Keeping A Log For Automobile Expenses

Posted on Thursday, April 04, 2013

If you use your car for business purposes, you may have learned that keeping track and properly logging the variety of expenses you incur for tax purposes is not always easy. Practically speaking, how often and how you choose to track expenses associated with the business use of your car depends on your personality; whether you are a meticulous note-taker or you simply abhor recordkeeping. However, by taking a few minutes each day in your car to log your expenses, you may be able to write-off a larger percentage of your business-related automobile costs.

Regardless of the type of record keeper you consider yourself to be, there are numerous ways to simplify the burden of logging your automobile expenses for tax purposes. This article explains the types of expenses you need to track and the methods you can use to properly and accurately track your car expenses, thereby maximizing your deduction and saving taxes.

Expense methods

The two general methods allowed by the IRS to calculate expenses associated with the business use of a car include the standard mileage rate method or the actual expense method. The standard mileage rate for 2013 is 56.5 cents per mile. In addition, you can deduct parking expenses and tolls paid for business. Personal property taxes are also deductible, either as a personal or a business expense. While you are not required to substantiate expense amounts under the standard mileage rate method, you must still substantiate the amount, time, place and business purpose of the travel.

The actual expense method requires the tracking of all your vehicle-related expenses. Actual car expenses that may be deducted under this method include: oil, gas, depreciation, principal lease payments (but not interest), tolls, parking fees, garage rent, registration fees, licenses, insurance, maintenance and repairs, supplies and equipment, and tires. These are the operating costs that the IRS permits you to write-off. For newly-purchased vehicles in years in which bonus depreciation is available, opting for the actual expense method may make particularly good sense since the standard mileage rate only builds in a modest amount of depreciation each year. For example, for 2013, when 50 percent bonus depreciation is allowed, maximum first year depreciation is capped at $11,160 (as compared to $3,160 for vehicles that do not qualify). In general, the actual expense method usually results in a greater deduction amount than the standard mileage rate. However, this must be balanced against the increased substantiation burden associated with tracking actual expenses. If you qualify for both methods, estimate your deductions under each to determine which method provides you with a larger deduction.

Substantiation requirements

Taxpayers who deduct automobile expenses associated with the business use of their car should keep an account book, diary, statement of expenses, or similar record. This is not only recommended by the IRS, but essential to accurate expense tracking. Moreover, if you use your car for both business and personal errands, allocations must be made between the personal and business use of the automobile. In general, adequate substantiation for deduction purposes requires that you record the following:
•The amount of the expense;
•The amount of use (i.e. the number of miles driven for business purposes);
•The date of the expenditure or use; and
•The business purpose of the expenditure or use.

Suggested recordkeeping: Actual expense method

An expense log is a necessity for taxpayers who choose to use the actual expense method for deducting their car expenses. First and foremost, always keep your receipts, copies of cancelled checks and bills paid. Maintaining receipts, bills paid and copies of cancelled checks is imperative (even receipts from toll booths). These receipts and documents show the date and amount of the purchase and can support your expenditures if the IRS comes knocking. Moreover, if you fail to log these expenses on the day you incurred them, you can look back at the receipt for all the essentials (i.e. time, date, and amount of the expense).

Types of Logs. Where you decide to record your expenses depends in large part on your personal preferences. While an expense log is a necessity, there are a variety of options available to track your car expenditures - from a simple notebook, expense log or diary for those less technologically inclined (and which can be easily stored in your glove compartment) - to the use of a smartphone or computer. Apps specifically designed to help track your car expenses can be easily downloaded onto your iPhone or Android device.

Timeliness. Although maintaining a daily log of your expenses is ideal - since it cuts down on the time you may later have to spend sorting through your receipts and organizing your expenses - this may not always be the case for many taxpayers. According to the IRS, however, you do not need to record your expenses on the very day they are incurred. If you maintain a log on a weekly basis and it accounts for your use of the automobile and expenses during the week, the log is considered a timely-kept record. Moreover, the IRS also allows taxpayers to maintain records of expenses for only a portion of the tax year, and then use those records to substantiate expenses for the entire year if he or she can show that the records are representative of the entire year. This is referred to as the sampling method of substantiation. For example, if you keep a record of your expenses over a 90-day period, this is considered an adequate representation of the entire year.

Suggested Recordkeeping: Standard mileage rate method

If you loathe recordkeeping and cannot see yourself adequately maintaining records and tracking your expenses (even on a weekly basis), strongly consider using the standard mileage rate method. However, taking the standard mileage rate does not mean that you are given a pass by the IRS to maintaining any sort of records. To claim the standard mileage rate, appropriate records would include a daily log showing miles traveled, destination and business purpose. If you incur mileage on one day that includes both personal and business, allocate the miles between the two uses. A mileage record log, whether recorded in a notebook, log or handheld device, is a necessity if you choose to use the standard mileage rate.

If you have any questions about how to properly track your automobile expenses for tax purposes, please call our Fort Wayne or Marion office. We would be happy to explain your responsibilities and the tax consequences and benefits of adequately logging your car expenses

Posted in Tax And Accounting Topics For Business

Disclaimer: The information contained in Dulin, Ward & DeWald’s blog is provided for general educational purposes only and should not be construed as financial or legal advice on any subject matter. Before taking any action based on this information, we strongly encourage you to consult competent legal, accounting or other professional advice about your specific situation. Questions on blog posts may be submitted to your DWD representative.

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