Tips for deducting Scouting expenses on your tax return

UPDATED FOR 2017 with 2016 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 18, 2017, 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

Further clarification for this section comes from the Taxwise Giving newsletter (November 2016 edition).

  • On IRS Form 1040, “2016 Instructions for Schedule A” (PDF link), the Boy Scouts of America is listed by name on page A-9 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:
    • 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 deduct parking and tolls, so add that 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.
  • You also cannot deduct insurance or depreciation on the car.

Traveling as a volunteer

If you travel as a volunteer and must be away from home overnight, reasonable payments for meals and lodgings, as well as your transportation costs (previous section), are deductible.

This is where it gets tricky. You can’t deduct travel expenses if there’s a “significant element of personal pleasure, recreation or vacation.” But enjoying your volunteer time doesn’t rule out a deduction.

For example, if you’re an on-duty troop leader who takes children on a camping trip, you may deduct those travel expenses even if you had a good time.

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.

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 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!

cubcast-logoNew! Listen to the January 2017 CubCast

The January 2017 episode of CubCast, the monthly podcast for Cub Scout leaders, includes even more great advice.

Because there is not a simple “yes” or “no” answer to many tax questions, CubCast invited tax expert and legal counsel for the BSA Russ McNamer to the show.

Listen here.

Photo by Horrgakx on Flickr


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

      • 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. 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.

    • The Wood Badge fee that is not reimbursed by Troop or Council or your employer is considered an expense. Just like attending a training session for your job that is not reimbursed.

      • Similarly, if your unit does not reimburse your fees for First Aid, CPR, or Wilderness First Aid, etc. or other training that you need as a volunteer, it is deductible.

  4. 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?

    • With standard disclaimer, the publication seems to say that if you are “on duty” for most of your time then the full cost is deductible. If you are just going along to enjoy the trip with no significant duties then it isn’t.

    • Your deduction is for the same tax year that you spent the money. You have to pay for the registration for major trips (i.e. Philmont, National Jamboree) in advance of when you travel. But the mileage would be in the year you actually travel. We keep a calendar and note all the events we drive to for unit, district and council to track mileage. It definitely adds up. Using the council’s online registration for events provides receipts.

  5. 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.

      • Yes, you can deduct the actual cost of fuel, oil, and other consumables. You cannot deduct depreciation or the cost of the vehicle, repairs, etc.

        Or you can take the fixed charitable miles. As @Dan Boyce points out, since Congress has kept the charitable mileage rate artificially low, it may pay to figure your actual real cost. Especially if you’re the one towing the trailer!

      • IRS regs say you can deduct $0.14 per mile OR actual cost, which ever gives you the most benefit. My truck, actual costs. My car $0.14. I have contemporaneous records to back up my deductions. I believe previous posts have specified which IRS publication provides details (Publication 526). One of the first cases to reach the Supreme Court after the income tax was initiated addressed this very concept. The IRS wanted the law to be interpreted so that you had to arrange your finances to benefit the IRS. The Court said NO to this interpretation.

        Someone else has mentioned that itemizing may need to be as he mentioned, bunching deductible expenses in every other year. I have discovered that those of us who need to pay quarterly estimates probably don’t need to bunch deductible expenses since state income tax is a deduction for 1040 purposes. If your state doesn’t have state income tax there is a possibility for deducting state and local sales taxes.

  6. 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.

      • The IRS has a nice page “Tips for Taxpayers who Travel for Charity Work.” It claims that just about any typical travel expense (fares, lodging, food) is deductible as long as your work was “real or substantial throughout the trip.” That’s actually a change from older rules described in the article above.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

    • Paul, have you put in your app for Committee Member or other position? As a committee member or ASM or Den Leader you are in a better position when claiming these deductions.

    • The “test” I alway use for this, and I am in no means a tax professional is… is the expense in question solely for the participation of my kids/family?

      I believe I saw an example once of “driving your son to/from troop meetings.” – Not deductible. That’s the cost of your personal participation, not an expense as a volunteer.

