Tax Deductions for Traveling Salespeople

Life on the road as a traveling salesperson isn’t always easy. You’ll log thousands of miles and cope with sleepless nights on bumpy hotel beds, all for the sake of an occasional sale. But on the bright side, almost everything involved with your wandering nomad lifestyle is tax deductible. Here are just a few types of deductions you should be claiming.

Car expenses – If you’re traveling for business, you’re entitled to a 51-cent deduction for every mile driven through July, and 55.5 cents a mile through the rest of 2011. On top of that, you can claim any toll and parking fees, as well as costs for rental cars. Be sure to keep an eye on those meters, though — parking fines are, sadly, not deductible. Keep a mileage log (or record miles in a mobile phone app) to make sure that you’re prepared in case you’re audited.

Airfares – If you’re flying to a business meeting and doing nothing else, your plane tickets should be 100 percent tax deductible. If you’re flying internationally (even if you’re just hopping the border to Canada), you can spend up to 25 percent of your time on non-business activities and still take the write-off.

Food expenses – When you’re on the road all the time, you’ll probably be eating lots of Mickey D’s and diner food. Save your receipts: You’re eligible to deduct 50 percent of your meal expenses while traveling for business.

Laundry and dry cleaning – Need to keep your suits looking sharp? While the IRS may frown upon you purchasing a new Brooks Brothers outfit in every town, it’s no problem to deduct the cost of dry cleaning or laundry as often as you need to.

Phone bills – You’ll probably do a lot of business while talking on your phone, so you’re entitled to a sizeable deduction for work-related calls. Be careful, though: If you’re also calling your family at home, you won’t be able to claim those personal calls as deductions. To make claiming easy, purchase separate cell phones for business and personal use.

Lodging – Don’t worry, the IRS doesn’t expect you to couchsurf — if you’re a reasonable distance from your home, you can deduct any hotel expenses for a business trip from your tax bill. Make sure the expense is “ordinary and necessary,” though: If you only make $50,000 in a year, the government will likely be suspicious of a $1,000-a-night bill for the Four Seasons.

Want to know more about how to write off your business travel? Check out the IRS’ 2010 pamphlet on the subject (and keep an eye out for the 2011 update for next tax season).

- Kathryn Hawkins

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