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Deducting Miles for Charitable Volunteering

Starting next week I’ll be volunteering every Tuesday morning in the kitchen at the local Howard County Meals on Wheels [3] facility. It’s less than five miles away one-way but I still wanted to research how to claim the driving mileage on my taxes to reduce my tax burden as much as possible. At ten miles a week and 52 weeks, we’re only looking at 520 miles for the entire year. The deduction for 2008 was $0.14 a mile (IRS standard mileage rates [4]), so we’re only talking a $72.80 deduction… but every bit helps!

This is what you need to do to determine whether you can claim it and what you need to do to document it (this is all covered in IRS Publication 526 [5]):

  1. You must itemize: Charitable contributions of any kind are only tax deductible if you file itemized deductions. If you take the standard deduction then you can save yourself some time and stop here because you won’t be able to deduct mileage or contributions.
  2. Determine whether the charity is an eligible charity: The IRS goes through a bunch of rules and lists five “qualified organization” types [6]. In general, if they’re a recognized charitable organization then, as the Howard County Meals on Wheels is, you’re safe.
  3. Decide if you want to deduct actual expenses or mileage: You have two choices with car related expenses, you can either claim the out of pocket expenses related to the direct use of your car (includes gas and oil, but not repair, registration, tires, insurance, etc) or you can claim the standard mileage of $0.14 a mile. If you pick the standard mileage rate, you can still deduct parking fees and tolls.
  4. Keep adequate and accurate records: If you deduct mileage, you will want to keep a record of the mileage as it is being driven. FOr my business mileage, I keep an excel spreadsheet that documents my mileage. Some people keep a notebook in their car. The IRS says: “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 expenses, simply record the costs. Lastly, you may want to get acknowledgment from the organization you’re supporting but that shouldn’t be an issue after the fact.
  5. Claim the deduction on Schedule A: If you use tax preparation software, it can enter it in for you.

I had hoped the value of a mile driven for charity would be equal to that of one driven for business (over fifty cents!), but it’s not. It does make some sense though, money isn’t the motivation for volunteering, unlike business, so we should be happy we can deduct anything at all!

(Photo: jacobwlester [7])