Forty Cent Difference Between 2016 Business and Charity Mileage Deductions

The IRS actually lowered the amount per mile that a business owner can deduct for vehicle use in 2016. (See 2016 Standard Mileage Rates for Business, Medical and Moving Announced.) The standard mileage deduction went from 57.5 cents for 2015 to 54 cents.

The amount that a volunteer using a car for charity can deduct in 2016 stayed right where it’s been for years, at 14 cents per mile. So relatively speaking, the volunteers are a little better off than they were last year. After driving hither and yon to set up a charity auction, visit shelter dogs and cats (and birds, and reptiles . . . ), clean up a shoreline, and so on, they’re only an even 40 cents worse off per mile than had they been driving the car for business purposes.

Does the IRS hate charitable work? No, the difference is based on a technicality. The charitable mileage deduction is set by federal statute, which would take an act of Congress to change. Congress never seems to get around to that particular fix.

The standard mileage rate for business, by contrast, is within the IRS’s power to change. The agency announces a new rate annually, based on the latest fixed and variable costs of operating an automobile.

If you’re volunteering for charity and using your car to get you to the facility and back, or for other purposes related to your volunteer work, and you want the maximum deduction, you might want to do it the more laborious way: keep track of your miles, and figure out the per-mile cost of gas and oil, as directly related, variable expenses. (General wear and tear can’t be included for the charitable mileage deduction.) See IRS Publication 526, Charitable Contributions, for details (under “Out-of-Pocket Expenses in Giving Services”).

And if you’re a leader or manager of a charitable or nonprofit organization, be sure to remind your volunteers about the tax deductions they can take for expenses they incur. Not only mileage, but other expenses they pay for out of pocket (aprons, treats for kids, pets, or other clients, art supplies, and so forth) can be deducted.