Driving your car can cut your taxes. As of 2013, IRS lets you write off 56.5 cents a mile if you drive your car on business, whether you're an employee or self-employed. You can get 14 cents a mile if you're volunteering for charity and 24 cents if you're claiming a medical or moving-expense deduction. What you think of as deductible travel may not be how the IRS defines it.
If you're hoping putting your business name -- or any business name -- on the side of your car automatically makes driving a business expense, think again. The IRS rules that right out in Publication 463's section on travel deductions. It also rules out another option for stretching the definition of business travel, carrying tools or other material you need for work in the back of your car. Neither trick gets you a write-off.
Personal travel never counts as a business write-off, no matter what you advertise on your car. Commuting to work, you'll be sorry to hear, doesn't count as business either. If you go from your office to meet a client, or drive between work sites, that's deductible. If you have a home office, you can write off driving from your home to meet customers or perform jobs. You can't claim a deduction for any travel expenses your boss or client reimburses you for.
Your medical deduction kicks in whenever you use your car to drive to a medical appointment, whether the patient is you, your spouse, or one of your dependents. The charitable deduction isn't just for helping a charity -- driving to the event you're volunteering at counts as deductible, for instance. The moving deduction applies if you land a job 50 miles further from home than your old job, then move closer to work. The trip to your new home is a tax write-off.
Instead of taking the mileage write-off, you can calculate your actual car expenses for most deductions. Track expenses for the year, figure out what percentage of your mileage was for business, say, then multiply your expense by the percentage. The mileage write-off takes less paperwork. If you're self-employed, you deduct can driving as a business expense on Schedule C. Moving costs go on your 1040. Everything else is only deductible if you opt for itemizing deductions on Schedule A. Plastering advertising on your car doesn't change any of that.
A Durham, NC resident, Fraser has written about law, starting a business, balancing your budget and fighting evictions, among other legal and financial topics.