MONEY MANAGEMENTFrom the Virginia Society of Certified Public Accountants - Presented by Dean Knepper, CPA, CFP®
TAX BREAKS THAT HELP WHEN DISASTER STRIKES(March 1, 2006) — When disaster strikes, taxes are probably not on your mind. Yet it is reassuring to know that when your property is damaged, destroyed or stolen, you may qualify for tax relief for losses not covered by insurance. To assist victims of property loss or damage in understanding the tax breaks that may be
Defining a casualty loss
According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), a casualty is defined as property that is damaged or destroyed from a sudden, unexpected or unusual event. Deductible casualty losses may result from hurricanes, lightning, fires, floods, earthquakes, vandalism, theft and similar disasters.
Losses that are gradual and progressive do not qualify for the casualty loss
deduction. Examples of non-deductible losses include damage from mildew, erosion,
wood rot, termites or other insect infestation.
Proving your loss
To deduct a property casualty loss, you must prove that there was a casualty
loss and when it occurred. To meet this requirement, it is helpful to have photos
the property, news clippings describing the event and police reports, if applicable. You must have proof that you owned the property or that you are contractually
responsible to the owner for any damage to the property. In the case of theft, you should have records documenting the loss and records showing when you
discovered items missing, as well as proof that you were the owner of those items and the cost of them.
For both casualty and theft losses, you should retain records of any insurance
reimbursement you received or expect to receive for the loss or damaged property.
You are not required to submit your documentation with your tax return, but you should have it available in the event of an audit.
Claiming a casualty deduction
To claim a casualty loss deduction, complete Form 4684, Casualties and Thefts,
and use Schedule A to itemize your loss deduction. Both of these forms must
attached to Form 1040. Calculating your loss requires that you determine the adjusted basis in the property before the casualty loss and the decrease in the
fair market value of the property as a result of the casualty or theft. From the smaller of these amounts, you must subtract any insurance or other reimbursements
that you received.
Expediting claims in disaster areas
Generally, a casualty loss is deductible only in the year the event occurred. However, in areas declared a disaster area by the president, you have the option of taking the casualty deduction on the tax return for the year of the loss or on the return of the prior tax year. You do this by filing an amended return.
Congress and the IRS responded to the devastation caused by 2005 hurricanes
Katrina, Rita and Wilma by issuing additional tax relief and assistance. Complete
details can be found on the IRS web site.
Because the tax laws related to casualty losses are complex, consulting with
a CPA can help you to sort through the requirements and prepare your return
The Virginia Society of CPAs is the leading professional association dedicated to enhancing the success of all CPAs and their profession by communicating information and vision, promoting professionalism, and advocating members’ interests. Founded in 1909, the Society has nearly 8,000 members who work in public accounting, industry, government and education. This Money Management column and other financial news articles can be found in the Press Room on the VSCPA Web site at www.vscpa.com.
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