Business travel update: Plan ahead to maximize deductions
Business travel expenses are not created equal – some special rules apply to certain types of expenditures. Before you pack your bags for your next business trip, make sure that you have planned ahead to optimize your business travel deductions.
The basic rule for the deductibility of business travel is relatively simple–travel expenses incurred while you are away from home in pursuit of a trade or business are deductible so long as they are not lavish or extravagant. Business travel can take many different forms, however–conventions, educational seminars, cruise ship meetings and foreign travel, in addition to the run-of-the-mill business trip–and each has its own special rules which you should know about prior to departure so that optimum use is made of the business travel deduction.
The basic rules
Taxpayers who travel away from their tax home on business may deduct the expenses they incur, including fares, meals, lodging, and incidental expenses, if they are not lavish or extravagant. A business trip is considered travel away from home if you may reasonably need sleep or rest to complete a round trip. Your tax home is generally your principal place of business or your residence if you are temporarily employed away from the area of your residence.
To be deductible, traveling expenses must be incurred in pursuit of an existing trade or business. If the expenses are in connection with acquiring a new business, they are not deductible. Of course, there is no rule that prohibits you from enjoying yourself or from pursuing some recreational activities during your travel, but the primary purpose of the trip must be related to the taxpayer’s trade or business.
Travel expenses of your spouse, dependents or other individuals are only deductible if the person accompanying you is an employee of the company, the travel is for a bona fide business purpose, and the expenses are otherwise deductible.
Special rules apply
Because special rules may apply, the following types of business travel may require some additional planning in advance in order to maximize your business travel deduction:
Foreign travel expenses are subject to special rules that are not applicable if the business trip is within the United States. If your travel overseas takes longer than a week, or if less than 75 percent of the time is spent on business, expenses are allocated between business and leisure activities on a day-to-day basis. Each day is either entirely a business day, or it is considered to be a nonbusiness day. A day counts as entirely for business if your principal activity on that day was in pursuit of your trade or business. Travel days are counted as business days, as are days when events beyond your control prevent the conducting of business. Saturdays, Sunday, legal holidays, and other reasonably necessary stand-by days also count as business days.
Although the Tax Code prohibits deducting expenses for travel as a form of education, a recent Tax Court decision allowed a schoolteacher to deduct her travel and tuition costs for two university courses overseas. The court decided that the reason for taking the courses went beyond mere travel and helped the teacher maintain and improve skills needed in her employment.
Conventions and seminars
If there is a sufficient relationship of the convention to your trade or business, expenses for both self-employed persons and employees to attend a convention in the United States may be deducted. A special rule prohibits the deduction of costs of attending seminars or conventions for investment purposes.
Although the IRS does not look favorably on cruise ship conventions, a limited deduction is available (to a maximum of $2,000 annually) if you can satisfy some rigorous reporting requirements, and the cruise ship is of US registry, all ports of call are in the US or its possessions, and the meeting is directly related to your trade or business. Reporting requirements include written statements by both you and the officer of the sponsoring organization, containing information as to the number of hours of each day of the trip devoted to scheduled business activities, and a program of the activities of each day of the meeting.
While the rule for stateside conventions (and those in Canada, Mexico, a US possession, or the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands) merely require that your business be related to the agenda of the convention, you are held to a higher standard for conventions held overseas. You must show that the meeting is directly related to the active conduct of your business and that it is as reasonable to be held overseas as it would have been to hold it in the US.
Sometimes costs can be decreased if you stay over at the out-of-town location on Saturday night, even though business was wrapped up on Friday. This occurs when, due to airline pricing policies, the additional lodging expense is more than offset by lower airfare. When this is the case, the additional meal and lodging expenses will still be deductible.
If you have any questions regarding the deductibility of business travel expenses or the related reporting requirements, please contact the office for more information and guidance.