Deducting Travel Expenses When Doing Charitable Work

Tax Deductions and Credits

If you’ve done any charitable work over the past year you’ve likely put in time and money toward the cause. But what if you had to travel in order to volunteer? Are travel expenses to a charitable event deductible? This is a good question and one many volunteers don’t think about. In some cases, yes, travel expenses related to volunteering can be deducted. But before you start adding up all the miles you should take a moment to understand what you can and can’t do.

Charitable Travel
Charitable Travel

First, you have to know whether or not the organization you volunteered for was a qualified organization. No matter what you gave, be it time or money, the IRS only allows you to deduct when it’s been given to a qualified organization. The good news is that most public and non-profit private organizations are qualified, but it is up to you to find out if you aren’t sure.

Now when it comes to travel incurred while volunteering there are a few things to consider. First, the IRS says that generally you can claim a charitable contribution deduction for travel expenses necessarily incurred while you are away from home performing services for a charitable organization only if there is no significant element of personal pleasure, recreation, or vacation in the travel. The good news here is that most travel expenses will qualify, but keep in mind that you can’t turn one way of volunteering into a week-long vacation with the family and expect to write off all the airfare and lodging costs.

Deductible Travel Expenses

Most common expenses related to travel are allowed. Here is what the IRS defines as deductible travel expenses:

  • Air, rail, and bus transportation,
  • Out-of-pocket expenses for your car,
  • Taxi fares or other costs of transportation between the airport or station and your hotel,
  • Lodging costs, and
  • The cost of meals.

When it comes to using your own car for travel you can do one of two things. You may deduct the actual cost of gas used to get to and from the volunteer site, or you can deduct the IRS standard rate of 14 cents per mile. Unlike using your personal car for business, you cannot deduct expenses such as insurance, maintenance, or depreciation.

As always, it pays to keep detailed records regarding all expenses related to the trip. You may need to substantiate your expenses so keep a log of the miles driven, keep all receipts for meals and lodging, tolls or parking, and anything else related to your time volunteering.