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Tax Tips for the Legally Disabled

Updated for Tax Year 2019


OVERVIEW

Several tax breaks are available for people living with disabilities. These tax breaks aren't always obvious, though. You have to know where to look for them.


disabled runner in motion
The federal tax code includes a number of provisions that can ease the tax burden on people living with a disability. Some disability payments and benefits are free of income tax, while deductions and credits can reduce the taxes you do owe. These tax breaks aren't always obvious, though. You have to know where to look for them.

Payments and benefits

Some disability payments are subject to income tax, while others are not. Here are some common situations:

  • Employer-paid disability benefits: If you receive disability income from an employer while you are unable to work, that money is usually taxable just like regular wages.
  • Disability insurance payments: If you receive benefits from a disability insurance policy, your tax liability depends on who paid the premiums for the policy. If your employer paid the premiums, then the benefits are taxable. If you paid the premiums using after-tax money, your benefits are not taxable.
  • Social Security disability: Social Security disability benefits may or may not be taxable depending on how much other income you (and your spouse, if you're married) may have. In general, though, if Social Security disability is your only source of income, your benefits aren't taxable. Internal Revenue Service Publication 915 provides further details on determining whether your benefits are taxable.

Disability tax credit

If you are permanently and totally disabled and have taxable disability income, you may qualify for the federal Tax Credit for the Elderly and Disabled. This credit is available only if a doctor has certified that your disability prevents you from working and that your condition is expected to last more than a year or result in your death. The size of your credit depends on how much taxable disability income you had as well as how much you received in nontaxable disability benefits. See IRS Publication 524 for more details.

Home modifications

If you make certain home improvements to accommodate a disability, you may be able to claim those costs as a medical expense deduction. This includes such things as adding a wheelchair ramp, chair lift or grab bars; modifying hardware, electrical fixtures or railings; or widening doorways or aisles. The improvements must be made solely to accommodate a disability and not for aesthetic reasons. If the improvements increase the value of your home, you can deduct only the portion of the cost that exceeds the increase in value. IRS Publication 502 provides more details and examples.

Care expenses

If you are married, and you and your spouse paid someone to take care of you because your disability made you unable to care for yourself, then you may be eligible for the Child and Dependent Care Credit. The exact amount of the credit depends on how much you spent on care and how much earned income you and your spouse had. In 2019, for example, the maximum credit ranges from $600 to $1,050, depending on income, or $1,200 to $2,100 if you also paid for care for two or more dependents. See IRS Publication 503 for more details.

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