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Tax Breaks for Charity Volunteers


Article Highlights:
  • Away-from-home travel 
  • Lodging and meals 
  • Entertaining for charity 
  • Automobile travel 
  • Uniforms 
  • Substantiation requirements 
If you volunteer your time for a charity, you may qualify for some tax breaks. Although no tax deduction is allowed for the value of services performed for a charity, there are deductions permitted for out-of-pocket costs incurred while performing the services. The normal deduction limits and substantiation rules also apply. The following are some examples:
  • Away-from-home travel expenses while performing services for a charity, including out-of-pocket round-trip travel cost, taxi fares, and other costs of transportation between the airport or station and hotel, plus lodging and meals at 100%. These expenses are only deductible if there is no significant element of personal pleasure associated with the travel, or if your services for a charity do not involve lobbying activities. 
     
  • The cost of entertaining others on behalf of a charity, such as wining and dining a potential large contributor (but the cost of your own entertainment or meal is not deductible). 
     
  • If you use your car while performing services for a charitable organization, you may deduct your actual unreimbursed expenses directly attributable to the services, such as gas and oil costs, or you may deduct a flat 14 cents per mile for the charitable use of your car. You may also deduct parking fees and tolls. 
     
  • You can deduct the cost of the uniform you wear when doing volunteer work for the charity, as long as the uniform has no general utility. The cost of cleaning the uniform can also be deducted. 
There are some misconceptions as to what constitutes a charitable deduction and the following are frequently encountered issues:
  • No deduction is allowed for the depreciation of a capital asset as a charitable deduction. This includes vehicles, computers, etc.

    Example: Kathy volunteers as a member of the sheriff’s mounted search and rescue team. As part of volunteering, Kathy is required to provide a horse. Kathy is not allowed to deduct the cost of purchasing or to depreciate her horse. She can, however, deduct uniforms, travel, and other out-of-pocket expenses associated with the volunteer work.

    However, a taxpayer may deduct the cost of maintaining a personally owned asset to the extent its use relates to providing services for a charity. Thus, for example, a taxpayer was allowed to deduct the fuel, maintenance and repair costs (but not depreciation or the fair rental value) of piloting his plane in connection with volunteer activities for the Civil Air Patrol. Similarly, a taxpayer, such as Kathy in our example, who participated in a mounted posse that was a civilian reserve unit of the county sheriff’s office, could deduct the cost of maintaining a horse (shoeing and stabling). 
     
  • A taxpayer who buys an asset and uses it while performing volunteer services for a charity can’t deduct its cost if he retains ownership of it. That’s true even if the asset is used exclusively for charitable purposes. 
No charitable deduction is allowed for a contribution of $250 or more unless you substantiate the contribution with a written acknowledgment from the charitable organization. To verify your contribution:
  • Get written documentation from the charity about the nature of your volunteering activity and the need for related expenses to be paid. For example, if you travel out of town as a volunteer, request a letter from the charity explaining why you’re needed at the out-of-town location. 
     
  • You should submit a statement of expenses if you are paying out of pocket for substantial amounts and, preferably, a copy of the receipts to the charity, then arrange for the charity to acknowledge the amount of the contribution in writing. 
     
  • Maintain detailed records of your out-of-pocket expenses—receipts plus a written record of the time, place, amount, and charitable purpose of the expense. 
For additional details related to expenses incurred as a charity volunteer, please contact this office.




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