Most of our clients probably know by now that commuting expenses are not
deductible (other than commuting to a temporary job location), but if you are
required to do any other type of business-related auto travel, your travel most
definitely is subject to a deduction to the extent that it is not reimbursed by
your employer. The most popular method of deducting auto travel is by
simply multiplying your total job-related miles by the standard IRS mileage
rate (54 cents per mile in 2016).
Unreimbursed auto expenses are deducted on Schedule A of your 1040 as
miscellaneous itemized deductions but only to the extent that they exceed 2% of
your adjusted gross income. Since you are subject to this limitation, it
can be advantageous to work out a deal with your employer if you have
significant job-related expenses whereby your salary is reduced by the amount
of expenses each month.
For example, lets assume your employer requires you to drive on average 300
miles per month. That would work out to a deduction of $162.00 per month
(in 2016) or an annual deduction on your tax return of $1944. However, if
you have an adjusted gross income of $100,000, you would not be able to deduct
any auto expenses (assuming you have no other unreimbursed business costs)
because they would not exceed 2% of your AGI ($100,000 x 2% = $2000).
However, using the same scenario, you could ask your employer to simply
reduce your salary by $160 per month and reimburse your mileage up to the same
amount each month. The end result is that your employer is still giving
you the same amount of money to perform your duties, but your annual salary
would be $1920 lower which would save you $538 if you're in the 28% tax
If you own or lease a very expensive vehicle, it may be in your best
interest to forego the mileage allowance and use your actual expenses for
depreciation, gasoline, lease payments, repairs, etc. You will probably
want to consult with our office before taking this option however since
depreciation is typically limited for luxury autos. Please call us for more
Meals and Entertainment
Like the mileage deduction and all other unreimbursed business expenses,
your deduction for business meals and entertainment is subject to the 2% of AGI
limitation. You are also only entitled to deduct 50% of business related
meals. Excessive T&E expenses can be a red flag on your tax return
for an audit, so we always advise our clients to document carefully on the
restaurant receipt what the business meeting was about and who was in
All unreimbursed "overnight" travel costs (hotels, meals, laundry,
airfare, auto rental, etc) are deductible on Schedule A. Meals, of course
are deductible only at 50% as discussed above, but when traveling overnight,
you may also ignore your actual "incidental" expenses (meals,
laundry, tips, etc) and deduct the IRS's allowed per diem rate.
standard per diem rate is currently $57, but can go higher for high cost
cities. If you are a budget conscious traveler (and you likely are if you
are paying for it out of your own pocket), the per diem rate may actually be a
much better option for maximizing your deduction.
Quite frankly, most employees are not going to qualify for a home office
deduction simply because they already have a desk at their employer's office.
However, for those employees who are required to conduct administrative
functions at home, you can qualify for the home office deduction if you meet
the following conditions:
1) you exclusively and regularly use the home office to conduct
administrative or management activities
2) you have no other location available to conduct those activities,
3) the home office is for the employer's convenience.
If you are an employee who performs most of your job duties outside of your
home, but are required to perform administrative functions at home, you may
want to consider taking a home office deduction. The deduction is
generally figured on a percentage basis. For example, if your home office
is 300 square feet and your home is 1800 square feet, you could take 16.7%
(300/1800) of your home expenses (utilities, rent, etc) as a home office
One caveat, however is that if you take a home office
deduction on part of your personal residence, you may lose a portion of your
gain exclusion when you sell your residence. Please consult with our
office if you are considering taking this deduction.
Other Business Expenses
Many other business expenses are deductible on Schedule A of your annual tax
return. A few of them are outlined below to assist you in remembering the
various expenses when tax time arrives:
Union and professional dues
Company Sponsored Benefit Plans
We generally advise our clients to take advantage of any employer-sponsored
plan they are offered since most will save the employee taxes. For
example, 401(k) contributions will lower your taxable income and all earnings
from your plan are tax-deferred until retirement.
You can generally
contribute much more through a company-sponsored 401(k) plan than you could
with an IRA and if the company matches your contribution, the effective return
you will receive by contributing will likely never be matched by an IRA
Another popular benefit plan for employees is a company cafeteria plan which
allows you to set aside money during the year to pay for dependent care
expenses and out-of-pocket medical and dental costs.
The deduction (or
credit in the case of dependent care expenses) you receive on your tax return
is very limited for these types of expenses and a company-sponsored cafeteria
plan will allow you to fully deduct all dependent care and medical costs.
However, you must be careful and not over-estimate your costs at the beginning
of the plan year since any funds you set aside and don't use are forfeited.
The above text contains a few suggestions you may want to discuss with your
employer. Many of the tax-saving strategies we discussed (cafeteria plan,
salary-reduction/auto expense reimbursement, etc) might cost your employer very
little yet save you a substantial amount of money. If you or your
employer would like to discuss these items in more detail, we would be more
than happy to assist you!