability access, and display of advertising. If you rent, check your lease and consult your landlord. It's also a good idea to tell your immediate neighbors what you plan to do so that they bring their issues to you directly rather than to the landlord or association.
You should also check your home insurance policy to make sure that "commercial" activities are covered. Most home policies do not cover claims arising out of commercial activities in a residence. If your business involves any activities that might increase the likelihood of slips or falls or damage to property, consider expanding your property loss and liability coverage.
A major factor to consider when operating a business from home is technology. The significant advances in Internet technology and home office equipment in the past 20 years have made working from home easy and realistic for a growing number of people. Yet there are several factors you should consider, including:
• Systems support -- Make sure you have somewhere to go when you have systems problems. Find a local techie you can rely on to resolve systems issues quickly and effectively.
• Backup -- A common oversight of many home businesses is systems backup. Save your work often, back up your files regularly, and make sure you have an alternative should your computer suddenly crash. Losing your files could mean losing your business.
• Internet access -- High-speed access to the Web, via cable or DSL, is a necessity for most home businesses. Check with your local phone and cable company to see what's available in your area.
• Upgrades -- The average computer is virtually obsolete in just three years, and most of the widely used software applications come out with new versions every two years, so keeping on top of technological advances is an ongoing effort.
If you operate a business out of your home, the IRS may allow you to deduct expenses associated with your home office. For sole proprietors, this is done on Form 8829 (Expenses for Business Use of Your Home). These may include phone, internet access, and various maintenance expenses, as well as a portion of your rent or mortgage and property taxes,1 association fees, insurance, and other expenses, based on the percentage of space in your home that the office occupies.
To qualify for these deductions, there are certain requirements you must meet. The home office must be used "exclusively" for business; a guest room/office will not qualify -- nor will any other shared space. Although the office doesn't have to be a separate room, it must be a "defined separate space" used exclusively for business. To take a deduction for phone expenses, the IRS generally looks for a separate line devoted solely to the business. The same applies to cell phone and Internet service.
The key to claiming any of these deductions is to prove that they are necessary for and confined to business use. Accordingly, it's a good idea to keep accurate records and back up your space-based deductions with photos of the office in case you are subject to an IRS audit.
1Mortgage interest and property taxes are also deductible under Schedule A and cannot be deducted twice.
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