Roof can be depreciated separately from office

I own a small office building which I've been
depreciating over 31.5 years. I've had the building for 6 years. I just put a
new roof on the building. Do I add the cost of the roof to the cost of the
building and keep depreciating for the remaining amount of years? Or do I have
to start over on the roof with 31.5 years? That would mean I' m still
depreciating the roof when the building is finished. Can you depreciate a roof
if the building under it is supposedly used up?

C.B., Indianapolis

You need to treat the roof as if it were a separate asset and give it its own 31.5 year schedule. So even after your building will be fully depreciated, your roof will live on in your tax returns. Fortunately, buildings don't usually vanish after their depreciable lives are over, so you should still have a structure to hold up the roof that has a life of its own.

I just started getting social security this
summer. I'm told some of it will be taxable, but there's no withholding like
there was on my wages. How do I figure out how much tax I should pay on this
income?

G.O., Greenwood

When you fill out your tax return next spring you'll find a little worksheet in the tax instructions that will walk you through figuring out the taxable amount of your social security. The way it works is like this: Add up your adjusted gross income, any tax exempt income you may have, and one-half of your social security benefits. Call that number, "base income." The "threshold" amount is $25,000 if you are single (or head of household, or married filing separately and not living with your spouse at any time during the year) and $32,000 if you are married and filing a joint return (the threshold is 0 if you are married filing separately but lived with your spouse at any time during the year). If the base income is more than the threshold, you will have to pay tax on some of your social security. The amount of social security that is taxed is the lesser of one-half of the social security you received or the threshold.

I've been paying medical expenses for my son,
insurance and some doctor bills. My son is single and lives at home. As long as
he continues to live at home, can I take deductions for his expenses? I don't
claim him as a dependent because he's over the age limit.

W.U., Indianapolis

If your son can no longer be claimed as a dependent, you are not eligible to claim his medical expenses as a deduction on your tax return. The rule is the person must have been your dependent either at the time the medical services were provided or at the time you paid the expenses. If you are paying medical bills for an illness he had while he was still your dependent, you can take a deduction for those expenses. The insurance, however, is a current expense, and won't count as a deduction.

Is your child still in school? If he is a student and under age 24 you may still be able to claim him as a dependent. The income test for dependency which says that the person's gross income isn't to exceed $2,700 (the amount for 1998, this amount changes each year) doesn't have to be met if your child is under age 24 and a full-time student. A full-time student is someone who is a full-time student during some part of at least 5 months during the year.

If your son qualifies as a dependent under the student rule, then you are entitled to claim the deduction for medical expenses you paid on his behalf.

I'm a third-grade teacher and am taking graduate
courses in education. I plan to continue teaching at the same school after I
finish my coursework. Can I take a deduction for the tuition I'm paying and
other related costs?

S.C., Indianapolis

The IRS allows deductions for your tuition, books, lab fees, etc., under certain circumstances, and they particularly like to hear that you plan to stay in the same job. If you seek a higher-level job after your coursework is finished, then it looks as if you were preparing for a new profession and the IRS tends to frown on paying for someone's training in a new profession. Take your deduction as a miscellaneous expense on Schedule A.

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