tax time: What's deductible for EMS and fire personnel
Kentucky EMS Connection
— There's less than two months to go before it's time to pay the
federal piper by April 15. While everyone is obligated to pay
their income taxes, there is absolutely nothing wrong making sure
you don't overpay. And a good place to legally save some money is
in the deduction area.
are an area of tax law that is open to a lot of interpretation. Frequently,
what one tax preparer says you can do, another says you can't. Since your
signature goes on the bottom of the tax return, you are responsible for its
contents, so it is very worthwhile to make sure that you are only claiming
deductions you are legally entitled to claim.
are some typical items public safety responders take deductions on. But
first a word of caution: this isn't tax advice you can rely on, but a
discussion of typical deductions as discussed by a CPA and tax attorney.
Firefighter/EMS/Rescue personnel can deduct a contribution to a meal
fund at their station only if it is required by the employer as a
condition of employment and only when they actually put the money in.
phones and pagers: The IRS takes the position that cell phones and
pagers are not deductible for paid personnel unless required by the
employer as a condition of employment and then only to the extent the
cell phone or pager is used in that employment. It is up to the tax
filer to prove it through records.
cleaning and supplies: Generally, if the employer has a policy
stating the required uniform and also doesn't pay for uniform items,
then you have a deductible item.
Uniforms can be tricky, however. The case law
says that if you are required to purchase clothing for your job, but are
not limited in how you can use that clothing off-duty, then the clothing
is not deductible. However, if the employer restricts use of the
clothing, then it might be deductible.
You can also argue that clothing which is not
"general clothing," or clothing which is "safety
oriented," is also deductible.
For example, a police officer's bullet
resistant vest is not considered "general clothing," so that
is deductible. Uniforms with patches that the employer says you can't
wear unless authorized are deductible.
However, while most police officers don't go to
the grocery store with a t-shirt that says "POLICE TACTICAL
TEAM" on the back, most public safety agencies don't care if you
wear a t-shirt with a fire or EMS logo on it to the grocery store. In
those cases, the t-shirt could be considered "general wear"
and would not be deductible.
from one job to another: Travel from one job to another has always
been deductible, but you must keep written records to prove it. The
easiest way to keep these records is to buy a small pocket calendar and
list where you go and the miles. Travel from home to the first job site,
and travel from the last job site to home, is never deductible, even if
you have to lug around all your gear.
dues: These are deductible.
education: Continuing education costs, including reasonable costs
for getting there, are deductible. Educational costs are only deductible
if it helps you maintain your current job, or if it keeps you
competitive within your current job. While this area is frequently open
to debate, the key is that you need the education for your current job
and that the education does not prepare you for a new type of job. It
appears that the debate on whether an EMT-Basic can claim the costs of
paramedic education remains a gray area.
vs. volunteer: Unpaid public safety personnel have different rules
for some items. If you are a volunteer, then you are donating your time
to a government and if you incur out of pocket expenses that are
reasonable, then those expenses are deductible. However, reasonable is
sometimes hard to define.
course, all of these deductible items are meaningless unless you actually
itemize your deductions. And once you add up your deductions, only the
portion that exceeds 2% of your adjusted gross income actually gets taken
EMS workers can do better just claiming the standard deduction.
both the federal and state governments have different standard deductions
(Kentucky's is lower), so you might benefit from claiming the standard
deduction on your federal return and then itemizing on your Kentucky return.
2005 The Kentucky EMS Connection. All rights reserved. News stories
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