The Tax Headaches of Working Remotely

New Jersey, however, has said it will give its newly telecommuting residents a credit for those New York taxes for 2020, even though it i...


New Jersey, however, has said it will give its newly telecommuting residents a credit for those New York taxes for 2020, even though it is entitled to the revenue because the taxpayers are now working within its borders, Mr. Walczak said. So residents won’t, for now, have to worry about double taxation. But New Jersey estimates that it is forgoing more than $1 billion in revenue as a result — suggesting that the practice is unlikely to be sustainable in the long term, Mr. Walczak said.

How Has the Pandemic Changed Your Taxes?

Nope. The so-called economic impact payments are not treated as income. In fact, they’re technically an advance on a tax credit, known as the Recovery Rebate Credit. The payments could indirectly affect what you pay in state income taxes in a handful of states, where federal tax is deductible against state taxable income, as our colleague Ann Carrns wrote. Read more.

Mostly.  Unemployment insurance is generally subject to federal as well as state income tax, though there are exceptions (Nine states don’t impose their own income taxes, and another six exempt unemployment payments from taxation, according to the Tax Foundation). But you won’t owe so-called payroll taxes, which pay for Social Security and Medicare. The new relief bill will make the first $10,200 of benefits tax-free if your income is less than $150,000. This applies to 2020 only. (If you’ve already filed your taxes, watch for I.R.S. guidance.) Unlike paychecks from an employer, taxes for unemployment aren’t automatically withheld. Recipients must opt in — and even when they do, federal taxes are withheld only at a flat rate of 10 percent of benefits. While the new tax break will provide a cushion, some people could still owe the I.R.S. or certain states money. Read more.

Probably not, unless you’re self-employed, an independent contractor or a gig worker. The tax law overhaul of late 2019 eliminated the home office deduction for employees from 2018 through 2025. “Employees who receive a paycheck or a W-2 exclusively from an employer are not eligible for the deduction, even if they are currently working from home,” the I.R.S. said. Read more.

Self-employed people can take paid caregiving leave if their child’s school is closed or their usual child care provider is unavailable because of the outbreak. This works similarly to the smaller sick leave credit — 67 percent of average daily earnings (for either 2020 or 2019), up to $200 a day. But the caregiving leave can be taken for 50 days. Read more.

Yes. This year, you can deduct up to $300 for charitable contributions, even if you use the standard deduction. Previously, only people who itemized could claim these deductions. Donations must be made in cash (for these purposes, this includes check, credit card or debit card), and can’t include securities, household items or other property. For 2021, the deduction limit will double to $600 for joint filers. Rules for itemizers became more generous as well. The limit on charitable donations has been suspended, so individuals can contribute up to 100 percent of their adjusted gross income, up from 60 percent. But these donations must be made to public charities in cash; the old rules apply to contributions made to donor-advised funds, for example. Both provisions are available through 2021. Read more.

The practice of states reaching outside their borders to tax telecommuters was an issue even before the coronavirus showed up, and it is getting more attention because of a spat between New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Massachusetts said last year that it would tax the income of out-of-state residents who had worked in the state but were telecommuting during the pandemic. This miffed neighboring New Hampshire, which has thousands of residents who commute to work in Boston and other cities in Massachusetts. In October, it filed a lawsuit asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its complaint. (More than a dozen other states — including New Jersey — have filed briefs urging the court to consider the case.)

The workers in New Hampshire aren’t being double taxed because New Hampshire is one of nine states that have no state income tax. But New Hampshire officials object to residents being taxed by another state for work done inside its borders. (Massachusetts said in a filing in response to the suit that the policy maintains the prepandemic “status quo.”)

As remote work could remain popular even after the pandemic, federal action may be needed to make state income tax rules for telecommuting more uniform, tax experts say. A group called the Mobile Workforce Coalition says it is building bipartisan support for reform.

“Telecommuting,” Mr. Sobel said, “is going to become the norm.”

So if you worked in a state other than your usual one in 2020, how should you approach tax season?

First, make a list of any states where you worked remotely, even if it was for a brief period of time, accountants suggest. If you didn’t keep close track, try to approximate the number of days worked in each state. State laws vary, but typically income is taxed once you reach a threshold, like the amount of money earned, the number of days you worked in the state or a combination of the two. About half the states start the clock at just one day, while others use 30 or 60 days.

These sorts of rules generally apply not just to employees but also to freelancers, said Dina Pyron, global leader of the mobile tax preparation app EY TaxChat. “It doesn’t matter if you are an employee or a contractor.”

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