Charitable Away-From-Home Travel

Charitable deductions are allowed only for travel expenses (meals and lodging included) by volunteers who do charitable work for their organization while 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 deduction (i.e., not even 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 his charitable travel. You can also deduct parking fees and tolls whether you use your actual expenses or the standard mileage rate.

The 14 cents per mile is not inflation adjusted so the current high cost of gasoline may well make it appropriate to document the cost of gas and oil for charitable trips. As example, when this article was prepared, gasoline prices were in the range of $4.50 per gallon in many parts of the country. Assuming a vehicle gets 20 miles to the gallon that 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 gasoline usage for the year.

Car expenses record requirements. If you claim expenses directly related to use of your car in giving services to a qualified organization, you must keep reliable written records of your expenses. Whether your records are considered reliable depends on all the facts and circumstances. Generally, they may be considered reliable if you made them regularly and at or near the time you had the expenses.

For example, your records might show the name of the organization you were serving and the dates you used your car for a charitable purpose. If you use the standard mileage rate of 14 cents a mile, your records must show the miles you drove your car for the charitable purpose. If you deduct your actual expenses, your records must show the costs of operating the car that are directly related to a charitable purpose.