How do I write off my mileage?
October 20, 2010 9:50 PM   Subscribe

Can I write off the extra driving I do for my job? If so, how do I go about doing this?

I am an itinerant instrumental music teacher (I serve 7 different schools) and do a lot of driving not just to and from school but between schools, to and from the district office to drop off instruments for repair, to music stores on the weekend to buy supplies for kids, etc. Some of this mileage is reimbursed by the school district (per our contract), but not all of it.

I understand that I can write off some or all of this mileage, if I am using my personal vehicle for work. How do I do this? I usually use Quicken Online to do my taxes, and in the past have filed a 1040EZ - so I'm not used to anything complicated around tax time. I'm willing to keep records and file a more complicated return, but I don't know where to start.

So, explaining to me as if I know almost nothing about deductions (because I don't), what do I do?

Additional info: married, live and work in Washington.
posted by rossination to Work & Money (6 answers total)
IRS 2010 Standard Mileage Rates.
posted by rhapsodie at 10:11 PM on October 20, 2010

If your mileage is extensive--and thereby the gas & expenses significant--it may be well worth your while to spend a few $$ to get professional (CPA) advice on this (yes, i get that they are scarce--my wife is a Road Scholar teaching at two schools & until recently little in the way of benefits although req'd to pay dues to 2 unions).

Here's my reasoning: (IANACPA) If you are an employee of the school district, your reimbursement per contract may be all you can legally deduct, although there is also a $250 deduction (last I checked) for teachers who spend out of pocket for supplies as you mention. But, if you are also able to set yourself up as a contractor for some of your activities--such as the dropping off & delivery services of instrument repair, then you may be able to deduct the percentage of use of your car that is used in that service.

As far as what you get by contract, I am guessing that this is the mileage between 1st & subsequent schools, but not home to 1st school, or last school home. IRS assumes that employees that work outside the home must get to that job, and that portion of the trip is generally not deductible--we all have to do it so whether that distance is 1 mile or 100 miles, it's your choice to do so. But since your employment requires you to go from school to school to school and they don't provide a conveyance, you can and have negotiated a payment for this through contract.

Both wife & I have run businesses related to our academic pursuits outside of our school settings/contracts for legitimate services provided. The businesses have been run from home and the standards for record keeping are high, but not onerous or ridiculous. We have both personal and school provided computers, but also some dedicated computers/peripherals that are used exclusively for the businesses--again, some portion of these expenses can be justifiably deducted--in your case, if you use a computer for tracking/billing/scheduling these repairs, and if that use meets the criteria, there are potential deductions there.

The cost of using a tax preparer and/or really good tax software is fully deductible and is well worth it to find deductions--provided there's enough income to pay enough taxes in the first place to make the deductions worthwhile. That is--to use a ridiculous example, if your business earns $4000 and you are trying to deduct $25K in expenses, expect to make the acquaintance of tax professionals who work for the government.
posted by beelzbubba at 11:29 PM on October 20, 2010

In order to deduct your mileage you'll need to file a standard 1040 and itemize your deductions. Also, there is some threshold you have to pass first. I think only the amount of the mileage deduction that exceeds 7.5% of your adjusted income? I don't remember the exact formula but I do remember being pissed that most of what I thought was deductible, wasn't.

So you'll need to compare your tax liability with the standard deduction form versus itemized deductions to see which one is better for you.
posted by COD at 5:43 AM on October 21, 2010

You're going to want to take a look at the IRS discussion on the subject. In general, you aren't allowed to deduct commuting expenses, but commuting expenses are defined as going between home and your employer's main place of business/your regular workplace. Moving between work sites is generally deductible.

Since you're dealing with a rather tricky area, it's probably going to be worth spending a little money to make sure you do this right. Consult a local accountant for more information. Yeah, it's going to cost you $100 or so, but you're potentially deducting a couple of thousand dollars from your income, so it's totally worth it.
posted by valkyryn at 5:47 AM on October 21, 2010

I tried to do this one time because I do sort of the same kind of driving.

The basics have been covered: you can't deduct the first trip out and the last trip home, since nobody else gets to deduct their commute. All the stuff in between you can. You can either:

use a car that is only used for work purposes, and deduct the actual expenses, or
take a deduction based on the standard per mile rates.

After that, you subtract any reimbursements you have gotten.

And then, as COD mentions, you will be instantly disappointed because you almost certainly will not have met the threshold for being able to deduct it. And THAT is if it even goes above the standard deduction, which is pretty high. I have a mortgage, and even with every deduction I could make up, the standard was higher last year.

Unless you are driving more than 100 miles a day between sites, it almost surely won't be worth spending any money on. You can run some back of the envelope numbers through the calculator that is in the 1040 instructions to see.
posted by gjc at 6:50 AM on October 21, 2010

Thanks, everyone - great advice. Beelzebubba is correct that I'm not trying to deduct my commuting time, just the extra work related driving. I get reimbursed for the mid-day driving between schools, which is very minimal (all my schools are very close to each other), I just don't get reimbursed for the other trips.

Sounds like it may or may not be worth it, but it's probably worth asking an accountant.
posted by rossination at 1:00 PM on October 21, 2010

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