      Drive 4 kids to a campout? Deductible, because you’re doing this as a benefit to the organization, and not for you own personal participation/benefit.

      As an adult leader – things I do “as a leader” and not necessarily for personal benefit, I’d consider deductible.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

    • 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.

      • I went to Philmont Training Center as a Cubmaster, and wrote off the course cost. My family also went, and did the family things available at PTC, so I accounted for the “personal use” of the travel itself.

        Going to Philmont this year as a Scoutmaster… so those will be my questions for next year!

      • No, meals while traveling are deductible at 50% for business. For charitable purposes like meals while traveling with Boy Scouts, they are deductible at 100% – but only if it’s an overnight trip. Meals for a day trip are not deductible.

  11. 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! 🙂

    • One very important point to be made is that while IRS publications may provide information and guidance, the ARE NOT considered to be authoritative in determining appropriate tax treatment.

      (PSR trail name)
      Larry Massey,CPA
      (Yes, not a made up designation!)
      ASM (Troop 700)
      Round Table Commissioner
      District Chair
      Eldorado district
      Golden Empire Council
      Boy Scouts of America

  12. 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.

    • No. The reason Congress makes charitable expenses ( as well as numerous other things , like Investment Tax Credits for businesses) is to encourage folks to do them.

    • 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.

    • I personally don’t feel they do. It isn’t like you are getting any pay for this. It simply lowers the cost. I plan to go to Wood Badge this year. If I deduct the expense it lowers the cost from about $250 to about $200. I will still be paying money to give away my time. If I could get more then $250 back somehow then I would not be volunteering.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

    • They would be deductible as would the travel expenses to and from. Same applies going to a training course at Philmont, or a Wood Badge course, etc.

    • I’ll be looking for this in 2017, as I’m a first ASM! Also to Philmont this year.

      But here’s another Q… I’m hoping to send my son to Jambo as part of Operation Arrow. Since I’ll be paying his fees (to volunteer)… is that also deductible?

  16. 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?

      • 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.

        • 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.

        • If I save $50 on my taxes, that’s $50 I can donate to FOS or the endowment fund or the campership fund…. I give my money AND my time to Scouting. The IRS encourages you to do good by supporting charitable organizations… You can volunteer to give your money to the IRS instead, but me? As a volunteer, I see how my donations are spent, and the more I can give, the better.

        • That’s an odd view, @rockymtnrob65.

          Taxes are what we pay as patriotic citizens to support our communities and country. The law recognizes that giving money to charities that help educate future citizens, help care for the elderly, etc. is a patriotic act as well. Charity supports our communities and our nation. We want to encourage it.

          So if you spend $100 on getting trained to do a great job with Boy Scouting, we choose not to tax you on that $100 you’ve given to the country. That’s because we tax people on the income they get (and use for themselves), and you never really got that $100 as income because you gave it back to the country.

          The deduction means we return to you the $25 or so of tax that you paid on that income you never got to use for yourself.

    • Similarly, First Aid, CPR, and similar training is deductible if it is undertaken for the benefit of the organization.

  17. 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 !

  18. 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.

      • 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)…

        • True, but it’s a rare person whom such a business deduction exceeds the minimum AGI percentage to ever result in a tax savings. The charitable deduction for volunteers though does result in savings for most.

    • Actually, professional uniforms might be deductible. Straight from IRS publication 529:
      You can deduct the cost and upkeep of work clothes if the following two requirements are met.
      You must wear them as a condition of your employment.
      The clothes are not suitable for everyday wear.

      I would say military and scout uniforms fit this.

  19. 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).

    • How much you can deduct would come down to how much you track. Without any tracking you get nothing. Keep separate paper and you instantly get that portion. Log all print jobs and track which is for who and you can deduct most of the cost.

      But – as for the depreciation you run into all kinds of rules and it may not be worth that portion.

  20. 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..

