In addition to the good feelings you get from volunteering, you can also deduct the mileage going to and from the volunteer site on your federal income tax return. The Internal Revenue Service has strict rules on record keeping, so you must record every trip for tax purposes. As of 2012, the standard deductible mileage rate is 14 cents per mile. You must itemize deductions to deduct mileage or car expenses.
According to the IRS, if you plan to claim expenses regarding the use of your vehicle when doing volunteer work, you must keep what the IRS deems "reliable" records: kept regularly, during or around the time you performed your volunteer work. Keep the record book in your car and jot the information down on every trip, or add it to your laptop or phone. Don't try to compile all the records on April 14 just before submitting your taxes. The IRS might not consider that reliable for the deduction.
The IRS allows you to deduct out-of-pocket expenses relating to volunteer work that the charity does not reimburse. This includes the cost of fuel and oil, parking fees, tolls and similar expenses directly related to using the car when volunteering for the charity. However, don't get carried away. You can't deduct insurance, depreciation, maintenance or registration fees as a percentage of the time you use the car for volunteering. If the car breaks down while you're going to and from your charity work, the tow truck and repairs are not deductible.
Your records should indicate the name of the charitable organization for which you volunteer along with the dates you used the car for volunteer reason. If using the standard mileage rate, your records must include the number of miles you drove for volunteer purposes. If you're deducting actual expenses, such as gasoline and tolls, the records must include what it cost you to operate the car specifically related to the volunteer work.
Only volunteer work with registered 501(c)3 organizations counts toward mileage deductions. These are referred to by the IRS as "qualified organizations." Don't assume that your favorite charity is actually a recognized nonprofit: Ask an official or check out the charity's website to ensure it is qualified and that you can take the mileage deductions. If the charity is not a registered 501(c)3, any monetary donations you make to it cannot be deducted on your income tax as charitable contributions.
- Thomas Northcut/Lifesize/Getty Images