Military families are also often dedicated volunteers, sometimes to several organizations.
Tax return time is a chance to recoup some of the money we spend to help our communities.
Sure you get a warm and fuzzy feeling for helping out. You make new friends. You learn new skills. And, if you keep your records correctly, you can use the money you spend to volunteer as a deduction on your annual tax form.
Just to be clear, there are rules. Lots of them. The IRS has a form that tells you what charitable organizations qualify, what types of contributions you can deduct, how much you can deduct, how to track your donations and how to report them on your IRS forms.
The IRS details this in a handy publication you can find here:
And it is important to note that not all charities are recognized by the IRS. So, before you donate several thousand to a local needy food bank or school group, check the IRS list first to make sure you can deduct part of that money. You can find a list of eligible charities here:
Basic IRS rules give three types of contributions that can be deducted: cash or check donations; property donations and out of pocket expenses you pay to do volunteer work. This last category is the most nebulous.
Dues and fees you pay to join a volunteer organization cannot be deducted, neither can items that that organization reimburses you for. There is also a clause for “gifts from which you receive benefit.” Basically, if you are enjoying the experience or using a volunteer trip as a partial vacation, you need to be very careful with your deductions.
For example, to deduct a trip with a scout troop to a local attraction, while you may not be able to deduct the ticket to the attraction, since you were there enjoying yourself, you probably can deduct the mileage you logged ferrying yourself and a car full of scouts.
To deduct mileage, you must keep track of the date, where you traveled to and from, and the exact mileage of each trip. You can be reimbursed for the actual cost of the gas and oil or be paid 14 cents per mile, but not both.
Not to mention, there are very specific rules set forth by the IRS for deducting gifts you make of $250 or more.
The best way to deduct your volunteer expenses? Keep all receipts. Log your miles in a book or excel spreadsheet and consult a tax professional.