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Tips for deducting Scouting-related expenses on your income tax return

Stack of files Photo by Horrgakx on Flickr

UPDATED FOR 2014 with 2013 tax season info


When Baden-Powell said “Be Prepared,” I’m pretty sure he wasn’t talking about income tax returns.

But still, there’s no better advice than that two-word phrase during tax time.

Scouters who heeded the Scout Motto last year remembered to track and document their Boy Scouts of America-related expenses. And now, they know that they can include those expenses if they plan to itemize their deductions.

But what if you didn’t know that BSA expenses were deductible? Or what if your “filing system” is really your glove compartment that’s stuffed with gas receipts and crumpled-up napkins? And what qualifies as an eligible expense, anyway?

Your fellow Scouters and I are here to help. Along with other Scout leaders on Facebook, I’ve collected some tips to help you track and deduct your BSA-related expenses.

And with the April 15 deadline approaching fast, there’s no better time than now to get started.

Before we go any further, let me tell you that I’m no CPA, and I can’t help you file your return (for the best advice, find a professional, use tax-preparation software, or check out the IRS Web site).

What I do know is this: You give your time and money to the Scouting program, and Uncle Sam wants to give you credit—at least for the money part.

Much more after the jump.

General facts you need to know

  • On IRS Form 1040, “2013 Instructions for Schedule A” (PDF link), the Boy Scouts of America is listed by name as a “qualified charitable organization,” so BSA expenses are eligible.
  • Three types of contributions can be deducted:
    • Cash/check donations
    • Property donations
    • “Out-of-pocket expenses you paid to do volunteer work”
  • Some types of relevant contributions cannot be deducted:
    • Travel expenses, like meals or lodging
    • The value of your time
    • Scouting dues or membership fees
  • IRS Publication 526 has lots more info (thanks, William)

Easy enough, right? Scouters will mainly be concerned with that third type of eligible deductions, “out-of-pocket expenses you paid to do volunteer work.”

Some items that you purchase to benefit your unit can be deducted, provided your unit didn’t reimburse you for them. You’ll want to check with your tax professional to be sure, but Scouters have told me they deduct uniforms, merit badge pamphlets, den meeting activity kits, Wood Badge course fees and much more — again, as long as their pack or troop didn’t reimburse them.

However, there’s one expense that I’m certain you can deduct: the cost of driving to and from BSA events.

How to include driving expenses

Included in the third category is driving to or from a BSA event. Here’s what the IRS says about mileage:

  • First, you’re eligible to deduct the cost of driving to and from the volunteer work, which would include most BSA activities.
  • You have two options here:
    • You can take the actual cost of gas and oil, OR
    • You can take 14 cents a mile (note: the 2013 rate for volunteer work mileage remains at 14 cents a mile)
  • Add parking and tolls to the amount you claim under either method above.
  • As a reminder, you cannot deduct any expenses, mileage included, that were repaid to you by your unit, district, council or anyone else.

Important caveats

Next, there’s the tricky part of “gifts from which you receive benefit.” Let’s say, for example, that you attend your council’s annual dinner. Can you deduct that expense? Sort of.

Here’s what the IRS says: “If you made a gift and received a benefit in return, such as food, entertainment, or merchandise, you can generally only deduct the amount that is more than the value of the benefit.”

So if tickets for the council dinner were $75 and the value of the dinner was $35, you can only deduct $40.

Or if you paid $110 for a $100 gift card at a silent auction, you can only deduct $10.

Make sense?

Also, you’ll want to consult a tax professional or the IRS site for individual gifts of $250 or more. There are special rules that apply to those larger gifts. You shouldn’t combine separate gifts into that $250 requirement, though.

For example, with a Friends of Scouting donation where you give $50 a month over the course of the year, you would treat each $50 payment as a separate gift.

