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This is the second in a series of three articles by Lisa Balbes on working from home. The first article was How to get Free Home office Equipment and the third is Dealing with the IRS.

These articles were originally published on Gobal Network Navigator (from O'Reilly Publishers, no longer on-line).


Last time we discussed the issues involved in asking your company to provide equipment for you to use while working from home. The alternative is to buy it yourself. That way, you can get exactly what you want, and do whatever you want with it, right?

Well...if you decide to make a major platform change (IBM-PC vs. Macintosh vs. Unix workstation vs...) from what you use at work, you'll spend a lot of time transferring files and converting them. The more formatting and special characters used in your documents, the more likely you'll lose things in translation. If you're rarely going to bring work home, this isn't a big problem. However, if you hope to start trading hours worked at home for hours in the office, this can become a major problem.

Even if you buy the same platform as you use at work, you still have to worry about using compatible software. If you use a variety of packages, this can add a significant amount to your investment.

If you get a modem and hope to dial in to the computer at work, you need to investigate before you buy. Does your company have modems that support incoming calls? Is special software necessary to call the company mainframe, and if so, will the company provide that? Is the modem you are going to buy compatible with the company's modem? I was once consulting at a software vendor's office. I had my Powerbook with me, and wanted to log into their mainframe to check the interface to their software. Try as we might, my modem and theirs would not communicate. I ended up calling long distance back home, connecting to my workstation and using the software installed there, even though I was physically in the software vendor's headquarters! The modems were simply incompatible. (The sysadmin admitted they had had this problem before, and said if he could have my machine for a week or so, he would probably be able to figure it out.)

What about security? Some companies simply do not allow remote access. Others require special permission from management and use of company approved and supplied SECURID cards or call-back modems to connect from off-site.

You should investigate possible tax advantages of buying your own equipment. If the equipment is "ordinary and necessary" for your business, it is deductible. You cannot deduct things purchased simply for convenience, but can deduct things required for your job. If you are an employee, you will take the deduction on line 19 of Schedule A (with form 1040) and may also have to file form 2106 (Employee Business Expenses). This deduction is limited to the amount that exceeds 2% of your adjusted gross income.

If you are thinking of moonlighting, and using the new machine to do extra work outside your main employment, you might want to wait. Once you are in business, you can deduct the entire cost of equipment purchased for business use against the profits from that business. Up to $17,500 can be deducted in one year (see line 13 of Schedule C, and section 179 of the tax code), or the amount can be depreciated over several years.

If you use lots of fancy graphics at work, you may be disappointed when trying to do work from home. One engineer says the "lack of high-resolution display is a handicap sometimes. I can't use the word formatting programs at home, so document preparation is out. I can do less at home now (despite going from 2400 baud to 9600 baud) than I could 5 years ago. Text editor and postprocessing formatter were much better for use from home, but not acceptable now. An upgrade to home software would take care of part of this, but bandwidth is still limited for window operations and full screen updates."

Remember, no matter what you buy or who pays for it, in 6 months it will be outdated.

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