Taking a trip to the destination of your dreams sounds fun, but nothing is more fun that taking a trip while winning the resulting audit at the same time.
Yes, you read it right. Turning your vacation into an honest-to-goodness tax deduction is possible. In fact, you can travel throughout the Mediterranean with no or very little travel costs. The key is by making your trip either a passive or an active business trip. Remember that the only way you can reduce your transportation expenses is by making business the primary purpose of your trip.
As a business owner, you know that taking a vacation doesn’t come easy. Aside from the fact that you don’t have paid vacation leaves, you can’t just entrust your business to someone else while you’re away. However, your advantage is that when it comes to business, you are free to mix pleasure with business. If you do it right, you make it possible for you to enjoy a vacation while reducing your tax bill.
Why Need to Make Your Trip a Business Trip
If your purpose is to lower your travel expenses, making your vacation a business trip is a must. This is because it becomes a lot easier to deduct transportation expenses if the purpose of your trip is business.
You should also not forget to count up the number of days allotted for business and for personal activities on your planned trip. As a rule of thumb, make sure that the majority of your travel days are spent on business activities. A weekend that is squeezed in between workdays can also be counted as business days. Hence, you can fly to Hawaii on a Thursday and meet a client the following day, stay there for the entire weekend, have meetings again on Monday and Tuesday, and fly back home the following day. That way, you’ve already had seven business days and you can enjoy Hawaii and still expense your transportation costs.
How to Make Your Vacation Look like a Business Trip
Now that you know that the key to reducing your travel tax is by writing it off as a business trip, the next thing you have to figure out is how to actually do that. Well, of course, you cannot just take off for your dream destination with your business cards and pretend that you are going there for pure business.
Today, for your trip to be considered a business trip, you have to have a prior set of business purposes. That is as per the requirements set by the IRS. Simply put, you need to schedule at least one business appointment before leaving for your trip. If you fail to do it, then you will never be able to expense your transportation costs.
There is nothing wrong with deducting part or your entire trip by deducting your travel costs as business expenses. In fact, this is the reason many professional groups host their annual conventions in popular tourist spots. Combining your vacation with business travel is not a bad idea at all, as long as you do it right.
The IRS Rule on Travel Expenses and Deductions
If you love the idea of traveling with minimal travel costs, it is necessary that you identify which among your travel expenses are tax-deductible and which are not. Once you have identified that, then you can finally let your tax savings pay for the deductible part of your trip.
Writing off some of your travel expenses may invite scrutiny, but don’t hesitate taking deductions if you think you are entitled to them. However, you have to be careful when it comes to this part and remember the IRS rule. You cannot simply claim that your trip is a business trip just because you have to visit an office somewhere. The IRS made it clear: “The scheduling of incidental business activities during a trip, such as viewing videotapes or attending lectures dealing with general subjects, will not change what is really a vacation into a business trip.”
Expenses that are Considered Deductible
You know that on every trip, your transportation costs–taxi fare, airfare, airport parking, etc.)–make up a huge part of your travel expenses. If you are good and careful enough, you can fully offset such costs so long as you meet the criteria set by the IRS. Aside from your transportation costs though, there are other expenses that can be added up, too.
The IRS Pub 463 has laid out the details when it comes to these expenses, but just to give you an idea, here are some of the basic things that you should take note of:
For each day that is considered a business day, you are allowed to deduct the entire cost for your lodging, car rentals and tips. That means that if your weeklong trip to Hawaii includes five days of business and two days for your personal getaway, then you can legally deduct your hotel bill for all those five business days.
For each day that is considered a business day, you can deduct 50 percent of the total amount you spent on food.
You can also deduct other miscellaneous expenses that are “ordinary and necessary” to your travel, like dry cleaning and baggage fees.
The catch is, you cannot deduct the amount spend for your family, in case they joined you on your trip.
Simple Steps to Follow When Writing Off a Trip
Choose any place in the U.S. where you want to go.
Decide how you want to write off your trip–as an active or a passive trip.
Find a conference, convention or any event in that destination that is related to your business or profession.
Book the trip.