With all of these expenses, no matter how small, it’s a good idea to keep receipts. Speaking of …

Ten tips for keeping track of it all

Now let’s hear from your fellow Scouters. I asked Scouting magazine’s Facebook friends to weigh in on this issue. Here are 10 tips they gave:

  1. Theresa W. keeps a “notebook in the car for tracking mileage! Man, it adds up faster than you think!”
  2. “I update an Excel Spreadsheet with costs, and a folder for receipts,” says Jeff B. “I print out the Excel table when I do my taxes.”
  3. Jamie D. also has a high-tech approach: “I use Mint.com to track all our expenses. I set up a category just for Scouts.”
  4. So does Tom H.: “I have a program called NeatReceipts that comes with a scanner. I use it for my expense reports for work. Just drop the receipts in the scanner then catagorize them. Set up a group for Scouting and everything is there at tax time.”
  5. But Michelle H. prefers the low-tech method: “We have a calendar and a folder (calendar stays in the folder) to keep track of everything!”
  6. Patricia L. makes it easy on her accountant: “I keep a file and drop my charitable receipts in it all year. Our accountant appreciated copies of online maps that we used for driving directions. Date, purpose, and mileage all in one place.”
  7. Julus P. doesn’t itemize, but he might start some day. “Scouting is not for profit, and not a hobby. Granted, it feels like a hobby sometimes! I don’t keep track of all these things but really should!”
  8. For Mark F., it’s not worth the trouble. “I don’t keep up with it. I enjoy being a Cubmaster and camp promotions chair, and so far, it’s cheaper than going to NASCAR races and cheaper than maintaining my boat and related gear I use for fishing!”
  9. Shawna R. keeps track of mileage, but not for every trip: “I don’t keep track of mileage for going to the store to pick up Scout items, even if it’s the only thing I’m going to the store for.” That’s probably a good call.
  10. And finally, please remember to heed the advice of Ann O.: “Check with your tax person on what you can deduct. It wasn’t as straightforward as I thought, and the rules seem to change.”

Want even more tips? Find them in the comments section below, and please share your own.

Oh, and good luck!


Photo by Horrgakx on Flickr

52 Comments on Tips for deducting Scouting-related expenses on your income tax return

  1. Liz Fallin // March 3, 2011 at 5:29 pm // Reply

    My husband and I take our troop and crew to camp (and this year, Philmont). Any thoughts on how deductible that might be?

    • William Griffin // March 19, 2012 at 3:38 pm // Reply

      Take a look at IRS Publication 526 – see “Example 1″ under travel on page 5
      http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p526.pdf

      • Here’s the line he’s referring to: “Example 1. You are a troop leader for a tax-exempt youth group and you help take the group on a camping trip. You are responsible for overseeing the setup of the camp and for providing adult supervision for other activities during the entire trip. You participate in the activities of the group and really enjoy your time with them. You oversee the breaking of camp and you help transport the group home. You can deduct your travel expenses.”

  2. Curtis Koenig // March 4, 2011 at 7:26 am // Reply

    I use an iPhone app called milelog to keep track of milage, it can even send an email you can import into excel for easy printing and deducting.

  3. I’m sure you could also deduct the cost of training… I’m going to Wood Badge, so the “tuition” cost should be reimbursable too.

  4. Mileage can be deducted, there is a volunteer mileage rate.
    14 cents a mile. anything helps.

    Link:
    http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=232017,00.html

  5. While entering my tax information on TurboTax it appeared from the instructions that meals related to the volunteer work would be deductible. That would seem to indicate that the $10-$15 paid for meals on a weekend campout would be deductible. I did not do it this year because I didn’t keep those records but might look into it foe next year. Would the cost of going on a Sea Base trip as a leader (especially the organizer) be deductible? If so would it be deductible in the year of attendance or the year paid?

  6. I wonder if this would be acceptable: Actual cost as calculated by using your vehicles MPG divided into total miles for the scouting related trip. This avoids getting a deduction for gas expenses not actually used for the trip, AND allows you to get a higher amount deducted. If I take scouts to summer camp that is a 100 mile trip and equal to $14.00 in deduction at 14 cents a mile. If I calculate cost of gas used, as described above (my mpg is 17), the cost of gas used would be ((100mi/17mpg)x $3.75 = $22.06
    Gas has to drop back down to $2.40 a gallon before it makes sense to deduct mileage at 14 cents per mile. Or my truck all of the sudden has to start getting 27mpg.

    • That’s not how it works if you don’t use the standard deduction. You don’t get to deduct the actual cost of the fuel you used.

