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Tax Deductions for Truck Drivers

If you are an owner-operator truck driver, be sure to claim all your expenses when it’s taxation time. You, like virtually all taxpayers, can significantly lower your tax liability and your taxable income by availing of deductions and handling your tax situation properly. You can also benefit from your meal allowances and claim write-offs on your tractors and any other equipment.

Apart from your tax returns, you may have other reporting requirements and require to pay permit costs and additional taxes. By claiming your per diem rate and other truck driver tax deductions, you can reduce the amount of tax you pay. And, as an owner-operator truck driver, you should know which truck driver expenses you can deduct and which you can’t.

Here are the forms you need to file taxes

  • A W2 form is received by company drivers that provide a report of the wages and income of the driver.
  • These forms must be mailed to the employees by the employers by the end of January.
  • This income must be reported on Form 1040 or 1040A.
  • As an owner-operator, you have different options for reporting your income and can depend on your records.
  • If you are working as an independent contractor for the company, you will get a Form 1099, which is utilized to report any miscellaneous income.
  • In case you are a commission driver or an agent, your W2 may have the “Statutory Driver” box checked.
  • Self-employed and statutory drivers must fill the Schedule C form and this is used to determine the profit and loss of the business.

The 16 Tax Deductions Truck Drivers Can Take

Truck drivers are allowed to deduct business expenses that are “regular and necessary” by the IRS. While these expenses vary as per the individual, some expenses are standard.

1) Meal Expenses

You can deduct the cost of your meals that you incur when you are at work, away from home. For this, you must save your meal receipts. Or, you can deduct the standard meal allowance that is stipulated by the IRS for the transportation industry and make use of your log books as proof.

For the years 2016 and 2017:

  • The incidental and meal expenses per day are $63, irrespective of whether you use the standard or the actual expense method.
  • Only 80% of the total expenditure incurred for the entire year is deductible.
  • And, although only 80% of the amount is deductible, you should keep track of all your expenses for purposes of tax, since the 80% adjustment is usually made when the tax return is prepared.
  • When you are traveling, if you stop for rest so that you can perform your work properly, then the meals are deductible.

2) Lodging Expenses

Expenses that are incurred for lodging are deductible. However, there is no standard lodging allowance and so you need to keep your receipts for each lodging expense incurred. In order to claim lodging expenses, you need to stay away from home overnight.

Your lodging or any other travel expense (e.g., travel costs) can be disallowed if you don’t have a place of residence or a proper place of business. In which case, you would be considered to be a transient or itinerant and your place of work will be considered as your home for taxation. However, as an itinerant, you cannot claim any meals or lodging deductions, as you would never be considered to be away from your home.

3) Miscellaneous Expenses (On the Road)

To be deductible, the expense of the items should be ordinary, as well as necessary for the job. These expenses include items like log books, tools, cargo straps, safety gear, CB radios, GPS units, etc. Usually, for any of these expenses, receipts are needed; however, if the expenditure incurred is less than $75, then a receipt is not required. You must keep a record of all the purchases in a diary in a proper manner, however.

Keep in mind that any personal products that are used for business purposes are deductible. For example, a cooler used to store food and drinks, flashlights, sunglasses, binders, luggage, and similar.

4) Personal Electronic Device Costs

Electronic items such as cell phones and laptops are included in these expenses; however, since they can be used for personal purposes also, only 50% of the monthly fees can be deducted. If the devices are used for purposes of work, then the entire cost of the device can be deducted.

This also includes cell phone and internet fees, which are 50% deductible.

5) Maintenance and Vehicle Expenses

You can deduct the expenses incurred on truck maintenance and purchase of supplies such as the cost of new tires, oil change, cleaning supplies, repairs, washer supplies, etc. if you pay out of your pocket. However, if your employer gives you reimbursement for these expenses, you cannot claim a deduction. Parking fees and tolls you must pay while trucking are also deductible. 

6) Professional or Union Association Dues 

If you pay any fees as a member of any trucking industry organization or the union, you can deduct 100% of these expenses from your taxable income.

7) Uniform Expenses

If you require wearing a uniform when you’re at work and your employer does not pay for the uniform, then the expenses incurred to buy uniforms are deductible. This expense also includes protective boots, goggles, or gloves. Any laundry expenses incurred while you are away from your home at work are also deductible.

8) Office Supplies Expenses

Expenses incurred on the purchase of office supplies that you use for your work (to keep track of your day or route) such as writing supplies, log books, clipboards, staplers, route maps, etc. are tax-deductible.

 9) Sleeper Berth Expenses

If you make use of a sleeper berth while you’re away on work, then items like your bedding, alarm clock, cab curtains, first aid supplies, and mini-refrigerator are all deductible expenses.

10) Work-Related Expenses

Any expenses that are related to your work are tax-deductible, such as:

  • Fees for driver license renewal.
  • Fees for DOT physical exams.
  • Fees for drug testing.
  • Cost for sleep apnea study.

 11) Truck Operating Expenses

Expenses incurred to operate the vehicle such as fuel, insurance & insurance premiums, licenses, maintenance, and taxes are all deductible, and depending on the cost, some of the expenses can be depreciated. This also includes leasing costs.

 12) Vehicle Cost Write-Offs

According to the tax code, many options allow writing off the cost of the truck.

  • You can also immediately expense the vehicle up to an amount of $510,000 in the tax year (the tax season) that the asset is put into service.
  • You can depreciate the cost of the vehicle in the 1st year by 50%.
  • Avail normal depreciation.
  • Or a combination of all the above options.

