“Do I need an accountant?” might be a question weighing on you as you prepare to file your taxes this year.
Given the 2018 Tax Cuts and Jobs Acts delivered the biggest overhaul to the tax code in decades, having an accountant help you navigate these new rules might be a smart investment. Still, your own personal circumstances should factor into this decision, too.
Basically, if you’re a W-2 wage earner with few assets who filed as a single last year, then you can probably do your own taxes this year as well.
“If you only have a W-2 and some bank interest with no life changes coming soon, then a DIY program may be fine for you,” says Beth Logan of MA’s Kozlog Tax Advisers and author of “Divorce and Taxes After Tax Reform.”
But if your financial life was a bit more complicated—think filing jointly and owning a home—then you’re a prime candidate to get some professional help. Plus: Accountants also know that certain expired provisions that are helpful for homeowners are back!
To help you decide whether you need an accountant, here are five instances where hiring one could save you a whole heap of headaches.
1. You bought or own a house
Many homeowner deductions—such as mortgage debt, property taxes, and home equity line of credit interest—have radically changed since the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Here’s quick rundown:
- Mortgage debt: The new law limited deductible mortgage debt to $750,000 for homes bought after Dec. 15, 2017. (Homes bought before then are grandfathered in at a $1 million cap.)
- Property taxes: State, city, and property taxes will be limited to a total deduction of $10,000.
- Home equity debt: The chance to deduct up to $100,000 of HELOC interest is only for those who used the money to specifically to buy, build, or improve a property.
The big thing to look out for is whether itemizing the above is worth it now that the standard deduction has almost doubled—$12,000 if filing single and $24,000 if filing married. An accountant can help you figure that out.
2. You sold a house
If you sold a property in 2019, congrats! There are tons of write-offs available to you that a tax pro can make sure you’re taking advantage of.
For example, you can deduct any costs you racked up selling your home, including legal fees, escrow fees, home inspection fees, the cost of title insurance, and your real estate agent’s commission, says Joshua Zimmelman, president of Westwood Tax & Consulting in Rockville Centre, NY.
And if you had to do any renovations in order to complete the sale—say, repairing a faulty furnace found during a home inspection—you can deduct those expenses as long as they were made within 90 days of the closing. You can also add your 2019 property taxes for the portion of the year that you still owned the home. (You’ll add these costs to your itemized list to see if it supersedes the standard deduction.)
Here’s another factor to sit and discuss with an accountant: capital gains, which could mean you owe taxes on the profits from your sale.
Under current tax law, homeowners can exclude up to $250,000 (single) or $500,000 (married) of the profits from a sale, but you’ll have to have lived in the home for at least two of the past five years.
3. You made energy-friendly home improvements
You may have heard that the Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit—a tax incentive for installing alternative energy equipment in a home—expired after December 2016. But not entirely: Accountants know that homeowners can still claim a 30% credit for solar electric and solar water equipment installed through Dec. 31, 2019.
And surprise! The recently enacted Secure Act retroactively reinstated certain deductions and credits for 2018 and 2019 that had expired at the end of 2017.
“These include nonbusiness energy credits for things such as exterior windows, doors, and insulation,” says Laura Fogel, a certified public accountant at Lillian Gonzalez & Associates in Massachusetts. The savings could add up to $500.
An accountant can help you see if it makes sense to amend your 2018 tax return to take advantage of these tax breaks.
4. You worked from home
If you’re self-employed with no other office to go to, you can take a home office deduction. Just remember, if you’re an employee with another office you can work from, this deduction no longer exists.
“This complicated deduction is for sure something I would certainly contact an accountant about,” says Ralph DiBugnara, vice president at Residential Home Funding.
By definition, you need to use a portion of your home exclusively for business to claim the deduction. But there are a few different ways you can qualify (you run a small business from your home) or be disqualified (your office doubles as a guest room).
5. You have private mortgage insurance
Another deduction that had expired—namely the one for private mortgage insurance—was also retroactively reinstated for tax year 2019 thanks to the Secure Act.
“The deduction for private mortgage insurance premiums is back on Schedule A,” says Fogel. “And just in time for the 2019 tax season, you can amend your 2018 tax return to take advantage of these tax breaks.”
So while you can’t deduct the cost of tax preparation help from your 2019 taxes (that deduction went away in 2018), here’s yet another reason to hire an accountant this year: “I can almost guarantee you alone are not doing everything you can to save on taxes in the 2019 year,” says Stacy Caprio, financial blogger at FiscalNerd.com. “So talking to an expert will be well worth the return on investment.”
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