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'Can I write off my internet bill?': 2020 tax season poses pandemic-related questions

Whether it's working from home or stimulus check confusion, people filing 2020 tax returns have a lot of new questions related to the pandemic.

PORTLAND, Ore. — If filing your 2020 tax return is giving you anxiety, you're not alone. Many people have questions about pandemic-related expenses and how they may or may not apply to their W-2.

“Most of my job is calming people down, talking them off their stress and saying, 'Lets tackle your tax issues one thing at a time,'” said Richard Sohler, a tax attorney with Sohler Whitman in Portland.

We asked Sohler some of the most frequently asked tax questions from KGW viewers, including whether or not stimulus checks should be considered as income.

“They are not income,” said Sohler. “Stimulus checks that everyone received were credits or rebates based off of taxes that were going to be paid… and ultimately when you file your 2020 taxes this year, there will be a correction or adjustment based on your income for the year to allow people who didn't receive stimulus earlier to actually receive it if they had a bad year and deal with rectifying who got what amount.”

What about working from home? Many people want to know if they can write off their new office equipment, internet upgrade or utility bills.

“Unfortunately, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, miscellaneous reimbursed expenses were eliminated,” said Sohler. “So many W-2 workers are not going to see any kind of benefit for use of their home or power.”

Most kids have been learning remotely since last spring. Many parents wonder if there's a deduction for those who've had to leave their jobs to supervise online learning or provide childcare.

“You hear about educator expense deductions, unfortunately, the IRS requires you to be an employee of a school district,” said Sohler. “So homeschooling is not going to qualify you as an educator.”

What about people employed by an Oregon company, who've been working from home in Washington-- a state that doesn't have a personal income tax? Sohler said there is a possible benefit there.

“The current position from the Oregon Department of Revenue is that if you're not [working] in the state, it's not Oregon revenue," said Sohler. "There's a potential you could claw back some of the withholding that you had, or get a refund." 

Sohler said people in that situation just need to track how many days they worked from home in Washington and in Oregon and include that information in their Oregon tax return as a non-resident.

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