How to Claim Charitable Mileage Deductions

How to Claim Charitable Mileage Deductions
A close-up of an odometer with trip mileage and gas gauge.

Know Your Charity

Logging miles and tracking tolls or bus fares doesn't help your refund potential if the organization you serve doesn’t appear on the Internal Revenue Service's list of "organizations that qualify to receive deductible donations." According to the IRS, qualified nonprofits can have religious, scientific, educational or charitable missions, or target prevention of cruelty to animals or children. Your charity should be able to confirm its status, or you can use the online tool featured on irs.gov. A call to the IRS at 1-877-829-5500 or, if you have TTY/TDD equipment 1-800-829-4059, also can provide this information.

Keep a Travel Log

Mileage deductions for charitable work must cover miles driven on your personal vehicle, not one owned by the charity. Keeping a notebook in the car will remind you to jot down the number of miles you drive by date, charity and purpose. You should also record the actual cost of gas and oil you use to document your actual driving expense, as this may result in a higher deduction at the end of the year. For example, the standard charitable mileage rate of 14 cents per mile granted as of 2014 has remained unchanged since 2007, even in years when gasoline approached $4 a gallon. According to Serious Givers.com, if your car gets 20 miles per gallon, your actual per-mile cost is 17.5 cents when gas costs $3.50 per gallon. Note road tolls and parking fees paid while driving for your volunteer service.

Watch Your Eligible Mileage

Not every mile you drive for charity counts toward a charitable mileage deduction. Only miles traveled doing charitable work that gives you no personal or recreational benefit are eligible. For example, stopping by the store to buy dinner on your way home from volunteering negates that part of your travel leg because it involves personal benefit. Alternatively, picking up the refreshments for the charity board meeting on your way to the meeting site does make the trip deduction-eligible. Driving your child to his volunteer work isn't qualified mileage.

Understand Time Qualifications

According to IRS Publication 526 Charitable Contributions, you must spend a majority of your time on duty at a charitable event to deduct the cost of getting to it. For example, the IRS wouldn't accept charitable mileage for someone who drives to a museum and works as a docent for two hours before taking an art class there.

Calculate Your Expenses

To claim a charitable mileage deduction, you must file the 1040 Schedule A Itemized Deductions form. Add the number of miles you drove for charitable work during the year and multiply the total by $0.14. This is your standard mileage expense. If you tracked your actual gas and oil costs, compare them with your standard allowance total. Add whichever amount is largest to any parking fees and tolls you paid, then enter the total on Line 17 of the Schedule A “Gifts to Charity” section. It will be financially worthwhile to itemize your deductions only if they total more than the standard deduction you are entitled to.