      • According to Turbotax… when it came to entering charitable mileage, it told me I could deduct at the charitable rate (.14/mi) or actual cost, but you can’t pick both. I would guess that actual cost would call for more meticulous record keeping/actual receipts? For example, I’ve got receipts from summer camp (towed the trailer) that I never submitted for reimbursement. But for our pack… as advancement chair, there’s at least 1x-mo trips to the Scout shop involved – but each trip isn’t backed by receipts.

  7. Our troop goes on trips to London, England, Philmont, and Seabase. Obviously we fly to London, and have also found it less expensive to fly, rather than drive, to Philmont and Seabase. If I go on these trips as a leader (Committee Chair) and also a parent chaperone, is the airfare, or any part of the airfare deductible? If we don’t have enough adult leadership to go on the trips, the trips don’t happen, so as a parent, these trips are not just for pleasure. Any thoughts?

    • Yes, airfare or trainfare, mileage to and from the airport for you (and if needed, for the person(s) dropping you off and subsequently picking you up from the station), all that and more is deductible. I have gone to PSR twice and FSB since I was the Crew Advisor, and those expenses sure add up fast! When expenses and mileage and all that gets added up over the course of a year, it can be eye opening. And it can be quite helpful at tax time.

      As previous posters here mentioned, track your mileage in some fashion (notebook, spreadsheet, map printouts, whatever works best for you) for every trip that is Scouting related. Keeps receipts and/or cancelled checks for out of pocket expenses. Bottom line: It has always been worth it to me personally to keep track of and deduct these.

  8. If your troop/pack/crew uses software such as Troopmaster to track participation in activities, you can get a list of the activities you participated in as a reminder if you forget what you did.

  9. I didn’t track anything last year because I thought as I read it the fact that I was doing this and my son was benefitting it wouldn’t be deductable.

    • if you’re a leader, your son isn’t the only boy that benefits. you ARE a volunteer eeven if your son gets something out of it also. i agree, my son benefits, and i really enjoy scouting as well. but i go on just about every trip we take, usually because if i didnt, we wouldn’t have enough adults. i track everything and deduct anything i can.

  10. Reblogged this on Lewis and Clark District Committee.

  11. One article I read on this subject said that travel/expenses incurred that were NOT for the sole purpose of your own/family participation (such as a parent driving their own child to a meeting, outting, etc.) are not allowed – but those incurred in an “official capacity” – not being for your own personal benefit (but for the benefit of the unit) are allowed.

    That said… I went to Philmont Training Center for a week-long conference, and wrote a lot of that expense off – cost of the traiing, partial travel (as the family came too).

    The “charity rate” for mileage – .14, doesn’t come close to covering actual expense, so consider using actual mileage. Luckily, I kept receipts for my son’s boy scout camp, in which I towed the troops trailer.

  12. David Willcox // March 1, 2012 at 7:57 pm // Reply

    I disagree with a number of points listed here. (Though I’m not a tax expert.)

    First, the assertion that you can’t deduct “travel expenses like meals and lodging.” The IRS publication says you can’t deduct “Travel expenses (including meals and lodging) while away from home, unless there was no significant element of personal pleasure, recreation, or vacation in the travel.” If you supervise your trip for a weekend camping trip, your expenses are a no-brainer deduction. A weekend ski trip with the troop might be more problematic. Do you drop off the guys at the slope and spend the day skiing by yourself, or do you spend the day teaching them to ski? Makes a big difference.

    On a Philmont trek, you’re on duty 24×7. Even if you’d go even without the troop, still seems deductible to me.

    The IRS says you can’t deduct “Dues, fees, or bills paid to country clubs, lodges, fraternal orders, or similar groups,” but I’d say that a Boy Scout registration fee so that you can volunteer is different. Dues or fees for your son though, not deductible.

    • Nancy Reeves // March 19, 2012 at 10:46 am // Reply

      I would agree that adult registration fees are deductible. You have to register in order to be a volunteer.

      Meals while traveling are only deductible at 50%. The IRS assumes that you would have eaten anyway. Meals without an overnight stay away are not deductible, even if it is at a Scouting event.

  13. David Ruiz // March 2, 2012 at 12:40 am // Reply

    I think you can actually deduct travel expenses that aren’t reimbursed. See here: http://www.irs.gov/publications/p526/ar02.html#en_US_2011_publink1000229674

    About half way down that link is the “Travel” section… It specifically refers to a troop leader deducting travel expenses.

