An educational conference can be a great tax write-off, provided the education you get has some connection to your business. It's an easy write-off to abuse, though -- wouldn't a conference in Honolulu make a great excuse to write off your vacation? -- so the IRS hems the tax break with rules. There's no deduction unless you conform to the requirements.
If you travel by yourself, you may be able to write off all your expenses, from airplane tickets to hotel rooms. Meals, however, are only 50 percent deductible. If you pay for employees or business partners to come with you, that's a write-off too -- but family are not a deduction. Even if you spend 100 percent of your trip on business, you can't take a deduction for your spouse's travel costs unless he's also there for business.
A meeting in North Dakota is one thing, a conference in Paris another. If you attend a convention outside the United States, you have to convince the IRS there's a valid reason it couldn't be held in-country. You can show them, for instance, that the purpose of the conference or the scheduled activities require an overseas location. If the conference is on a cruise ship, you can write off up to $2,000 for travel expenses. This only works if you meet IRS requirements, such as the ship only stopping at U.S. ports.
It's legal to combine business and pleasure on one trip, but you can't write off the fun part. If, say, you stay an extra two days after the conference to visit friends, your expenses for the two days aren't business. The more of your time you spend on pleasure, the less of your transportation costs are deductible. If the IRS decides your trip was primarily a vacation, for instance, you only get to write off costs directly associated with the conference. Your plane ticket isn't deductible.
If you're self-employed, you can write off travel costs on Schedule C as a business expense, deducting it from your business income. If you're an employee, claiming a write-off is tougher. You take unreimbursed travel expenses as a personal "2 percent" deduction on Schedule A. Add your bills to other deductions in this category and subtract 2 percent of your adjusted gross income. Any expenses that survive the subtraction are deductible.
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