mlkDr. Martin Luther King Jr., would have been 86 on January 15. We mark his birthday on the third Monday of January with a federal holiday. This day is also emphasized as a day of service in his memory. 

If you’re volunteering on King Day – or any other day – you should know that your efforts may be considered charitable contributions for tax purposes. Naturally, you don’t volunteer just to receive a tax deduction, but it’s important to understand how your charitable efforts may affect your taxes.

Say, for example, you plan to buy groceries for your church’s soup kitchen and prepare a meal for the homeless. The cost of the groceries and other supplies you donate to the church or other qualified organization could be considered charitable contributions.

Maybe you’re the troop leader for a tax-exempt youth group and you’re planning to drive your troop to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial in Washington, D.C. You could deduct the actual expense of cost of gas directly related to getting to and from the memorial, but it is more likely (and easier) that you would deduct the standard mileage rate of 14 cents a mile. Here’s a simple mileage log you can use to help you keep track of the miles driven for the charitable purpose.

As a volunteer who performs acts of service, there are several overlooked tax deductions that qualify as charitable contributions.

You can deduct specific out-of-pocket expenses that are unreimbursed and directly connected with the volunteer service. However, you may NOT deduct the value of services you give to a qualified organization (such as what you might typically be paid for your time). You also may NOT deduct any amounts related to personal, living or family expenses.

Here are a few other examples of deductible out-of-pocket expenses for performing volunteer work that you may not want to overlook.

  • Uniforms: You can deduct the cost of buying and cleaning your uniforms if the organization is qualified, if the uniforms are not suitable for everyday wear, and you must wear the uniform when volunteering. 
  • Conventions: If your church or other qualified organization selects you to attend a convention as its representative, you can deduct your unreimbursed expenses for travel, including reasonable amounts for meals and lodging, while away from home overnight for the convention. This deduction is a bit tricky, though, so consult your tax preparer to be sure you haven’t overstepped the IRS definition of travel for charitable purposes. 

Charitable contributions are among the most popular deductions during any given tax filing season. You must itemize using Schedule A to include these deductions. Consult with a tax adviser to be sure you’ve performed due diligence in keeping track of your deductible expenses. And keep performing acts of service as a contribution to your community. Dr. King would have appreciated you for it.

By Denise Bridges

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