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Are Your Business Travel Expenses Deductible?

By Betty Wang, JD on August 15, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Are your business travel expenses deductible? It's good to know if your travel expenses qualify for deductions, because it can mean more money for you and your business.

Business travel expenses are incurred anytime you spend money on a work-related travel cost. This can include expenses like car rental, airfare, lodging, and even dining or entertainment (if you have to take a client out, for example). Some of these may be tax-deductible and can help your business save some money when Tax Day rolls around.

Here's a general overview of when your business travel expenses are and aren't deductible:

Only for You and Your Trip

Deductible travel expenses only apply for your business when you incur the expenses on a work-related trip that your business pays for. It also only applies to you (or the employee whose trip you paid for), and not any guests or friends who may have tagged along.

For example, if you decide to bring your spouse with you on a work-related trip, then your spouse's expenses are not deductible. The deductions can only apply to your meals and your other costs in the course of your work-related trip.

The "trip" part is important as well. If you are a telecommuter or if you work out of a home office, then traveling between your home and a coffee shop where you do your work is not considered a "business trip."

Not Everything Is Deductible

So how are deductible business travel expenses actually defined? Under the Internal Revenue Code, only travel expenses that are "ordinary and necessary" for your business can be deducted.

Note, however, that the IRS has not specifically listed what's considered "ordinary and necessary." Still, there are some common ways to determine whether or not your travel expense fits the bill. Two rules of thumb to remember are:

  • Use common sense. Common sense will often give you a hint as to what's "ordinary and necessary." The cost of your airplane, train, or bus ticket, and three basic meals a day, are likely deductible; souvenirs that you purchase for your family, on the other hand, are obviously not ordinary and necessary for your business.
  • The "laugh test." The laugh test is another way to gauge whether a proposed deduction will pass IRS muster. If you can honestly claim the particular travel expense without laughing about it, then chances are it may be deductible. For example, imagine trying to write off a puppy that you bought for yourself while on a business trip. If you're giggling to yourself like we are, this is a sign that you should take it out.

For more guidance as to what's considered a deductible business travel expense, you may want to consult an experienced tax lawyer near you. Happy traveling, and happy deducting!

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