  14. stewstryker // March 19, 2012 at 11:00 am // Reply

    David,

    Thanks for providing an authoritative answer to this common question, versus the other replies that relied on common sense. Since IRS rules don’t always match common sense, it’s great to see an example where they do! :-)

  15. Luke Van Cleave // March 19, 2012 at 12:43 pm // Reply

    Here are a couple of very relevant and helpful articles on this topic.

    http://miltonbsa.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=123&Itemid=140

    Hope this helps!

    • Diane Berson // March 19, 2012 at 9:45 pm // Reply

      Hi Luke. Fancy meeting you here!

  16. In addition to the resource materials, as an adult volunteer you can also deduct the cost of the uniforms and insignia as they are considered specialty items and are not worn as everyday clothes. You cannot, however, deduct your son’s uniforms and insignia.

  17. rockymtnrob65 // October 5, 2012 at 11:04 am // Reply

    Doesn’t claiming these deductions run counter to the whole “volunteer” concept? Just curious…

    • I suppose this is the government’s way of encouraging people to volunteer.

  18. rockymtnrob65 // October 5, 2012 at 11:08 am // Reply

    Doesn’t claiming deductions run counter to the whole concept of “volunteering”? Just curious…

    • Nobody gets to deduct their time. To me volunteering your time is worthy of qualifying as a “volunteer”. So even if you get reimbursed for your expenses you have still given your time — which is a major kudos in my book.

  19. I use the mileage reimbursement as a scout master for mileage I drive for scout activities. An easy way to track them is with the tour plan as it outlines the mileage for the trip.
    It makes for easy documentation of the mileage.

  20. Marty Verdi // April 15, 2013 at 6:06 pm // Reply

    While this may not help with your taxes, it may be a way to get someone to donate money to Scouting without having it come out of your pocket. My employer has a ‘matching’ program for employees that donate their time to organizations such as scouts. For every number of hours of your time spent volunteering, my company donates x number of dollars to our council. Last year it was 200 dollars for volunteer work that I would have done anyway.

    No, you can’t deduct it (it wasn’t your money to begin with) but it doesn’t come out of your paycheck, and it is a nice donation requiring a few minutes of time tracking per month.

    If you work for a big corporation, call HR and see if they have a time-matching program that works in a similar way. I work for Optum (part of United Health Group) and this program is one of the highlights of our company philosophy of giving back to the community.

  21. Gene ORourke // January 10, 2014 at 1:27 pm // Reply

    Thoughts on deducting Jamboree fees as either leaders or staff? I’m thinking that they are deductible, since we were basically “on-duty” the whole time.

  22. Barney Hollis // January 10, 2014 at 7:27 pm // Reply

    Glad I looked at this. It says that training for Boy Scout leaders is deductible. I am the shooting sports director for my council. Tomorrow I will be attending a USA Archery Level 1 course, so that I will be able to conduct archery for the boys in the council. Along with this I will be attending several NRA instructor courses and hopefully Level 2 Archery. Can I deduct the cost of these training courses?

    • If you’re doing it solely because of your volunteer position with the Boy Scouts, it should be deductible.

      • rockymtnrob65 // February 1, 2014 at 12:47 am // Reply

        Personally, I believe that when you make such deductions, you defeat the purpose and definition of “volunteerism”.

        This is *my* opinion, to which I’m entitled. I do not begrudge those who claim such deductions.

        • Donster1966 // February 23, 2014 at 8:02 am //

          Just remember, you’re not getting all your money back, just a deduction. So you get a little more money back, you’re probably going to spend it on Scouting again.

  23. Vivian Gulledge // January 10, 2014 at 8:55 pm // Reply

    My husband and I have volunteered for years and always deduct our expenses for uniforms, training fees, mileage, etc. Last summer he was an ASM at Jamboree with our council contingent troop which was VERY expensive volunteering !

  24. What of the huge sum of money paid to work Jambo? And we WORKED. No zip line for us.

  25. Much, like military reservists, you can also deduct the costs of adult leader’s uniforms and insignia ( but not those of kids) because you can’t wear those specialized items of clothing for other purposes. Thus it’s an out of pocket cost.

    Note though, for paid Scouting professionals, it’s not deductible, much like active duty military cannot deduct the cost of their uniforms and civilians cannot deduct the cost of their clothes they wear to work.

