How to take tax deductions for your volunteer time

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Q. I work for a soup kitchen about 15 minutes away from my house. I’m retired and I volunteer my time at least three times a week. I’ve heard there are deductions I can take when I volunteer. What can I deduct?

A. Thank you for giving your time, and yes, you can take some small deductions.

As a volunteer, you can take a deduction for your costs associated with your travel to and from your volunteer position if it is a qualified organization, said Patricia Daquila, a certified public accountant with Lassus Wherley in New Providence.

” You can deduct the actual cost of gas and oil that is directly related to getting to the place that you volunteered,” she said. “You cannot deduct the general repair expenses, the cost of tires or insurance, or registration fees for your car.”

Daquila said if you do not want to calculate the actual cost of the gas and the oil, then you can take a standard deduction of 14 cents for each mile you drive to volunteer to a qualified organization. The standard mileage rate of 14 cents per mile is for both the 2014 and 2015 tax year, she said.

If you have any out of pocket expenses that you spend when you volunteer, you may be able to deduct some amounts that you pay, Daquila said.

“The expenses must be unreimbursed, directly connected with the volunteer services, expenses that you had only because of the services that you gave, and they are not personal, living or family expenses,” she said.

You may also deduct any costs for a uniform that you had to wear to perform your service, as long as it isn’t suitable to wear in your everyday life. she said.

And, you cannot deduct the value of your services or the value of your time that you give to a qualified organization.

Then, there’s travel.

You can deduct your travel expenses that are incurred while you are away performing services for a charitable organization, but only if there is no significant portion of personal enjoyment or vacation involved in the travel, Daquila said.

“If a qualified organization chooses you to attend a convention as their representative, then you can deduct your unreimbursed travel expenses including lodging and meals that are reasonable while away from your home overnight for the convention,” she said. “The deductible expenses can include air, rail or bus transportation, out of pocket car expenses, and the cost of meals and lodging.”

It’s best if you keep detailed records as the year goes on, said Vince Pallitto, a certified financial planner and certified public accountant with Summit Asset Management in Florham Park.

“It would be great if the soup kitchen could provide a letter acknowledging the amount of volunteer services, such as, ‘Thank you for working three days a week at our soup kitchen,'” Pallitto said.

Make sure you check with a qualified tax preparer if you’re unsure of what deductions you can take.

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This story was first posted in February 2015. presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.