If you and your employees are traveling for business this summer, there are a number of considerations you should keep in mind. Under tax law, in order to claim deductions, you must meet certain requirements for out-of-town business travel within the United States. The rules apply if the business conducted reasonably requires an overnight stay.
Note: Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, employees can’t deduct their unreimbursed travel expenses on their own tax returns through 2025. This is because unreimbursed employee business expenses are “miscellaneous itemized deductions” that aren’t deductible through 2025.
However, self-employed individuals can continue to deduct business expenses, including away-from-home travel expenses.
Rules that come into play
The actual costs of travel (for example, plane fare and cabs to the airport) are deductible for out-of-town business trips. You’re also allowed to deduct the cost of meals and lodging. Your meals are deductible even if they’re not connected to a business conversation or other business function. Although there was a temporary 100% deduction in 2021 and 2022 for business food and beverages provided by a restaurant, it was not extended to 2023. Therefore, there’s once again a 50% limit on deducting eligible business meals this year.
Keep in mind no deduction is allowed for meal or lodging expenses that are “lavish or extravagant,” a term that’s been interpreted to mean “unreasonable.”
Personal entertainment costs on the trip aren’t deductible, but business-related costs such as those for dry cleaning, phone calls, and computer rentals can be written off.
Mixing business with pleasure
Some allocations may be required if the trip is a combined business/pleasure trip, for example, if you fly to a location for four days of business meetings and stay on for an additional three days of vacation. Only the costs of meals, lodging, etc., incurred for the business days are deductible — not those incurred for the personal vacation days.
On the other hand, the cost of the travel itself (plane fare, etc.), if the trip is primarily business, the travel cost can be deducted in its entirety and no allocation is required. Conversely, if the trip is primarily personal, none of the travel costs are deductible. An important factor in determining if the trip is primarily business or personal is the amount of time spent on each (although this isn’t the sole factor).
If the trip doesn’t involve the actual conduct of business but is for the purpose of attending a convention, seminar, etc., the IRS may check the nature of the meetings carefully to make sure it isn’t a vacation in disguise. Retain all material helpful in establishing the business or professional nature of this travel.
The rules for deducting the costs of a spouse who accompanies you on a business trip are very restrictive. No deduction is allowed unless the spouse is an employee of you or your company, and the spouse’s travel is also for a business purpose.
Finally, note that personal expenses you incur at home as a result of taking the trip aren’t deductible. For example, let’s say you have to board a pet while you’re away. The cost isn’t deductible. Contact us if you have questions about your small business deductions.