Most of us realize that donating money and goods to a charity can be beneficial on our tax returns. But did you know that traveling for charity can also be deducted? It’s true – with some limitations, of course.
When you do work for a charity, whether building houses, manning a recruitment booth, or picking up items donated, travel may be required. If you use your own personal vehicle (or your company vehicle if you own the company) your travel involved with this work can often be deducted as well.
For example, you might volunteer at your church to help with the annual winter clothing drive. Your job is to visit the homes of donors to pick up the clothing for the drive, making the donation much simpler for folks who don’t have time to come down to the church. Your mileage for driving around to the donors’ homes can be counted as a deductible out of pocket expense on your tax return for the year.
A more involved example would be if you volunteer to help build a water filtration plant for a community in a third-world country, sponsored by a qualified charitable organization. Your out-of-pocket costs for airfare, lodging, and ground transportation can be deductible if those costs are strictly related to the charitable work, and the trip is predominantly associated with the work. That is to say, your trip is not a “vacation” with a small amount of time spent working for the charity – the trip should be about the charitable work first and foremost.
The IRS recently published a Summertime Tax Tip (2017-2) that gives some broad overview information on deducting expenses while traveling for charity. The text of the Tip follows below.Tips to Keep in Mind for Taxpayers Traveling for Charity
During the summer, some taxpayers may travel because of their involvement with a qualified charity. These traveling taxpayers may be able to lower their taxes.
Here are some tax tips for taxpayers to use when deducting charity-related travel expenses:
- Qualified Charities. For a taxpayer to deduct costs, they must volunteer for a qualified charity. Most groups must apply to the IRS to become qualified. Churches and governments are generally qualified, and do not need to apply to the IRS. A taxpayer should ask the group about its status before they donate. Taxpayers can also use the Select Check tool on IRS.gov to check a group’s status.
- Out-of-Pocket Expenses. A taxpayer may be able to deduct some of their costs including travel. These out-of-pocket expenses must be necessary while the taxpayer is away from home. All costs must be:
- Directly connected with the services,
- Expenses the taxpayer had only because of the services the taxpayer gave, and
- Not personal, living or family expenses.
- Genuine and Substantial Duty. The charity work the taxpayer is involved with has to be real and substantial throughout the trip. The taxpayer can’t deduct expenses if they only have nominal duties or do not have any duties for significant parts of the trip.
- Value of Time or Service. A taxpayer can’t deduct the value of their time or services that they give to charity. This includes income lost while the taxpayer serves as an unpaid volunteer for a qualified charity.
- Travel Expenses a Taxpayer Can Deduct. The types of expenses a taxpayer may be able to deduct include:
- Air, rail and bus transportation,
- Car expenses,
- Lodging costs,
- Cost of meals, and
- Taxi or other transportation costs between the airport or station and their hotel.
- Travel Expenses a Taxpayer Can’t Deduct. Some types of travel do not qualify for a tax deduction. For example, a taxpayer can’t deduct their costs if a significant part of the trip involves recreation or vacation.