Can You Write off Mileage for an Unpaid Internship?

Hands on a car's steering wheel.
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Transitioning from formal education to the workplace can be a jolting experience. Fortunately, there are helpful ways to progress from one phase of life to the next. One way is an internship.

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In this setting, students can put their theoretical knowledge to practical use. In addition, they can spend quality time in the field of their choosing while forging important relationships.

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Some internships compensate students for their time, while many others see the experience as its own reward. In such cases, the intern must have alternative means of financial support. What happens, though, when the internship costs money, if only in terms of gasoline for the commute?

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While the experience gained from an internship can be invaluable for future prospects, some experts believe that modest remuneration should be a requirement of any decent internship. According to a recent contribution in the Harvard Business Review, a full 43 percent of internships at for-profit companies do not even offer a small stipend.

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In some cases, there are internship expenses, including application fees. Often, interns can work long hours at what is supposed to be a part-time endeavor. Even paid internships compensate their occupants poorly.

Consider Also:3 Things to Know About Internships

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Expenses for the Student/Intern

Interns are often, but not exclusively, college students. They might be working their way through school, in which case they have to meet the demands of their paying job, their classes and their unpaid internship. Although they view the internship as an investment, it nevertheless consumes what little time they have to spare.

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There may be a dress code at the company, compelling the intern to buy new clothes. A desire to network can motivate the intern to join employees for lunch or indulge in after-hours libations. These, too, cost money. Still, even the most frugal intern has to get to and from the office, and gas prices can become burdensome.

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Consider Also:Claiming Education Expenses on Taxes

Gas Prices Are Hard to Predict

Yes, economists and energy analysts do predict the price of fuel on a regular basis, with mixed results. Nevertheless, the college student with an internship is often of limited means and therefore must hope for the best, even when economic indicators are forboding.

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The United States Energy Information Administration shows average gas prices peaking over $4 in 2008, dipping and rising in subsequent years and continuously climbing from 2021 into 2022. Many interns are hard-pressed to go from school to work to home and keep the fuel gauge away from "E."

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Consider Also:The Best Time to Buy Gasoline

Are Internship Miles Deductible?

Many college students have their tuition and expenses entirely underwritten by their parents. Because they have no income, other than a parental allowance, they ordinarily do not file a tax return and can thus claim no deductions for internship mileage. Those who do earn their own money and file returns likely can't write off their mileage.

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Writing off mileage is difficult with regard to most internships for two reasons. In most cases, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) counts unpaid interns as volunteers as opposed to employees. On top of that, even employees cannot deduct miles to and from the workplace or other unreimbursed expenses. Tuition-payers/interns, however, may be able to gain some education credits and deductions.

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