Tornadoes, Floods, and Taxes: Reporting Your Casualty Loss on Your Tax Return

Casualty loss claims for tornado damage

Photo by Mark Witzling

We’ve had our fair share of tornados in Missouri this year, and plenty of damage too. Serious damage, we recently made international headlines with our Good Friday storms. You might have heard that you can claim a casualty loss on your tax return. While that’s true, for many people it’s not as helpful as you would hope. Here are the facts so you know what to expect.

First, we’re talking about a casualty loss on your tax return. All this means, is that you get a reduction of taxes that you would normally owe. If you’re already in an income situation where you don’t pay income tax, you will receive no tax benefit. This is important to know because people with low incomes are more likely to not have insurance, therefore their loss is greater. They want to claim their casualty loss, but it does them no good.

Second, you can only claim a casualty loss on your actual loss. If your insurance reimbursed you for the damage, then you have no loss to report on your tax return other than your deductible.
Finally, when we’re talking about casualty losses, we mean tornados, earthquakes, floods and things like that. If a tornado blows your roof off, that’s a casualty loss. If you need to replace your roof because it’s 20 years old, that’s normal wear and tear and does not count.

So what about those people who do have taxable income and also have a genuine loss they can claim, what happens? It’s probably easiest to explain with an example: Let’s say Fred owns a house that’s worth $200,000. The recent storm caused $50,000 worth of damage and his insurance company picked up $45,000 of the expense due to his $5,000 deductible. Fred has a $5,000 casualty loss.

Fred completes form 4684, the Casualties and Thefts form:

We know that his loss is $5000, which goes on line 10 of the form. Then you subtract $100 because under the IRS rules, every casualty loss subtracts $100—that leaves a loss of $4900. Next, you subtract 10% of Fred’s adjusted gross income. If Fred makes $40,000 a year, you subtract $4,000; that leaves $900 for him to claim as a loss on his schedule A. If Fred itemizes his deductions, it will go on line 20 of his Schedule A. He’ll wind up paying $225 less in taxes. If Fred doesn’t already itemize, he might not even get that.

Remember, the casualty loss is dependent upon your income level. If Fred made $50,000 a year or more, he’d get nothing at all because 10% of his income would be more than the total amount of loss he could claim.

Everybody’s case will be different because there are so many variables to look at. If you have suffered a loss due to the recent tornados (or any other natural disaster) even if you won’t be able to claim a tax deduction for it, you might find the IRS Disaster and Loss Kit helpful. It has information on how to replace missing documents, a workbook for determining what you lost and what the value was, and other valuable information. It’s called Publication 2194 and you can access it through this link:

St Louis County Property Tax Increase

Timing is everything, isn’t it?  The new St Louis County property tax increases just got posted on the county website yesterday.  My taxes went up $235.  Although I hate having to pay more, it’s still less than my 2008 tax rate.  So I guess I shouldn’t complain too much. 

But I’m in the Parkway school district, our school district taxes only went up 4.61%.  People living in the Pattonville district, which happens to be a few streets over from my house,  had an 11.5% increase.  Other districts with double digit percentage increases are Brentwood, Maplewood-Richmond Heights, University City and Webster Groves.

If you want to check out your new tax bill, click on this link.  It will take you to the real estate tax information for St Louis County.

You can find your property by typing in your name or your address.  That will take you to the page that tells about your property, it has assessment values, legal description, and things like that.  In the light blue column on the left hand side, there is a link that says “Tax Amounts Due.”  It’s close to the bottom of the page.  Click on that.  Scroll down towards the bottom of the page and it will show you your 2010 tax amount. 

It’s really not that hard to navigate.  You just have to remember that the “finder” portion of the page is always at the very bottom.  You need to be in the top half of the screen and scroll to find some of the things I’m talking about.  It’s not always intuitive.  A wrong click can make you start over.

The St Louis Post Dispatch did a good article on the subject in today’s paper.  Here’s a link to the full story.  Post Dispatch article