Daily Deduction: Volunteer Expenses


Sure, it’s better to give than to receive. But at tax time, why not do both?

If you volunteered for a charitable organization this year, you probably spent more than just your time. Anyone who has supervised a Boy Scout troop, organized a local fundraiser, or helped with the church newsletter knows that the cost of volunteering can add up. Fortunately, the government is willing to help. Money that you spend on your volunteer activities is deductible on your Form 1040.

Which costs can you deduct? They must be directly related to the services that you provide to your charity, and they can’t be personal or family expenses. For example, if you volunteer at a hospital, you can deduct the cost of the uniform you’re required to wear. If you’re the secretary of your favorite organization, you can deduct the cost of your office supplies. Do you drive to your volunteering activity? You can also deduct the cost of your transportation. The going rate for 2008 was 14 cents per mile.

Of course, like most deductions, this one has some limitations. If your organization reimbursed you for your expenses, you should not deduct them. In addition, you can’t deduct the value of the services that you provide. For instance, let’s assume a landscaper usually earns $20 per hour. If you buy $100 worth of tulips and spend two hours planting them as a volunteer for your local park, you can only deduct $100, the amount you spent on the flowers. The $40 that a landscaper would have earned is off limits. But a $100 deduction is still enough to brighten your tax day, right?

As a volunteer, you work for the good of others. Now it’s time to let your tax return do some good work for you. Include your volunteer expenses in this year’s charitable deduction, and your refund will be coming up roses.

Be sure to check out the complete archive of Daily Deductions.

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