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Charitable giving isn't limited to just gifts of cash. Instead, many people also give of their time and use of their property, such as driving needy families around or delivering items on behalf of a charity. However, when tax time rolls around, only certain miles are deductible and if you don't have the records, you could find your deduction denied.
You can deduct the costs of any driving you did in service to charity if you're using your own vehicle. For example, if you use your car to drive to a volunteer site or deliver hot meals to the elderly in the winter for a charity, you can write off those costs. But, you can't write off the costs of giving a homeless person you see on the side of the street a ride to the nearest shelter because that's not driving done for a charity, despite your noble purpose. And if you're using a charity-provided vehicle, you can't claim a deduction for the mileage that you drive.
The IRS lets you choose between deducting your actual costs for driving or using the standard mileage rate. If you go the actual-cost route, you can only deduct your costs for oil and gas, not for any other expenses like a prorated portion of your vehicle repairs, license and registration fees or depreciation. If you use the standard mileage rate, just multiply the rate by the number of miles you drove. For example, as of 2013, the standard rate for charity driving is 14 cents per mile. Regardless of which method you use, you can also include the costs of tolls and parking.
If you're claiming a deduction for your driving expenses, the IRS requires that you keep reliable records of your expenses. To be reliable, you usually have to make the records at the time you did the driving, or shortly thereafter. Your records should show the purpose of each trip and either your actual costs or your mileage, depending on which method you're using to claim your expenses. If you don't keep the required records, the IRS can disallow your deduction.
Like other charitable donations, your charitable mileage write-off is an itemized deduction, which means you can only claim it if you give up your standard deduction. When you itemize with Schedule A, the deduction goes on line 17 as a non-cash contribution, along with any other non-cash contributions you made during the year. Then, it gets added to all your other charitable donation deductions, with the total appearing on line 19 of Schedule A.
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