Tips to Know for Deducting Losses from a Disaster

The IRS wants taxpayers to know it stands ready to help in the event of a disaster. If a taxpayer suffers damage to their home or personal property, they may be able to deduct the loss they incur on their federal income tax return. If their area receives a federal disaster designation, they may be able to claim the loss sooner.

Ordinarily, a deduction is available only if the loss is major and not covered by insurance or other reimbursement.

Here are 10 tips taxpayers should know about deducting casualty losses:

1. Casualty loss.  A taxpayer may be able to deduct a loss based on the damage done to their property during a disaster. A casualty is a sudden, unexpected or unusual event. This may include natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes. It can also include losses from fires, accidents, thefts or vandalism.

2. Normal wear and tear.  A casualty loss does not include losses from normal wear and tear. It does not include progressive deterioration from age or termite damage.

3. Covered by insurance.  If a taxpayer insured their property, they must file a timely claim for reimbursement of their loss. If they don’t, they cannot deduct the loss as a casualty or theft. Reduce the loss by the amount of the reimbursement received or expected to receive.

4. When to deduct.  As a general rule, deduct a casualty loss in the year it occurred. However, if a taxpayer has a loss from a federally declared disaster, they may have a choice of when to deduct the loss. They can choose to deduct it on their return for the year the loss occurred or on an original or amended return for the immediately preceding tax year.

This means that if a disaster loss occurs in 2017, the taxpayer doesn’t need to wait until the end of the year to claim the loss. They can instead choose to claim it on their 2016 return. Claiming a disaster loss on the prior year’s return may result in a lower tax for that year, often producing a refund.

5. Amount of loss.  Figure the amount of loss using the following steps:

  • Determine the adjusted basis in the property before the casualty. For property a taxpayer buys, the basis is usually its cost to them. For property they acquire in some other way, such as inheriting it or getting it as a gift, the basis is determined differently. For more information, see Publication 551, Basis of Assets.
  • Determine the decrease in fair market value, or FMV, of the property as a result of the casualty. FMV is the price for which a person could sell their property to a willing buyer. The decrease in FMV is the difference between the property’s FMV immediately before and immediately after the casualty.
  • Subtract any insurance or other reimbursement received or expected to receive from the smaller of those two amounts.

6. $100 rule.  After figuring the casualty loss on personal-use property, reduce that loss by $100. This reduction applies to each casualty-loss event during the year. It does not matter how many pieces of property are involved in an event.

7. 10 percent rule.  Reduce the total of all casualty or theft losses on personal-use property for the year by 10 percent of the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income.

8. Future income.  Do not consider the loss of future profits or income due to the casualty.

9. Form 4684.  Complete Form 4684, Casualties and Thefts, to report the casualty loss on a federal tax return. Claim the deductible amount on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions.

10. Business or income property.  Some of the casualty loss rules for business or income property are different from the rules for property held for personal use.

Call the IRS disaster hotline at 866-562-5227 for special help with disaster-related tax issues. For more on this topic and the special rules for federally declared disaster-area losses see Publication 547, Casualties, Disasters and Thefts. Get it and other IRS tax forms on IRS.gov/forms at any time.

Avoid scams. The IRS will never initiate contact using social media or text message. First contact generally comes in the mail. Those wondering if they owe money to the IRS can view their tax account information on IRS.gov to find out.

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IRS Offers Tips for Disaster Preparedness

Not only is Hurricane Preparedness Week May 7-13, but many areas have suffered from severe flooding. The IRS has reminded taxpayers to prepare for hurricanes and other natural disasters, such as floods, now. By taking a few steps before disaster strikes, taxpayers can reduce their stress when it comes time to file claims or rebuild after the catastrophic event.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Update Emergency Plans — Because a disaster can strike any time, be sure to review emergency plans annually. Personal and business situations change over time, as do preparedness needs. Make plans ahead of time and be sure to practice them.
  • Create Electronic Copies of Documents — Taxpayers should keep a duplicate set of key documents. Keep documents including bank statements, tax returns and insurance policies in a safe place. Doing so is easier now that many financial institutions provide statements and documents electronically, available on the Internet. Even if original documents are available only on paper, scan them into an electronic format and store them on DVD, CD or cloud storage.
  • Document Valuables — It’s a good idea to photograph or videotape the contents of any home, especially items of higher value. Documenting these items ahead of time will make it easier to claim insurance and tax benefits after a disaster strikes. The IRS has a disaster loss workbook, Publication 584, which can help taxpayers compile a room-by-room list of belongings. Photographs can help prove the fair market value of items for insurance and casualty loss claims.
  • IRS Ready to Help — In the case of a federally declared disaster, impacted taxpayers can call 866-562-5227 to speak with an IRS specialist trained to handle disaster-related issues. Taxpayers can request copies of previously filed tax returns and attachments, including Forms W-2, by filing Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return.  Alternatively, order transcripts showing most line items through the Get Transcript link on IRS.gov, by calling 800-908-9946 or by using Form 4506T-EZ, Short Form Request for Individual Tax Return Transcript or Form 4506-T, Request for Transcript of Tax Return.