Impairment-related work expenses (IRWEs) can have a significant impact on your income, burdening yourself and loved ones with excessive costs. Learn how these costs can be deducted, even if the expense is something you use both at and outside of work.
IRWEs are the costs you pay for specific, disability-related services or items. These must be necessary for enabling you to work. You must need the item or service because of your impairment, whether mental or physical.
These expenses cannot be covered by another service or source, such as a private insurance company or Medicare or Medicaid. The expense of the item or service must be reasonable, meaning typical for the area in which you live.
If you’re able to use your car with a change to help aid your use (for example, hand-controlled breaking), these changes are deductible even if you use your car for purposes outside of work. However, the base cost of your car and any changes made not related to your disability (for example, a new coat of paint) are not deductible. If you cannot drive but can use public transportation, the cost of the public transportation will not be deductible; if you can neither drive nor use public transportation, the cost of someone to drive you to work will be covered.
The expense required to pay someone to perform a service for you at work will be covered; however, the cost of paying someone to help with you everyday activities will not. There is also coverage to pay someone to help you get ready for work and help you once you get home, covering activities such as getting dressed or cooking meals. Activities like cleaning the house or grocery shopping are not deductible.
Medical devices that are related to your medical condition and directly contribute to your ability to work are deductible. These expenses include anything from a wheelchair or crutches to a pacemaker or respirator.
If you need a service animal to help you work, the cost of the animal’s license will be covered, as well as their food and any veterinary care.
If you work outside of your home, changes to the outside of your home that help give you access to the street or transportation are deductible. If you work outside your home and make changes to the inside of your home to help with accessibility, these changes will not be covered. Changes inside your home to help adapt your disability — like widening door frames or adding ramps — will only be covered if you work inside of your home.
Equipment that you use in order to do your job is deductible, and the payments you might need to make after the equipment purchase are also covered. This equipment can range from anything like vision and sensory aids to one-hand typewriters.
If you use drugs or medical services to control your impairments, the cost is deductible as long as the drugs or services are prescribed to reduce or eliminate your symptoms. For example, anticonvulsant drugs are covered to control epilepsy, antidepressant medication is covered for the treatment of mental disorders, and radiation treatment is covered as therapy for cancer patients.
Disability benefits from Social Security take your income into consideration but do not account for work expenses that relate to your disability. In order to get Social Security disability benefits (SSDI) you must earn less than $1,220 per month. This income limit is the border of “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) or the baseline amount of work to get denied disability benefits.
When making calculations about your SGA, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will not factor in the cost of impairment-related work expenses. This can increase access to benefits on your first application or, if you’ve already been approved, reduce how much your income affects your disability benefits. Your disability benefit is therefore not reduced as much because not all of your earnings are accounted for. Your countable income, which is the income used to determine your SGA, will be your full income minus your impairment-related work expenses; it’s all of the money you’d be able to keep after paying for any service, change, drug or device related to your impairment.
Understanding IRWEs is crucial in helping and guiding yourself or those who have costs due to their impairments. Knowing what expenses are deductible can help save precious income and ensure that you and others get the disability benefits you need to live safely and comfortably.
Zoë Kaplan is an English major at Wesleyan University in the class of 2020. She writes about women, theater, sports, and everything in between. Read more of Zoë’s work at www.zoëkaplan.com.
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