Charitable Deductions for Travel Expenses
Ainer & Fraker, LLP — Charitable deductions are allowed only for travel expenses (including meals and lodging) by volunteers who do charitable work for their organization while they are away from home on the charity’s behalf.
Unlike other areas of taxes, meals are not subject to the 50% limitation. Any “significant element of personal pleasure” negates a complete deduction (i.e., not even a partial deduction is allowed). Significant personal pleasure is assumed if the taxpayer has only minor duties and is not required to perform any duties for the charity for major portions of the away-from-home stay. If the taxpayer’s personal vehicle is used for the charitable travel, then the taxpayer may deduct the cost of gas and oil, but not depreciation, insurance, or repairs. As an alternative to deducting the cost of gas and oil, the taxpayer can use the current standard mileage rate of 14 cents per mile for charitable travel. The taxpayer can also deduct parking fees and tolls, whether actual expenses or the standard mileage rate is used.
The 14 cents per mile is not adjusted for inflation, so the current high cost of gasoline may well make it appropriate to document the cost of gas and oil for charitable trips. For example, when this article was prepared, gasoline prices were in the range of $4.50 per gallon in many parts of the country. Assuming that a vehicle gets 20 miles to the gallon, this turns out to be 22.5 cents per mile just for the cost of gasoline. Where there is significant charitable usage, it may be worth the time to document the gasoline usage for the year.
Car expenses record requirements — If you claim expenses claimed directly relate to the use of the taxpayers car in giving services to a qualified organization, reliable written records must be kept of the expenses. Whether the records are considered reliable depends on all of the facts and circumstances. Generally, they may be considered reliable if the taxpayer made them regularly and at or near the time in which the expenses were incurred.
For example, the records might show the name of the organization the taxpayer was serving, as well as the dates the car was used for a charitable purpose. If the standard mileage rate of 14 cents per mile was used, the records must show the number of miles that the taxpayer drove the car specifically for the charitable purpose. If actual expenses are deducted, the records must show the costs of operating the car that are directly related to a charitable purpose.