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FAQ: Can I deduct the costs incurred doing charitable work?

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Q. I spend 20 hours every week cooking meals and delivering them to an organization that feeds the hungry and homeless. Am I entitled to a deduction for my time and the food I pay for out of my own money?

A. Generally, if you do volunteer work for a charity, you are not entitled to deduct the cost of services you perform for the charity. However, if in connection with the volunteer work you incur out-of-pocket expenses, you may be entitled to deduct some of those expenses.

Qualifying expenses

If the amounts that you pay for food and other supplies used in the preparation and packaging of the meals are not reimbursed by the charity, generally you may deduct these expenses as contributions to the charity.

In addition, if the amounts that you pay to travel by car or other means to deliver the meals are not reimbursed by the charity, and you derive no personal benefit from the travel, the expenses are deductible. Qualifying expenses include gasoline for your car and fares for taxis or public transportation.

Special mileage rate

If you drive your own vehicle to deliver the meals, you can use a special IRS mileage rate to calculate charitable contribution deductions involving use of your car. This special rate is 14 cents per mile, which is statutorily set.

Other expenses

Other out-of-pocket expenses incurred in connection with services you provide to a charity that are deductible include costs related to uniforms, travel, meals, and lodging. Sometimes, expenses incurred while serving as a charity’s delegate to a convention may be deducted.

Keep receipts

If you take a deduction for out-of-pocket expenses you incurred incident to your performance of services for a charity, it is important to have receipts to document expenses. It is also a good idea to get a written acknowledgement from the charity for the services you provide.