Tax Guru – Ker$tetter Letter

Helping real people win the tax game.

Some Hurricane Harvey Tax Breaks

Posted by taxguru on August 29, 2017

There are a few silver linings to the still ongoing disaster in the Houston area as related to income taxes.

Filing Delay
As is always the case with huge unexpected disruptive events, IRS has officially extended tax filing and payment deadlines for people and businesses who are in the affected areas.  In this recent press release, IRS has extended the tax return filing and tax payment deadlines until January 31, 2018 for those who had tax returns due or extensions expiring in September and October 2017.  This includes millions of people who filed extensions for their 2016 1040s. 

IRS Gives Tax Relief to Victims of Hurricane Harvey; Parts of Texas Now Eligible; Extension Filers Have Until Jan. 31 to File

Deducting Unreimbursed Casualty Losses
Not mentioned in this IRS announcement is the fact that victims of Hurricane Harvey also have a choice about when to deduct their losses from this disaster.  Presidentially Declared Disaster Areas (PDDA) have a special tax break that “lesser” disasters don’t.  

Trump declares Hurricane Harvey federal disaster in Texas

Normal tax policy is to declare income received and expenses paid on the tax returns for that particular year.  If there were a fire or a small neighborhood flood in August 2017, those who were affected would have to wait to deduct their unreimbursed loses on their 2017 tax returns, which they would be filing with IRS in 2018.

In order to allow PDDA affected taxpayers to recoup some of their losses sooner, via tax reductions, they have the option to claim the casualty loss deduction on the normal year’s tax return (2017 for Harvey) or on the previous year’s return (2016 for Harvey).  You can see more details on this on the IRS website.

Tax Relief: Presidentially Declared Disaster Areas

Deciding on which tax return to claim the PDDA loss is, like many tax planning choices, based on when it will save you the most money.  As of today (8/29/17), we are only aware of one of our clients who has been personally hit by Hurricane Harvey, with an early estimated loss of around a million dollars.  We will most definitely be discussing the feasibility of deducting this loss on his 2016 1040, which also happened to be a year in which he had to report several millions of capital gains. 

Having spent several years in California, I do have quite a bit of experience in working with this issue with such disasters as earthquakes, as well as how to properly document and claim the losses on tax returns to avoid any IRS questions.  This includes attaching photographs of the home, before the disaster and after, as well as copies of contractor invoices for reconstruction costs.  The larger the deduction, the more documentation you need to attach to your tax return.  You don’t want to have to suffer through a disaster that’s often much worse than a hurricane, an IRS Audit.  

You can download a handy PDF reference on deducting casualty and theft losses here.  Courtesy of my favorite tax reference source, TheTaxBook.

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