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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?

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. Publication 463 covers BUSINESS Expenses, not out of pocket expenses as a volunteer. Here’s what Publication 17 (Page 169) says on the subject:

    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.

  27. 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.

  28. According to my CPA, just about everything involved in Jamborees is deductible, from the total fee (although we were fed out of the fees), gasoline/mileage, lodging while traveling, uniforms, required camping equipment, … and the total fee amount was confirmed by a letter from the BSA National Office.

  29. In regard to council or national BSA conference meals, how do you find out the cost of the meal to be able to deduct the difference? I never see rhat published.

  30. How do you find out the cost of a special occasion BSA meal so you can deduct the difference between the cost and what you paid? I have never seen it. Thanks

  31. I drove nearly 4000 miles for my troop in 2014, claimed the $0.14 a mile on the taxes, and got back an extra $30 from the government. Not even a tank of gas, but its something.

  32. How do you find out the true cost of a special meal, so you can deduct the amount over that as an expense? I have never seen the cost of a meal at either the council or annual national meeting. I am a volunteer. The past two years, my husband and I deducted the full amount of each meal.


    If you come to the end of the year and realize that you weren’t organized enough to keep track of mileage, don’t worry. Go back to your calendar. If you’re like me, you put everything on your calendar and tag them by category. Export all the scouting events into a spreadsheet (most calendar apps do this), and then figure out mileage from home to the event location and back. (Our troop meetings are 15 miles from my house, and I function as a leader there, so that was 2000 miles a year just for meetings.)

    It adds up quickly, and you have a record of when and where.

    If you didn’t put it in your personal calendar, go back to your unit calendar and your district/council calendars online, and work from those. It might take you an hour, but it’ worth it for the deduction.

  34. If you’re concerned about any of it, and have significant deductions of any form (mortgage interest, donations, daycare, etc.) then have your taxes done for what, $200?? They’ll find deductions you never dreamed of, they know offhand the answers to questions you can only guess the answer to (as we see in this thread, different people pull up different IRS pamphlets) and you don’t waste an entire day, and if a small error is made, the tax preparer dives on the grenade for you. Or if that’s too expensive for your blood, TurboTax or other tax preparation software is meticulous about knowing where certain deductions go in to the forms, what the limits are, method of calculation, even if you used your own computer for the volunteer work, TurboTax will determine the amount of deterioration/depreciation for your charitable contribution. It’s really not as difficult as all of this.

    Regarding the clause that you cannot deduct the activity if your receive significant pleasure from it, that is an absurd and unenforceable law (which legally means it’s not a legal law) for two reasons: 1) who engages in charitable activities for which they derive no pleasure? If you gave $2,000 to an orphanage, it would most certainly be a deductible cash gift, and no auditor would ask you “did it give you a sense of pleasure or well-being knowing your gift would help someone?” Of course you did it out of generosity, which because you’re a good person, generosity feels good, and if it doesn’t feel good for a given individual, they don’t do it. So are they going to read your mind in order to determine if you enjoyed taking your troop to camp? Even if it was ALL work for you, you did it because you enjoy the work. Because ALL generous persons (whether with their time, their money, or both) have it in their nature to feel good from being good persons, the very premise is idiocy. But more importantly, because they have no apparatus for reading minds, and the law (particularly laws dealing with taxes) require quantitative evidence, the rule is bunk. 2) Who can possibly arbitrate the term “significant pleasure” in any meaningful way? One person might hate every aspect of their church’s evangelizing vacation cruise. Someone else might have made some good friends, learned to play touch football, and gotten some wonderful care-packages while in a POW camp, and therefore derived significant pleasure. Much as in point # 1, nobody has a way to make the determination of something as subjective as “pleasure” or more arbitrary, “significant pleasure” because they cannot read minds. What the rule is trying to clarify is that if you got to use the zip-line, and you got to SCUBA dive, or you got to jet-ski, then that sounds more like vacation than effort. But again, what if your involvement is to teach others and by repetition over the decades, these activities are no longer recreational for you. It’s a garbage rule that wouldn’t stand up to the slightest legal scrutiny. One person’s fun is another person’s misery.

