I've been wanting to travel for a while now, but I bought a house in 2010 and qualified for the first-time homebuyer tax credit, which states you have to have that home as your primary residence for 36 months. I've recently been in contact with a traveling company, and I feel like I'm really close to landing myself an assignment, which means I'll have to leave my home for some time. Does anyone know, if I take an assignment far enough away from my house to where I can't stay there for the assignment, will I have to pay that money back since I'm only coming up on 2 years?
Aug 10, '12
When traveling you still have your house that your purchased as your primary residence, you are on a temporary work assignment but have NOT given up your permanent home. This home that you have will be called your "tax home".
If travel agencies provide housing it usually consists of a one bedroom furnished apartment although other options can be arranged. Utilities (electric, water, trash) may be included. Telephone, cable TV and sometimes Internet service can be included. Housing often includes basic furnishings and may include a washer and dryer, dishwasher and a microwave but this must be clarified during negotiations. Many companies also provide housewares, which include pots, dishes, utensils and linens.
The housing is typically arranged by the travel nursing agency in the company name. Some companies allow the travel nurse to participate in the search and selection process. Some parts of the country are much harder to secure reasonable housing than others.
Nearly all agencies will offer a housing stipend if the nurse chooses to secure housing independently of the agency. Stipend amounts can be very substantial - often higher than the actual wages - and these may be provided tax free if the traveler has a qualifying tax home. The stipend is attractive to travelers who prefer to obtain their own housing, those who travel in RVs, and to those simply trying to maximize their income and who are able to secure inexpensive housing. Some companies require the traveler to take the housing stipend. The housing stipend or the value of the provided housing will be taxed as part of the pay if the traveler does not have a qualifying tax home.
There may be tax benefits, commonly called "Tax Advantage" or "Per Diem" pay, if the traveler maintains a "tax home" while working and living away from that home. The tax-free reimbursement covers meal and incidentals as well as lodging. Some companies only offer the tax free lodging component, while others provide both. A "tax home" is a dwelling that you live in, maintain and return to between assignments. You must have living expenses at your tax home that you duplicate because your business requires you to be away from that home.
Tax-free money is a complicated subject and many travel companies have little understanding of the tax implications for the traveler, often encouraging travelers who do not qualify to take it, leaving them at risk in an IRS audit. It is highly advisable to consult a travel tax expert prior to accepting tax free money.
Aug 11, '12
As long as you don't rent it out, you are fine. That would be the only way in an audit to become ineligible for that tax credit and have to repay it. It is still your primary residence, you are just working away from your home. And yes, it is also your tax home.
When I say don't rent it out, I mean that literally. You may have roommates, and you may charge them appropriately. But you must keep a space that is exclusively yours (your bedroom) and which you may return to at any time (you haven't given someone complete control over your house with a rental contract or a lease). That will keep you good with the tax credit, and with the whole tax home thing (which makes you eligible to receive tax free housing or a stipend, and per diems and travel reimbursements tax free).
If you do take a local contract and are commuting from your home, you must pay income taxes on any "tax-free" reimbursements if your agency doesn't withhold taxes on them.