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Rachel, help me
take it off (my taxes)

Nice idea but it's tough for media people to itemize

By Rachel

Dear Rachel,
   I’d like to try itemizing deductions for my tax return next year. But I’m a little unclear what my job as a buyer will let me write off. I don’t work at home. Can I write off my cable bill? How about my high-speed internet? Is there anything else you can think of?—Tax Troubles

Dear Tax,
   As professions go, media buyers and planners don’t have as many opportunities for writeoffs as those in many other careers, such as lawyers, sales reps or day care providers.
  The industry isn’t all that lucrative to begin with, and you rarely have to pay for a business lunch, as clients or reps usually buy. Thus it may not make sense for you to itemize rather than take the standard deduction, because you may not have enough expenses to outweigh the standard.
   That said, here are a few suggestions for potential deductions. This is based on conversations with the IRS business hotline and IRS publications. Follow up with a tax professional or the IRS to make sure you understand the rules. Also, be sure not to claim something that you were reimbursed for by the office.
   If you itemize instead of taking the standard deduction, save your bills and receipts so that you can prove your claims are legitimate.
   Cable—This may be one of the stickiest areas. You could certainly argue that keeping tabs on “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” is part of your job, but watching Bravo with your wife and kids doesn’t sound like a work-related expense to Uncle Sam.
   The IRS hotline told me that cable “may be deductible in certain cases.” If you subscribe to HBO only because you want to stay up to date on “Deadwood” for the job, then you can deduct part of the bill.
   But be aware that this may raise one of those dangerous IRS red flags. The more unusual the deduction, the more likely your return will be scrutinized.
   Internet—Again, this is pretty subjective. You can argue that you wouldn’t otherwise use high-speed internet at home, so the cost difference between broadband and a dial-up connection would be deductible.
   But the IRS probably won’t believe that you wouldn’t have an internet connection at all if it wasn’t for work. Same goes for anyone trying to claim a computer as a business expense. If that computer’s only for work, fine, but if it’s the only PC in the house, the IRS will suspect you are sneaking on for non-business use.
   Magazine and newspaper subscriptions—These are deductible so long as they relate to your job. Since you’re in media, you could argue that almost any subscription relates to your job of staying current with publications, but an auditor may not believe the Sports Illustrated subscription is strictly business.
   Classes—If the class or other continuing education material such as a book “maintains or improves skills required in your place of business” or “it is required by your employer or the law to keep your salary, status, or job,” then it is deductible.
   For example, a planner who pays for a class on interactive buying could deduct that cost. But you cannot deduct the cost if your employer reimburses you or if you are taking a class in preparation for a career change, such as going to grad school for your masters in education at night.
  Job hunting fees—Many people don’t realize that money spent on a job search is deductible. For example, the cost of fancy resume paper, recruiter services or career counselors can be deducted.
   Tax preparation—If you got your taxes done by a pro or even bought tax software, that’s deductible the next year.
   Car expenses—Your daily commute is not deductible. But trips to a client’s office, a business trip or a run to Staples for office supplies are. Keep a mileage log in your car for records. Also, save all of your gas receipts.

April 15, 2005 © 2005 Media Life

--Rachel is Media Life's career advice columnist for media planners and buyers. She welcomes questions from readers about how to get a job in media, how to keep it, how to get ahead, and how to do it all without going nuts.

Got a question for Rachel? You can email her at askrachel2004@yahoo.com

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