    As for those who argue that taking a tax deduction for volunteering isn’t truly volunteering, I’d point out that taxes aren’t voluntary. Simply reducing your tax burden for things you “give for free” is Uncle Sam’s way of saying they don’t want to tax you for deploying your resources for good deeds. Kind of absurd to think that the modest tax relief you get somehow invalidates the money and time you donate, it merely frees up a tiny sum of money with which you will probably put back into something generous.

    As for things like mileage, the rule does state that you’re supposed to keep the records concurrently with the travel; for traveling salesman this might make sense. But 1) if you know the activities (from the Scoutbook activity log and attendance record) then you know you made the trip and how far it was, and B) another unenforceable rule, therefore non-legal rule, as how could an auditor possibly determine if your log was kept concurrent with your travel? If you write it all down on scraps of paper and stuff those into your glove box, is that seriously supposed to be more accurate than calculating the mileage at your desk with your computer and annual (verifiable) records in front of you? Let’s just cut the pretense, if you take the deduction, as is your right as a volunteer who gains nothing but knowing they’re doing some good, and you happen to be in the 1% or so ordinary people who get audited (which BTW usually means a simple letter asking for clarification on a SINGLE item on your forms) then give them a hand-written sheet of paper, with dates, as that’s what they’re asking for; of course that’s your concurrent travel log. What are they going to do? carbon date the paper to ensure it’s 18 months old?

    In general, I’d say a lot of the questions and debates here are silly. For the time you are volunteering, you can deduct travel, the entire out-of-pocket cost of meals necessarily not eaten at home (up to stated limits, you don’t get filet mignon), you can deduct every uniform purchase, every piece of gear used exclusively for scouting, fees, dues, and any out-of-pocket expenses (you had to buy three saplings at the garden shop for a pack project) exclusive to your volunteerism. You can’t deduct things that do double-duty (like your brief-case or your shoes) or incidentals (like toothpaste) or accidentals (like your car is wrecked on the way to camp). Some things which do double-duty can become deductions, like if your car or computer is used over a certain percentage exclusively for charitable activity. Let a pro, or turbo-tax do the work. Anyone who has any deductions at all, or files anything other than the 1040-EZ should not attempt to prepare the forms themselves. Obviously, there are deductions you don’t/can’t know about, so the modest cost of a professional (or at least Turbo-Tax) saves you much more than it costs.

  35. How do you track “actual gas”? MPG and miles driven? It doesn’t take a full track of gas every week so I don’t fill up every meeting day.

    • We do not track gas unless you deduct actual expenses for the vehicle. We keep s mileage log book and record odometer readings at beginning and end of each travel for medical and scouts or other chsrity miles. It is only 14c a mile, but easier to calculate by moving the entries in an Excel spreadsheet. Mileage really counts up. We also prepare an expense report for each long trip that includes hotel, meals, etc. Hope this helps. We were recently informed by the IRS to proof our deductions for 2012. Glad we had these records to send.

  36. I’m curious if anyone out there may know if there is anyway I could use a charitable tax contribution to go towards my sons trip to the jamboree in 2017 the same way my daughter could use my charitable tax donation to go on a school trip to Europe. Ideally many of our family members could use their charitable tax donation to help offset the cost for our son to attend the jamboree.

    • Hi @Kristi. When we as parents are paying for learning opportunities for our kids, that’s just our duty as parents. It’s not a charitable contribution. If your daughter went on a school trip to Europe and you deducted that expense, you may have accidentally committed tax fraud.

      If you gave money to your troop for camperships, and your troop decided to use the money to pay for your son’s best friend to go to the jamboree, then that you can deduct.

  37. I am a den leader and was wondering what expenses I can claim as tax deductible. Can I claim supplies for the activities and for the cost of outings and events?

