Business travel can be a lot of things: exciting, tiring, profitable, and — if you don’t properly manage your expenses — taxing (in the financial sense).
When it comes to deciding what to claim and how, there’s no substitute for seeking advice from a professional tax preparer (particularly one who’s familiar with your situation). Nonetheless, if you’re handling the job yourself, here are some general tax tips when deducting travel expenses.
1. Focus on the essentials. Travel expenses are the ordinary and necessary expenses of traveling away from home for your business, profession, or job. That means these expenses must be necessary to the business’s ability to function. They may not be “lavish or extravagant.” Private jet travel to the Cayman Islands, for example, is neither ordinary nor necessary for most plumbers. The business must somehow benefit from the travel expense that’s being deducted.
2. Limit expenses to the scope of the business. Business travel for a conference Wednesday through Friday, for example, might be fully deductible for lodging, airfare, and meals. But, if you decide to stay over the weekend, after the conference, those expenses may not deductible.
3. Family members should pay their own way. Travel expenses for employees or vendors who accompany you (at your request) to help achieve business goals during a trip are usually deductible. However, expenses for bringing along family members are not, unless your relatives are somehow part of the business’s operations or perhaps shareholders.
4. Overnight stays are OK if you do more than a day’s work. Overnight travel might be legitimate when your duties require you to be away from the general area of your tax home for a period substantially longer than an ordinary day’s work, and you need to get sleep or rest to meet the demands of your work while away.
5. Know your true home base. Your tax home is usually the entire city or general area where your main place of business or work is located, regardless of where you maintain your family home.