So, you’d think a topic such as which miles you drive related to your writing or writing business qualify as a tax deduction would be an easy thing to figure out, but you would be wrong.
There are a number of variables that affect which miles you can deduct on your income tax return related to your writing or writing business and the most significant variable is whether or not you have office-in-the home which in turn impacts on which miles are considered commuting miles – which are NEVER deductible – and which miles are not considered commuting miles.
There’s an IRS Publication 463: Travel, Entertainment, Gift, and Car Expenses that every writer should review on an annual basis, and this publication includes a thorough discussion of car expenses. Of particular note is Table 5-2 which provides a detailed example of a Daily Business Mileage and Expense Log. Of further note is Figure B titled, When Are Transportation Expenses Deductible? This diagram will demonstrate very clearly that commuting miles are NEVER deductible. So, just what does this mean for the writer?
Well, let’s say that you have a regular job and you write on the side, a situation that I think is most common for writers - you know the starving artist/writer thing we would all have going on if we didn’t have a regular job or a partner who did? So, you come home from your regular job to have dinner before attending a meeting, or going to the library to do research, etc. Well, if you do not have an office-in-the home you cannot deduct your mileage from your home to the meeting and if you come back home after the meeting you cannot deduct those miles either. They are considered commuting miles. Don’t believe me? Please check out Figure B in IRS Publication 463 referenced above.
Now let’s say that you went straight from your regular job to your writer’s meeting/event, well then those miles would be deductible but if you went home after the meeting without making any business related stops then the miles driven home would still not be deductible. (NOTE: your writing is essentially considered a second job.)
As you can tell, calculating your mileage deduction can be a very tricky thing which is why it is critical that every writer train themselves to review the publication mentioned above each year and follow the IRS guidelines for recording miles driven and for which purpose.
Now I’m not advocating that you have an office-in-the home just to qualify for the mileage write off because trust me, the office-in-the home deduction comes with its own set of perils and red flags for audits, BUT you need to be aware of the consequences of all your choices when conducting your writing as a business or hobby and how those choices impact on your income tax profile.
BTW – the standard mileage rate for 2014 is 56 cents, a half cent less than for 2013. The standard mileage rate is actually adjusted quarterly based on the cost of gas and other expenses and in some years the mileage changed during the year which is another reason it’s critical to keep a detailed mileage log. In the case of mileage and how it is reflected on your income tax return, the devil really is in the details.