These allow the owner-operators to pick any amount to write-off as per their convenience. The IRS permits a recovery period of:

  • 3-year period for over-the-road tractors.
  • 5-year period for heavy-duty trucks (more than 13,000 lbs), trailers, and trailer-mounted containers.

13) Child and Dependent Care Expenses

This enables you to recover some expenses that you may have incurred for the care of a child or dependent. To qualify for the credit the child must be under 13 years; however, in the case of disabled spouses or children, the eligibility is regardless of the age.

14) Child Tax Credit

You could claim a credit for an amount of up to $1,000 for every child under 17 years of age living with you and more than half of the child’s living expenses must be borne by you.

15) Earned Income Tax Credit

This tax refund credit is based on your business income and provides reduced tax liability of around $6,000 or more. This was developed originally for workers with a low income but has been not extended to middle-class families and individuals.

16) Medical expenses & exams

True, even out-of-pocket fees for medical exams and other medical expenses are deductible, if they are required by the employer. Deductibility applies only if the amount exceeds a particular threshold.

While we’re at it, one tip we can share here is to fill up your health savings account (HSA). Funds that go into such an account are pre-tax, meaning you can use them to ensure your HSA is full and functioning (which might come in handy depending on whether you qualify for government subsidies for monthly insurance premiums—see below), while at the same time lowering your tax burden.

The second tip is regarding paying monthly insurance premiums and government subsidies for social security. If you apply for health insurance through the government, you need to make an estimation of annual family income first. If it is under a particular threshold, you can apply for subsidies for your monthly insurance premiums payments. 

This comes with a caveat, though. If your actual annual family income turned out to be higher than your estimation, you will be required to pay back the balance.

Some expenses do not qualify for deductions such as:

  • Street Clothing: Only the cost of protective clothing or uniforms is permitted as a deduction.
  • Lost Income: Lost income does not require to be reported on the tax return, as it is accounted for. Examples of instances that cause loss of income are:
    • Time spent to repair or maintain your equipment.
    • Because of a deadhead.
    • Suffering through an IRS audit or inquiry triggered by you claiming these deductions.

As an owner-operator truck driver, you incur several expenses. However, if you don’t claim all the expenses, you may end up paying more tax than necessary. These expense lists are regarded as itemized expense lists instead of standard expense lists. If you itemize all your expenses, you can claim more by way of deductions. However, you need to keep all the receipts and organized records of your expenses. 

Truck driving doesn’t have to be a tax chore, and you don’t have to memorize the tax law by heart in order to benefit from applicable deductions! You could avail the services of a tax professional in tax preparation, who can help you file your returns and get your money back. 

General Tips

Here are some general tips that would pay to follow in order to make the best out of standard deductions, pay tax on time, and avoid penalties and audits from the IRS.

Prepare documents and your tax return in time

Contractors will need their 1099-NEC form (which they use to report income for their services given) by January 31 the year that follows the tax year reported. You’d want to have this form sent to the contractors and then to the IRS well ahead, probably by mid-January at the latest.

The same applies to your yearly tax return. The Tax Day was now extended to May 17, 2021, for 2020. We don’t know if this will apply for 2021, though. In any case, it would pay to have it ready a month before that. 

Also, make sure that you calculate and pay your quarterly tax estimates. This has several advantages:

  • Paying taxes approaching Tax Day will feel a lot less punishing to your account since you already pre-paid most of the liability;
  • It’s an obligation for you to do it, and if you don’t you might get penalized for underpayment (calculated on how much you owe);

A good rule of thumb would be to set aside about 1/4th of your net income each week for your quarterly estimates. Just cut it out, maybe send it to another account, and make the payment each quarter. Finally, if you think that you underpaid the estimation throughout the year, you can catch up with the 4th quarter by paying more (but try to avoid this as it can trigger a penalty or an audit from the IRS).

Probably the best approach here is to have an accountant get everything you have in order well before you need to submit them (see below).

Hire an Accountant

We know, we know. Taxes are boring. Filing tax returns and forms—even more so. Luckily, there are people who seem to revel in looking at those piles of documents and extract something meaningful out of them: accountants.

In the case you find filing taxes cumbersome and bland, our advice would be to employ an accountant or a tax consultant. They will go through all the documents you send over them and will petition you for any additional info they might need. In the end, they will produce a filled tax return ready to be submitted to the IRS.

This doesn’t rescind your obligation to keep all the relevant documentation so that you can send it to your accountant, of course. Also, accountants and consultants are not machines, and they serve other clients besides yourself. So make sure you submit all documentation they require well ahead of Tax Day.

What Expenses Are Tax Deductible For Truck Drivers?

You may already know that truck drivers can avail themselves of some tax deductions in the United States. However, it is essential to know the specifics before you file something. There are a total of 15 tax deduction options a truck driver can use.

Each of these deduction options has its own rules. For instance, meal expenses come under tax deductibles in the US. However, you can deduct only 80% of the total expenditure. Similarly, if you are dealing with lodging expenses, the receipt of payment must be from an established business. Otherwise, the deductible will cease to be legal.

Some of the other tax deductibles include miscellaneous expenses, personal electronic device costs, maintenance expenses, uniform expenses, professional or union association expenses, sleeper berth expenses, work-related expenses like the fee for drug testing and driving license renewal, truck operating expenses, and vehicle cost write-offs.

Final Notes

You can’t claim a deduction on anything that was reimbursed by your company (if you drive for one, that is). Keep in mind that many of the aforementioned do not apply to local drivers. For example, meals are not deductible for local truckers as they can eat at home instead of on the road. 

Additionally, having a ‘tax home’ where the IRS can reach you is essential in order to be able to claim all these deductions.