Things to Remember if You Want to Write Off Your Trip
You have to go a long way to be able to write off your trip. The IRS has existing rules stipulating which particular expenses can be written off and which cannot, so it takes a dose of wisdom to avail of tax deductions without a hitch.
S. Trip vs International Trip. Deductions for business trips within the U.S. differ from deductions for international trips. If your trip is pure business and is just within the U.S., then you can expect your transportation to be fully deducted both ways. However, if your business trip is out of the country, then it has to be at least 75 percent business to be written off your plane ticket. If you go less than 75 percent, then the amount to be deducted will be just the percentage related to business.
The Importance of Traveling via a U.S.-registered cruise. In the event that you are in a business-related cruise, make sure that you are aboard a ship that is registered in the U.S. and not in any other country. However, the rule is that a business-related cruise in a U.S. ship entitles you to only a deduction of up to $2,000 a year, regardless of how long or how frequent your trip is. Also, this has to come with a detailed written statement with the tax return.
On Overstaying. If you stay in Hawaii for a full week but the days dedicated for business is just five days, that’s fine. You do not need to work all day and end your staycation as soon as your business is done. Remember that spending a few more days in your destination will not disqualify you for deductions, but you have to ensure that your primary purpose for that trip is business and everything is well-documented.
Family Expenses. When it comes to the expenses incurred by your family throughout the trip, the story is different. Unless they are employees in your company too, any of your family members are not entitled to a deduction because you cannot deduct expenses for anyone who is not really part of the business trip.
If you want a way out of this rule, the trick you can do is to find a means through which you can overlap what you have to pay for yourself with what a family member can pay for himself. For example, when you drive him in your car, your deductible transportation also gets him to the destination since both of you are riding the same car. The same trick applies if you share a single hotel room. It is important to note, however, that the costs incurred for the added occupants, the need for a larger room, for instance, are not covered by the deductions.
Miscellaneous Fees. We’ve been talking here about transportation costs like airfare, hotel expenses, and food. But how about other fees that you may incur in the course of your travel? Well, it is normal for any trip to rack up some incidental costs, including laundry charges, tips, taxi fares, internet access fees, and phone calls. The rule for such fees is simple. If these expenses are related to your business trip in any way, then you are free to write them off. Otherwise, you pay for them.
Meal Deductions. When you go on a business trip with your associates, you are entitled to a deduction of 50 cents per dollar, which means you get to eat out at only half of your total meal cost.
Record-keeping. As previously mentioned, the key to getting as many deductions as possible for your trip is to be careful. Since many business organizations abuse this area of the law, it is highly likely for the IRS to interrogate you when it comes to your deductions. When that time comes, you have to be ready to justify everything. Make sure that you keep all the necessary records, which do not only include the receipts but everything that will prove that you were actually out there for a business trip. Hence, you have to be meticulous in keeping even your itineraries and agendas.
Extravagant Expenses. You don’t want to be called an abuser of the law, so be reasonable. While you are free to write off some of your expenses since it’s a business trip, the IRS has the power to foul on whatever expenses it may find too extravagant. As the law stipulates, your expenses must be reasonable based on facts and circumstances.
On Documenting Your Trip
As previously mentioned, you have to document everything so you will have something to present in case the IRS asks you to prove that your trip was actually a business trip. This may sound a bit demanding, but if that’s too big a deal to you, here’s the deal: You don’t really need to keep a pocketful of receipts for expenses smaller than $75.
While the IRS does not require you to keep receipts for a travel expense that’s worth under that amount, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are already off the hook when it comes to record-keeping. Remember, your goal is to make as many expenses deductible as possible, so be responsible enough to document all your deductible expenses. That means if you stayed at a hotel that’s worth $75, you still ought to have a copy of its receipt so you can expense it.
The only best way for you to avoid trouble when it comes to tax strategy is to be honest. Do not deduct expenses that you are not entitled to and keep all the necessary documents that you will eventually need to back up your claim for deductions. Remember that substantiating your claim is important because if you fail to document your expenses, you are entitled to serious penalties such as losing all the deductions altogether and having to pay additional tax on top of penalties and interest.
The bottom line here is that there are existing rules on travel deductions and you’re not supposed to push these rules. However, there is no reason that you cannot tack on some days of fun when you are out there for business.