Can COBRA Qualify for the Self-Employed Health Insurance Deduction?

When you lose your job, your former employer may allow you to continue your health care coverage under your prior plan as required by the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 but require you to pay for some or all of the premiums. If you have a spouse and dependents covered by your policy, this can get expensive. However, even if you start working as an independent contractor or have other self-employment income, the COBRA payments won't qualify for the self-employed health insurance deduction.

Self-Employed Insurance Deduction Requirements

When you're self-employed, the Internal Revenue Service allows you to write off qualifying medical insurance premiums. However, to qualify, the insurance plan must be created under your trade or business name. COBRA coverage continues your existing coverage under your previous employer's plan. Therefore, because you didn't create the policy under your self-employed business name, you can't include the premiums you pay as part of the self-employed medical insurance deduction.

Starting Your Own Plan

If you do start your own health insurance plan under your self-employed trade or business name, such as when your COBRA coverage has run out or if you've decided to switch for the tax deduction, you can deduct your premiums as an adjustment to income -- meaning you don't have to give up your standard deduction. You can also include the premiums paid for your spouse, dependents and children under 27 at the end of the year. However, you can't deduct the premiums for any month that you could have been covered under an employer plan, such as your spouse's company plan. In addition, your deduction can't exceed your self-employment income for the year.

Medical Expenses Deduction

Your COBRA premiums do qualify for the medical and dental expenses deduction. This deduction encompasses a much wider range of health care costs, including not only your premiums, but also your out-of-pocket costs for checkups, preventive care, treatment, prescriptions and surgery. You can also include the costs of qualifying expenses for your spouse and dependents. Unlike the self-employed health insurance deduction, which you can claim on top of the standard deduction, you can only claim the medical expenses deduction if you itemize.

Medical Expenses Threshold

The biggest drawback to having to use the medical and dental expenses deduction for your COBRA premiums is that you can only write off the portion of your expenses that exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income as of 2013. For example, say your AGI is $90,000 in 2013. You need at least $9,000 in qualifying medical expenses before you can write off any of your costs. For example, if you have $10,000 in qualifying costs, your taxable income for the year only goes down by $1,000.

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About the Author

Mark Kennan is a writer based in the Kansas City area, specializing in personal finance and business topics. He has been writing since 2009 and has been published by "Quicken," "TurboTax," and "The Motley Fool."

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