    • where on your return do you deduct the uniform? what section, as what? Thanks

      • Larry Massey, CPA (ASM) // December 7, 2014 at 11:15 am // Reply

        Actually, scouting professionals should be able to deduct the cost of their uniforms, insignia, and cleaning…it would just be deducted in a different place…in this case it would be as employee business expenses ( Schedule A – miscellaneous itemized deductions) rather than as volunteer expenses under Charitable Contributions (also on Sch A)…

  26. One item I’ve never seen mentioned in these discussions over the years is the cost of making copies. We run a small Scout Reach pack of 1st and 2nd graders. We make tons of copies a year for coloring and crafts. I’m sure I could deduct all this if I took it to a print shop and got receipts but that seems silly when we have perfectly good color copiers at home. But ink, paper and depreciation aren’t free. I’d say 75 – 90% of our copies are for Cub and Boy Scouts. (my husband is also a SM).

  27. I’d say the copies you make on your computer are probably deductable BUT the only way to keep track would be to log EVERY printout that you made. It would be the only accurate way to track your expenses if you wanted to deduct them. Because if not you’d be relying on your memory and don’t think it’s good enough for tax purposes It would almost would be easier to have a stand alone printer for your scout copies or just go to a printer/officer store. You’d save the wear and tear on your equipment AND you’d have receipts..

  28. You state… “Some types of relevant contributions cannot be deducted:
    Travel expenses…” You’re being overly conservative. Yes, meals might be problematic (under the personal expenses exclusion), but IRS Pub 526 is very clear travel expenses CAN be deducted, stating “Generally, you can claim a charitable contribution deduction for travel expenses necessarily incurred while you are away from home performing services for a charitable organization only if there is no significant element of personal pleasure, recreation, or vacation in the travel.” As Scoutmaster, my biggest such deduction has been in taking crews to Philmont. I deduct my costs for airfare, lodging on the way, and the Philmont fee. Yes I enjoy these trips immensely, but I, and any crew advisor, am in volunteer mode the entire time and as such these costs are indeed deductible.

  29. Drivers Journal is a free app on Google Play that lets you log your miles. At years end you can export a .csv file to give your tax preparer.

  30. I’m a SM for a small troop, the troop is not a 501(c)3 entity. And I know from working with the council, troops can’t use the councils tax status. Does the troop have to have a tax status for travel to be deductible?

    • Dennis: Use your Chartered organizatioin’s tax status.

    • Your volunteering is to the BSA and thus covered under a contribution to them. Or, so I have been led to believe.

  31. A 21st century tip for counting mileage: pull up last year’s calendar, list the locations you drove to for charity (multiple stages on separate lines if there was a complicated itinerary), look up directions via google maps (making sure you select the route you actually took), it gives the mileage that route at the top of the directions.

    • I keep an excel spreadsheet each year where I keep track of my scout related mileage. I do what q suggests… google map my destination and keep track of miles that way. I enter the mileage on my chart after the trip. This way I also have documentation should I ever be asked for it later.

  32. If you want to deduct your mileage, it’s not enough to submit a list of places you went and their mileage. If you’re audited, the IRS expects to see a log that was kept concurrently with the actual trips. That log must be detailed, including the date, destination, purpose, odometer readings, mileage, and more. For complete details, see Publication 463. http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p463.pdf

  33. Publication 463 covers BUSINESS Expenses, not out of pocket expenses as a volunteer. Here’s what Publication 17 (Page 169) says on the subject:
    http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p17.pdf

    Car expenses. If you claim expenses directly related to use of your car in giving services to a qualified organization, you must keep reliable written records of your expenses. Whether your records are considered reliable depends on all the facts and circumstances. Generally, they may be considered reliable if you made them regularly and at or near the time you had the expenses. For example, your records might show the name of the organization you were serving and the dates you used your car for a charitable purpose. If you use the standard mileage rate of 14 cents a mile, your records must show the miles you drove your car for the charitable purpose.

  34. I thought there was a distinction between BSA at the national and council level and the individual troops. It was my understanding that expenses incurred at the individual troop level are treated as expenses / donations to the chartering organization. If I donate $50 to BSA through Friends of Scouting then it counts, but a donation to my local troop for a piece of equipment it does not. I’d love to see something official on this distinction.

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