You can't deduct commuting as a business expense when you file your taxes, but non-employees can write off some business travel, including to and from work sites. Sound confusing? It's actually pretty easy to figure out what you can deduct, in terms of mileage or vehicle costs each year.
If you're getting reimbursed by your employer or client for commuting miles, make sure you know how to calculate miles for work to get your maximum benefit.
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What Is a Commute?
If you drive to the same location to work each day, that's considered a commute, even if you're a contractor. If you drive to different worksites (for example, a tennis coach who drives to different subdivisions to give lessons, or a personal trainer who drives to different gyms and client homes), you can claim that as business travel.
If you're a contractor who's hired part-time to work the lunch shift at a restaurant or a golf pro who works at the same golf course to teach a morning clinic each day, those are considered commutes. If you are an IT consultant who travels to the same business several times a month when they need help with a problem, that's not a commute because it's not a regular, planned trip.
Employees vs. the Self-Employed
Beginning in 2018 with the start of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, employees could no longer write off unreimbursed business expenses, even if the expense was necessary to perform their jobs. For example, a salesperson who traveled a specific territory could not write off mileage if she was an employee and her company did not reimburse her for that travel.
These rules are in effect until 2025 and might or might not be renewed. Freelancers, gig workers, contractors, sole proprietors, small-business owners and others who are self-employed can still deduct mileage.
The Standard Mileage Deduction
If you are able to deduct mileage, the 2021 rate is 56 cents per mile and the 2022 rate is 58.5 cents per mile. You can find the updated number each year with a simple online search or by visiting the IRS website.
This mileage rate covers all of the expenses to own and operate your car, so you can't also write off gas, oil, air filters, repairs, tires, maintenance or a lease or loan payment.
Calculating Employer-Reimbursed Commuting Miles
If your client or employer is reimbursing you for commuting miles, get the company's definition of what a commute is. If they are reimbursing you for your trips to and from the same worksite, that should be a pretty simple calculation.
You can check your odometer the first time you make a trip, then multiply that amount of miles by 10 if you make two trips per day, five days per week. You can provide more information to your client by using a website like MapQuest, putting in your address and the company's address, then using that mileage figure.
If your client or employer considers "commuting" any business travel, keep a notebook in your glove compartment and log your different trips each time. The IRS requires that you keep a record of your mileage on a regular basis (you can't estimate it at the end of the year), so get in the habit of doing this in the event you're ever audited. Write down the date of the trip, its purpose and the number of miles driven.
If you are taking a particularly long business trip for a client and will be driving around a town you're visiting for several days (such as visiting an out-of-town client several days or going back and forth to a convention center), see if you can use a combination of a digital mapping tool and hand-written notes.