The Internal Revenue Service allows you to deduct charitable contributions. It defines a contribution broadly, letting you deduct cash or donations of property. When you give your time, you're also allowed to deduct any expenses that you incur in donating time. This could include all of the travel expenses for a missionary trip.
Two Ground Rules
To be eligible to write off your missionary trip or any other contributions to a given organization, you have to follow two ground rules. First, you have to itemize your deductions. If you claim the standard deduction, you can't claim your charitable giving as a write-off. Second, you must have done your missionary trip in conjunction with a tax-exempt organization. The IRS maintains a website with a list of eligible tax-exempt organizations that you can use to check your organization.
Purpose of Trip
To be eligible to deduct your missionary trip's travel expenses, you must be on the trip for charitable purposes, as opposed to taking a vacation or pleasure trip on which you also do some missionary work. This doesn't mean that you can't enjoy what you do, and it also doesn't mean that you can't take a little bit of personal time while you travel. However, the primary purpose of your trip must be the missionary work. To give you an idea of how the IRS views this, one of the examples they give in Publication 526 rules out writing off a trip on which eight hours per day is spent doing charitable work.
If you travel for missionary work, all of your basic travel expenses are deductible as a charitable contribution. These include your transportation costs, your lodging costs and what you spend on meals. The meals deduction is not subject to being cut in half like it would with a business meal. You're also allowed to write off your actual car expenses or 14 cents per mile, if you prefer. You have to subtract any per diem allowance that you receive from the charity, though. It's also important to keep records both of what you spent and of the purpose of the trip.
The IRS requires you to be able to substantiate your write-off. You will need to save all of your receipts as well as a mileage log for your car if you include mileage in your deduction. In addition, if your write-off is more than $250, you'll also need a statement from the organization outlining the basic details of your trip. It should include a list of what you did, and what, if anything, you got in return. The acknowledgement should be dated before the date on which you file the tax return with the deduction.
Steve Lander has been a writer since 1996, with experience in the fields of financial services, real estate and technology. His work has appeared in trade publications such as the "Minnesota Real Estate Journal" and "Minnesota Multi-Housing Association Advocate." Lander holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Columbia University.