In general, you can deduct moving expenses on your tax return if you had to change homes to take a new job and if that new job would have increased your commute by at least 50 miles had you not moved. Deductible moving expenses include not only the costs of moving your stuff but also the costs of moving yourself -- your travel expenses. The big categories here are transportation and lodging.
Technically, the tax break for moving expenses is actually an "adjustment to income" rather than a deduction. What that means to you is that you can take it even if you don't itemize your deductions. Everyone calls it a deduction, and it functions just like one. Moving expenses are deductible only if you file your taxes on Form 1040; you can't use Form 1040A or 1040EZ. You must file Form 3903 to report your expenses. You can deduct only those expenses that haven't been reimbursed by an employer or anyone else.
For the purposes of the moving expenses deduction, "travel" refers to the trip from your old home to your new one to take up residence there. Any trips to your new location ahead of time to hunt for a house -- or to look for a job -- are not moving expenses, nor are back-and-forth trips to shuttle your belongings. You only "move" once, and you can deduct the cost of that one trip. Further, the Internal Revenue Service stresses that you can deduct the costs only of the "shortest, most direct route available." In other words, side trips for sightseeing or visiting friends and family aren't deductible.
If you take a plane, train or bus to your new home, you can deduct the fare and applicable fees for each member of your household who traveled. If you traveled in your own car, you have a choice: You can deduct either the actual cost of the gas and oil you put in your car for the trip, or you can take the standard mileage rate set by the IRS. As of the 2013 tax year, that rate was 24 cents a mile. With either option, you can deduct the costs of tolls and parking charges along the way.
If you pay to stay at a hotel, motel, campground or someplace else during your move, those costs are deductible. This includes lodging in your old location after your furniture has been packed up and taken away, as well as in your new location before your stuff arrives. You can deduct lodging costs for any member of your household who was making the move. However, you cannot deduct the cost of any meals during the trip. You'd have to eat whether you were moving or not, so you're not going to get a break there.
The IRS doesn't keep data on specific moving expenses claimed by taxpayers -- travel vs. transport of belongings, for example. But it does track how much people have claimed in total. For example, detailed tax return data from 2010, the latest available at the time of publication, show that slightly more than 1 million tax returns included a "moving expenses adjustment." The total amount claimed was a little more than than $2.67 billion. That's an average of about $2,670 per return.
Cam Merritt is a writer and editor specializing in business, personal finance and home design. He has contributed to USA Today, The Des Moines Register and Better Homes and Gardens"publications. Merritt has a journalism degree from Drake University and is pursuing an MBA from the University of Iowa.