What expenses related to COVID-19, such as mask purchases and PCR testing costs, will be eligible for medical expenses deductions on tax returns for the year 2020?
In order to prevent infection, many people have purchased previously-unthinkable numbers of masks. Are the expenses for the purchase of these masks deductible as medical expenses?
It turns out that they are not eligible for medical expenses deductions. Medical expenses that are eligible are: ① expenses paid for consultations and treatment by medical personnel; and ② expenses for purchasing medicines, etc. necessary for treatment and recuperation.
Since masks are worn essentially for the purpose of preventing infection, the costs of purchasing them are not deductible. Even if a filer was infected with the new coronavirus, if their masks were bought in order to prevent infection, let’s make sure that it’s understood that those costs aren’t deductible as medical expenses.
Whether or not the cost of the PCR test is deductible as a medical expense depends on who decided that the PCR test be undergone. For example, if a person is suspected of having a new coronavirus infection because they were in close contact with someone infected, they can deduct the cost of a PCR test that their doctor advised them to get.
On the other hand, expenses for PCR tests conducted at one's own discretion, such as PCR tests conducted simply to confirm that one is not infected, are not deductible as medical expenses.
However, if the result of the PCR test is found to be "positive" and treatment follows, then the test can be considered as a medical examination prior to treatment, and the cost of the test can be deducted as a medical expense.
This is similar to the approach with expenses for medical checkups and physical examinations, which are normally not deductible - but become deductible if a serious disease is detected and treatment is provided following the diagnosis.
Similar to PCR testing, antigen tests are also considered to be treated in the same way. Antibody tests are not deductible as a medical expense because they check whether a person had been infected in the past, not in the present.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, more and more hospitals are introducing online medical care. Online medical expenses for online care are eligible for the medical expenses deduction. At the same time, online usage fees necessary for online care are included in the deduction.
In addition, purchase costs of medicine prescribed through online medical care will be eligible for the deduction when they are included in purchase costs for medicine necessary for treatment and care. On the other hand, it should be noted that when medicine is delivered, delivery costs are not eligible for the deduction.
Even if it is not determined by a physician or other health care provider, there may be a business situation in which it’s necessary to prove that a person has tested “negative” for COVID-19 infection. The following is an explanation of how to handle the PCR test costs borne by the company in such cases.
Under income tax law, if a company provides money or goods to an employee, etc., the employee is taxed on the salary as the provision of economic benefits. However, if the provision of economic benefits is necessary for the performance of the employee's duties, and certain other requirements are met, tax won’t be imposed on those benefits.
For example, even if money and goods are provided to an employee as entertainment expenses, they are not taxed as salary if they are necessary for the performance of the employee's duties.
Regarding business trips abroad during the pandemic, there are some countries and regions that do not allow entry or exemption from voluntary quarantine without a ‘negative’ certification. In such cases, it is necessary for personnel to undergo PCR testing. In addition, there is a risk of business operations being interrupted due to cluster outbreaks, etc., at the company if a business traveler within Japan does not realize that he or she got infected in the area (s)he was posted, and continues work after returning to the company. Just in case, company management may want to have such employees tested.
In such cases, if a company bears the cost of PCR testing for some of its employees/staff, it will be considered as providing economic benefits, but since it is deemed necessary for the performance of business, the amounts won’t be taxed as salary.
If an examination is performed without the judgment of a doctor or other health care provider, the cost is basically borne by the employee. However, if the company covers the cost of the examination for some employees, it will not be taxed as salary if it is deemed necessary for carrying on business.
However, it should be noted that when an owner-operator company bears the PCR testing costs only for family members (executives), and it’s not considered necessary for carrying on the business, then the expenses will not be deductible from taxable income under corporate tax law, and also the executives will be taxed on the amounts paid - a so-called 'double blow’.
When a company bears general employees’ testing costs not deemed necessary for carrying on business, the employees will be taxed; however, the costs will be allowed as corporate expenses. This is very different from the above case.
For example, if the PCR tests are conducted for all executives and employees, regardless of their ranks, the possibility of the tests being approved as “benefits” will probably increase.
As mentioned above, the costs of issuing ‘COVID-19-negative’ certificates, which may be required for overseas business trips, are basically separate from the costs of the tests. Even if the company bears the costs of getting these certificates issued, the amount(s) will not be taxed as employees’ salaries if the certifications are necessary for the performance of work duties - just like the situation for testing costs.
Even if it is not an overseas business trip, for example, if a business partner requires the employee/staff to present a ‘negative’ certificate, and they cannot discuss business without it, it can be said that it is necessary for the performance of business duties.
In any case, receipts must be kept, and written explanations for why the PCR test(s)/certificates were necessary are required.
Last year, income tax, gift tax and sole proprietor’s consumption tax return due dates were extended. What will happen this year?
Last year, due to the spread of the new coronavirus, the deadlines for filing income tax and gift tax returns were extended by one month (about two weeks for consumption tax for sole proprietors) to April 16th. Although there was a precedent of extending the deadline for those affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake, this is the first time in history that the deadline for filing tax returns was extended uniformly nationwide.
In addition, for those who had difficulty in filing their tax returns by April 16, flexibility was exercised, such that even if they filed their tax returns on or after April 17, they were not deemed as filing late.
At the present time, for those who have not yet filed their 2019 tax return, if they file their 2019 return before filing their 2020 tax return, it will be treated as an on-time filing (even if filed at the same time as their 2020 return).
Based on information prior to the second emergency declaration, it seemed that "entrance tickets" would be required at the tax filing sites in tax offices, to ease congestion. The numbered tickets would not be distributed on the day the filer appeared, but could be obtained in advance via LINE.
The National Tax Agency is also taking measures such as making it possible to consult on tax returns by phone or chatbot. Although it costs money, if you hire a tax accountant, you will not have to go to the tax office and will be protected from infection, so if you have relatives who have been filing their own tax returns, please ask them to do so.
As stated above, the deadlines for filing tax returns were extended in cases where it was difficult for filers to file tax returns by the deadline, which is the same situation at present. Still, in our opinion, the filing deadline will not be extended uniformly throughout Japan as it was last year. In principle, the deadline for filing tax returns will be March 15 (March 31 for consumption tax returns by sole proprietors), but we think that the deadline will be extended flexibly in cases where individual circumstances make it impossible to file by the deadline(s).
Examples described below are listed on the National Tax Agency home page, where deadline extensions are granted for individual applications.
Even for reasons other than these, deadlines for filing may be extended upon individual application. It is not necessary to complete your tax return by March 15 (March 31 for consumption tax for sole proprietors) if you risk becoming infected with the new coronavirus by doing so. Therefore, please take measures to the extent possible according to your individual situation.