Most writers pay too much tax on their writing income because they fail to deduct business travel expenses.
For 2012, for every business mile you drive for your work as a writer, the standard allowance is 55.5 cents per mile. (It doesn’t matter what the trip actually costs.)
To audit-proof the deduction, you must:
● establish the business purpose for the mileage (driving to the library for research, meeting an interview subject, attending a workshop)
● document the mileage from your driveway to the activity and back
● Buy a small, spiral-bound calendar (one day per page) and keep it in the glove compartment. When you leave your driveway for business purposes, and when you return, jot the odometer reading.
● Note on the same page the trip’s business purpose. The location and the names of those you met would also be good.
● Record any parking fees and tolls.
You can also set the trip odometer to capture the total miles. But it’s important to have the beginning and ending odometer readings. If you are audited, the examiner may request third-party documentation (such as oil change receipts or dealership repair bills) to verify your odometer readings throughout the year.
To complete your tax return, at the end of the year you will need to calculate the total miles driven and total business miles.
Instead of taking the standard mileage deduction, you can track your actual expenses for gasoline, oil, insurance, maintenance and repairs, vehicle registration fees, and depreciation (if you own the car) or lease payments. But this requires much more extensive record-keeping.
One caveat: If you use the actual expense method in the first year you own the car, you are barred from using the standard mileage allowance in subsequent years.
Nineteen Dollars per Gallon
Keep all your business travel documentation (and all business expense records) for a minimum of three years after the tax due date.
Documentation equals lower taxes. Every two business miles generates a tax deduction of more than one dollar (or $19.43 per business gallon on a 35 mpg vehicle). Even short trips mean money in your pocket. Document them all.
Gary A. Hensley is a 35-year veteran in accounting, auditing, and federal taxation, including working as an agent with the Internal Revenue Service. His website is http://taxsolutionsforwriters.com
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