Tax Tips if You Traveled for Charity Work This Summer

Were you particularly generous this summer by donating not only your money but also your time?  If so, keep reading to see if some of your charitable nature might be rewarded by an increased tax deduction next April.

What Kind of Charity Work Qualifies for a Possible Travel Tax Deduction?

Travel expenses for work you do for a qualified charity can be deducted. A qualifying charity is a 501(c)3 organization.

Basically, any charity that you could deduct your cash contribution to is eligible.  Visit this web site to verify if the charity to which you’ve donated your time or money is a qualifying organization.

What Kind of Travel Expense Can Be Deducted?

Any travel expenses you incur in reaching the destination of your volunteer work can be deducted.  This can range from airfare, if you are teaching English to underprivileged children in Asia, to the mileage you drive to the site where you are helping build a house a few miles from home.

If you use your own car for traveling for charity work, you can deduct 14 cents a mile. Meals and lodging while away on a charitable endeavor are also deductible travel expenses.

What if I Do Some Volunteer Work While I’m in Hawaii? Can I Deduct the Cost of That Trip?

Yes, but only if that was the reason you went on the trip in the first place. In other words, you could fly from New York to Hawaii and deduct the entire cost of the trip if you were in the islands a week, did volunteer work for seven days, and hung out in Waikiki Beach for a couple of hours one afternoon.

However, if you did the reverse—spent seven days in Waikiki Beach and then worked at a food pantry for a couple of hours when the weather turned (e.g., became partly cloudy)—no part of your trip to Hawaii would be deductible.

In IRS-speak, your volunteer work must be real and substantial for the related travel expenses to be deductible.  In lay terms, use common sense.

What About The Value of My Time? Can I Deduct My Normal Hourly Rate?

No way. Even if you are a $400/hr attorney donating your legal time to help a non-profit get formed, your deduction is limited to actual expenses you incur in assisting the charity, not what you could otherwise bill for your efforts.

What Else?

One other key consideration: Only those who itemize can actually benefit from any charitable deduction.  TurboTax will figure out if you’re eligible to itemize or not.  You don’t have to worry about that part.

Just make sure you total all of your travel-related charitable expenses before concluding you don’t have an opportunity to reduce your taxes. No matter the outcome, at least you made the world a better place.

Michael Rubin

Author of the bestseller Beyond Paycheck to Paycheck, and the upcoming The Savings Solution, Michael B. Rubin is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER professional. In addition to his experience providing sophisticated financial advice to affluent clients, Michael has been a key source of information for over a decade to countless others. He speaks passionately about and provides guidance on virtually all personal financial planning topics. Michael has appeared in various media, including radio and TV stations across the country, plus national media such as CNN Money.com, latimes.com, The Wall Street Journal, SmartMoney.com, Chicago Tribune, Financial Advisor Magazine, and Investment News. Prior to founding Total Candor LLC, Michael worked in the personal financial services practices of two of the former "Big Six" accounting firms. Subsequently working for several years as a new venture executive for Toys "R" Us, Inc., he made sure that he never actually grew up. He holds an undergraduate business degree from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Michael lives in New Hampshire with his wife and children.

Comments (2) Leave your comment

  1. I drive for the Disabled American Veterans transporting Veterans from their home to the VAMC in Northport L.I., NY. It is 5 miles to where I pick up their van from my home and 5 miles return when finished. Where do I enter the total mileage for the tear in Turbo Tax.

  2. Are travel expenses to meetings for a non-profit organization deductible, i.e., monthly volunteer fire company meetings or meetings to organize fund raising events for a non-profit?

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