Last fall the IRS announced the increase in the expensing limit with respect to the safe harbor limit contained in Regulation 1.263(a)-1(f) from $500 to $2,500 per substantiated invoice. The increase commences in 2016. The election basically allows taxpayers without an AFS (applicable financial statement) audited by a CPA, to expense items that would otherwise be required to be capitalized and depreciated. There is no change to the $5,000 limit where an AFS is available.
As previously outlined in IRS announcements, taxpayers may still deduct items in excess of the safe harbor limit the would otherwise be classified as a repair or maintenance expenditure. Details may be found in IRS Notice 2015-82.
The safe harbor election increase is welcome by small taxpayers. The benefit of the election is that the taxpayer receives audit protection with regards to expenditures inherent in the election.
For Canadians filing U.S. tax returns such as the U.S. 1040NR, reporting net rental income from U.S. situs properties, the safe harbor election is critical as in most files for rental properties were not acquired as new units, or that are a few years old, there will be annual capital or repairs incurred.
Without the election, a carpet replacement, a window or a furnace repair or even an air conditioner may have to be capitalized under the tangible property regulations of the IRS Code. Of course, one may say how can such individual expenditures with the labour component to supply/install be under $2,500. Well $2,500 is better than $500. Maybe in the future, Treasury will increase the limit to $5,000 to reflect the current or realistic cost of such an item.
The regulations do allow if one has a written accounting policy to say expense items over a particular threshold would suffice. I would consider being conservative in this approach as the regulations on UOP (unit of property) could override or the threshold could be considered excessive.