How to make travel deductible for Business
A very common question I get is whether and/or how business owners can deduct their travel for tax purposes. There was an excellent article in my May 2013 newsletter that I am re-posting here. Please read through it, and let me know if you have any questions.
Tim, who owns his own business, decided he wanted to take a two-week trip around the US. So he did--and was able to legally deduct every dime that he spent on his "vacation". Here's how he did it.
1. Make all your business appointments before you leave for your trip.
You must have at least one business appointment before you leave in order to establish the "prior set business purpose" required by the IRS. Keeping this in mind, before he left for his trip, Tim set up appointments with business colleagues in the various cities that he planned to visit.
Let's say Tim is a manufacturer of green office products looking to expand his business and distribute more product. One possible way to establish business contacts--if he doesn't already have them--is to place advertisements looking for distributors in newspapers in each location he plans to visit. He could then interview those who respond when he gets to the business destination.
Example: Tim wants to vacation in Hawaii. If he places several advertisements for distributors, or contacts some of his downline distributors to perform a presentation, then the IRS would accept his trip for business.
Tip: It would be vital for Tim to document this business purpose by keeping a copy of the advertisement and all correspondence along with noting what appointments he will have in his diary.
2. Make Sure your Trip is All "Business Travel."
Example: Tim wanted to go to a regional meeting in Boston, which is only a one-hour drive from his home. If he were to sleep in the hotel where the meeting will be held (in order to avoid possible automobile and traffic problems), his overnight stay qualifies as business travel in the eyes of the IRS.
Tip: Remember: You don't need to live far away to be on business travel. If you have a good reason for sleeping at your destination, you could live a couple of miles away and still be on travel status.
3. Make sure that you deduct all of your on-the-road -expenses for each day you're away.
Tip: The IRS doesn't require receipts for travel expense under $75 per expense--except for lodging.
Example: If Tim pays $6 for drinks on the plane, $6.95 for breakfast, $12.00 for lunch, $50 for dinner, he does not need receipts for anything since each item was under $75.
Tip: He would, however, need to document these items in your diary. A good tax diary is essential in order to audit-proof your records. Adequate documentation includes amount, date, place of meeting, and business reason for the expense.
Example: If, however, Tim stays in the Bates Motel and spends $22 on lodging, will he need a receipt? The answer is yes. You need receipts for all paid lodging.
Tip: Not only are your on-the-road expenses deductible from your trip, but also all laundry, shoe shines, manicures, and dry-cleaning costs for clothes worn on the trip. Thus, your first dry cleaning bill that you incur when you get home will be fully deductible. Make sure that you keep the dry cleaning receipt and have your clothing dry cleaned within a day or two of getting home.
4. Sandwich weekends between business days.
Example: Tim makes business appointments in Florida on Friday and one on the following Monday. Even though he has no business on Saturday and Sunday, he may deduct on-the-road business expenses incurred during the weekend.
5. Make the majority of your trip days count as business days.
Example: Tim spends six days in San Diego. He leaves early on Thursday morning. He had a seminar on Friday and meets with distributors on Monday and flies home on Tuesday, taking the last flight of the day home after playing a complete round of golf. How many days are considered business days?
All of them. Thursday is a business day, since it includes traveling - even if the rest of the day is spent at the beach. Friday is a business day because he had a seminar. Monday is a business day because he met with prospects and distributors in pre-arranged appointments. Saturday and Sunday are sandwiched between business days, so they count, and Tuesday is a travel day.
Since Tim accrued six business days, he could spend another five days having fun and still deduct all his transportation to San Diego. The reason is that the majority of the days were business days (six out of eleven). However, he can only deduct six days worth of lodging, dry cleaning, shoe shines, and tips. The important point is that Tim would be spending money on lodging, airfare, and food, but now most of his expenses will become deductible.
Consult us before you plan your next trip. We'll show you the right way to legally deduct your vacation when you combine it with business. Bon Voyage!
Brian Tenney, CPA | 11/21/2013