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Tax law allows you to deduct two types of travel expenses related to your business, local and what the IRS calls "away from home".
First, local travel expenses. You can deduct local transportation expenses incurred for business purposes, for example the cost of getting from one location to another via public transportation, rental car, or your own automobile. Meals and incidentals are not deductible as travel expenses, although as you will read later in this guide, you can deduct meals as an entertainment expense as long as certain conditions are met.
Second, you can deduct away from home travel expenses-including meals and incidentals; however, if your employer reimburses your travel expenses, your deductions are limited.
The cost of local business transportation includes rail fare and bus fare, as well as the costs of using and maintaining an automobile used for business purposes. For those whose main place of business is their personal residence, business trips from the home office and back are considered deductible transportation and not non-deductible commuting.
Note: Please see the special section below for the most effective ways of deducting auto expenses.
You generally cannot deduct lodging and meals unless you stay away overnight. Meals may be partially deductible as an entertainment expense, as discussed below.
You can deduct one-half of the cost of meals (50%) and all of the expenses of lodging incurred while traveling away from home. The IRS also allows you to deduct 100% of your transportation expenses--as long as business is the primary reason for your trip.
To be deductible, travel expenses must be "ordinary and necessary", although "necessary" is liberally defined as "helpful and appropriate", not "indispensable". Deduction is also denied for that part of any travel expense that is "lavish or extravagant", though this rule does not bar deducting the cost of first class travel, or deluxe accommodations or (subject to percentage limitations below) deluxe meals.
What does "away from home" mean?
To deduct the costs of lodging and meals (and incidentals-see below) you must generally stay somewhere overnight. In other words, away from your regular place of business longer than an ordinary day's work and you need to sleep or rest to meet the demands of your work while away from home. Otherwise, your costs are considered local transportation costs, and the costs of lodging and meals are not deductible.
Where is your "home" for tax purposes?
The general view is that your "home" for travel expense purposes is your place of business or your post of duty. It is not where your family lives. (Some courts say it's the general area of your residence).
Example: George's family lives in Boston and George works in Washington, DC. George spends the weekends in Boston and the weekdays in Washington, where he stays in a hotel and eats out. For tax purposes, George's "home" is in Washington, not Boston, therefore, he cannot deduct any of the following expenses: cost of traveling back and forth between Washington and Boston, cost of eating out in Washington, cost of staying in a hotel in Washington, or any costs incurred traveling between his hotel in Washington and his job in Washington (the latter are considered non-deductible commuting costs).
There are some rules in the tax law concerning where a taxpayer's "home" is for purposes of deducting travel expenses that are less clear such as when a taxpayer works at a temporary site or works in two different places.
We'll cover these rules briefly in these two examples:
Example #1: Joe, who lives in Connecticut, works eight months out of the year in Connecticut (from which he usually earns about $50,000) and four months out of the year in Florida (from which he usually earns about $15,000). Joe's "tax home" for travel expense purposes is Connecticut. Therefore, the costs of traveling to and from the "lesser" place of employment (Florida), as well as meals and lodging costs incurred while working in Florida, are deductible.
Example #2: Susan works and lives in New York. Occasionally, she must travel to Maryland on temporary assignments, where she spends up to a week at a time. Assuming Susan's employer does not reimburse her for travel expenses, she can deduct the costs of meals and lodging while she's in Maryland, as well as the costs of traveling to and from Maryland. This holds true because her work assignments in Maryland are considered temporary, since they will end within a foreseeable time. If an assignment is considered indefinite, that is, expected to last for more than a year, under the tax law, travel, meal, and lodging costs are not deductible.
Here's a list of some deductible away-from-home travel expenses:
However, many away-from-home travel expenses are not deductible or are restricted in some way. These include:
Tip: Starting in 2008, travel (and other) costs incurred in unsuccessfully trying to acquire a specific business are currently deductible.