IRS rules for business travel expenses come laden with "if." If you travel for a conference related to your business, and if your trip is purely for business, you may be able to write off travel expenses. The wrong answer to an "if" reduces what you can deduct. The goal is to discourage you from treating a week in Tahiti, Paris or some other fabulous location as a deductible business expense.
To write off travel expenses, you have to show that attending the conference benefits your business. If you attend for political, investment or social reasons, you don't get a deduction. The IRS recommends you decide by looking at the convention agenda and seeing if the topics relate to your professional duties. If the convention is outside the United States, you can only deduct the trip if there's a good business reason for it being overseas. You can't be gone more than a week, and can't spend more than 25 percent of your time having fun.
Business and Pleasure
The IRS knows plenty of convention and conference goers take time off to see the sights, or delay going home a few days to relax. That's fine as long as you don't claim your personal expenses as a business write-off. If you conference in Miami, then travel up to Orlando for fun, the Orlando trip is not deductible. If you take a fishing trip from Miami to entertain a potential customer, that might be deductible, but not if you're doing it just to fish.
If your trip is long enough you need to sleep, you can write off your lodging as well as travel. Meals are deductible, provided they're not "lavish" -- in the IRS's words -- but you can deduct only 50 percent of the cost. Little details such as dry-cleaning, telephone or fax expenses, renting time on a computer, paying tips or hiring a taxi are all deductible. When you bring a business associate or employee with you, you can write off the same travel costs for her, but not for family members.
Keep detailed records of what you spend so that you can calculate your deduction accurately and prove it to the IRS if necessary. If you're self-employed, you write off your business expenses on Schedule C. When you're an employee, you can deduct travel costs for a business conference, but only if you itemize on Schedule A, and only those costs that your employer didn't reimburse. Employee spending is classed as a "miscellaneous 2 percent expense." You add all such expenses together and subtract 2 percent of your adjusted gross income. Whatever's left is deductible.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.