How a Loss of Property May Impact Your Taxes

With population growth the number of people impacted by natural disasters is on the rise. Unfortunately, population growth has also lead to an increase in personal property vandalism. The consequences for both can be costly. Depending on the degree and type of damage, losses may be tax deductible.

What Defines an Eligible Casualty Loss?
To be eligible for the deduction, the property damage must have been sudden, unexpected or due to uncommon causes. Acceptable grounds include:

In every case, however, the property owner must have had neither the means nor the facility to sidestep the disaster.

What Types of Casualty Loss Are Not Deductible?
While properties that suffer unexpected damage may qualify for the deduction, those that have slowly deteriorated due to neglect will not. Nondeductible losses include those caused by:

Questionable Casualties
Some types of damage fall into a gray area. For example, while a water heater that bursts due to rust does not qualify as a casualty loss, the harm it causes to either the residence or its contents normally does. Similarly, while injury to trees from a sudden and unexpected insect infestation would be deductible, their loss from curable disease that has gone untreated would not.

Knowing What You've Lost
When theft, fire, hurricane, tornado or similar calamity cause the untimely demise of a dwelling or its contents, the extent of loss can be difficult to prove. That's why the intelligent taxpayer will take pains ahead of time to catalog each of his major possessions. At times, the only proof of ownership could come down to the photographs taken in advance of the event. Purchase receipts for big-ticket items can also help.

Figuring the Value of an Article
Many people mistakenly believe that they can deduct the full current replacement cost of a missing or damaged item. This is incorrect. In fact, the allowable basis for calculation will be the lesser of either the item's depreciated value or its adjusted basis. The smaller of the two amounts figure will always be your starting point.

For example, if an item purchased for $10,000 has since doubled in value, you will base your calculations on its adjusted basis of $10,000. If, on the other hand, the item is now worth only $5,000, you must begin your computation using that depreciated number.

Calculating Your Loss
After determining the item's allowable value, you will need to calculate the proper deductible amount. For the simplest method of doing this:

  1. Add up the allowable value of each item lost in the event
  2. Subtract from the total any insurance settlements you may have received
  3. Decrease that total by an additional $100
  4. For the final result, subtract 10 percent of your adjusted gross income

These calculations will give you a general idea of the amount you can claim as a tax deduction on any particular casualty event. However, real-life situations can be more complicated, and IRS Publication 547 explains this is greater detail.

Declared Disasters
An event is not an official disaster until the President of the United States declares it to be so. However, once it has received this definitive designation, the taxpayer can look for additional relief. It's important to be aware, however, that tax deductions for large losses due to disaster or vandalism are more often subject to audit. Therefore, it is vital to keep detailed records such as pictures, receipts, insurance claim documentation and anything else that could serve to back up your claim.

The tax laws are intricate and ever changing. In addition, every casualty claim can present its own unique set of complications. Since the particulars of legislation in this regard can change with each new disaster, it is important to use software like to assist you with maximizing your deduction on your tax return.



Q&A: Can I write off food or groceries on my taxes?

In most cases, food and groceries purchased for personal household use are not eligible as a tax write off. However, there are a few specific situations in which these expenses may qualify, especially if you run your own business.

Food used for a work-related purpose may be eligible as a business expense. If, for example, you paid for food at a work function, you could deduct that as a business expense. These food expenses are generally limited to business owners or self-employed taxpayers. For most people, food and grocery costs do not fit into this category.