  38. As a CPA, please do NOT follow the incorrect advice on treating a monthly payment to FOS as 12 separate gifts . . . The total amount of cash given should be treated as a single gift, with all appropriate restrictions and documentation.

  39. One inmportant thing to keep in mind is that itemized deductions don’t make sense if the standard deduction is larger. I make the even numbered year the year in which I bunch deductible expenses; real estate tax, most localities are set up with this in mind. I paid 2015 real estate tax in Jan 2016. I will pay 2016 real estate tax in Dec 2016 and deduct both payments in one year. I make 13 monthly payments to my church in the even nuumbered years and 11 in the odd numbered years. I am in the position that we need to file estimated income tax. Again, I paid the 4th quarter of 2015 in Jan 2016. I will pay the 4th quarter of 2016 in Dec 2016.

    I started keeping track of vehicle use when I spent some time on the road for my job duties. I just revised the process when I retired and continued keeping track. I don’t find it that cumbersome if I stay on top of the process.

  40. i use a mileage tracking app on my smart phone to track mileage like evidence which is for iPhone and i have used mileage tracker for android both are available in google play or the iphone app store

  41. FYI. There’s a free program out there to use on web or app on a tablet, called Expensify. I use it to log my scout deductions. It figures mileage for you at volunteer rate. You can also upload maps as receipts, upload other receipts as deductions like for uniforms, and create monthly reports on expenses. You can then email the reports to yourself or anyone else as PDF attachments. It also lets you itemize your expenses, like I have mine set up for Council events, Troop events, etc. When you print the report it will group like items together so you can see how much mileage you’re putting on for your Troop or Pack versus District or Council.

  42. YOU CAN DEDUCT UNIFORM COSTS. See page 5 of IRS Publication 526 (linked above).

    The caveat is that the items can’t be suitable for everyday use. That’s a judgement call. Almost nobody would wear a uniform shirt or neckerchief around the town. Some people might wear the pants/shorts/belt. Uniform baseball caps are wearable outside scouting (I have one on now), but a felt brimmed hat, not so much. You could probably even deduct the green socks and the red jackets. Bottom line, if you wear it as a Scouter and you simply don’t like to wear it for other things, then it’s not suitable and is deductible. If you do wear it for other things, then don’t deduct it. The IRS can’t audit whether it’s suitable as you do not itemize uniforms items and wouldn’t give a second glance at reasonable deductions unless you got audited for some other reason. But a Scout is Trustworthy. Scout’s Honor. Suitable is your call, and taxes are the price we pay for roads/highways, police/fire, the military, sewers, the electrical grid, tap water, sea- and airports, public education, medical research, and your congressman’s amazingly awesome health plan.

    If you got a full audit for some other reason (you won’t get audited over uniform deductions), they might ask for receipts, so just pay with your credit card and that’s that. 2% of taxpayers get audited in any given year, but the vast majority of those audits are computer detected math errors, or computer detected missing 1099s or other misc income. You get a letter and either mail a check or go to the local IRS office and pay your bill.

    You can’t deduct dues, meals or entertainment. I can’t make a firm determination as to whether you can deduct costs like attending Wood Badge, going to Scout Summer Camp as a unit leader, or travel to and from Scouting-only events (not sight-seeing). The IRS weighs in on attending “conventions” as a designated representative (you can deduct all unreimbursed costs for that), but doesn’t bother to tell you about other events of obligation where theres no such thing as designated representative.

  43. I made myself a Google Form which I have basic questions that I ask myself: Who I am volunteering for, Miles driven, price of gas at time of service, hours volunteered (for other purposes), costs (deductible costs only), name of location/destination etc.
    When I answer my own Google form it automatically generates an Excel-type spreadsheet that I can convert in different ways or even import into different programs etc.
    I put a link onto my phone (for any phone- Android or iPhone) I can either download the form App or just open the form webpage on a browser and save that webpage to my homescreen (so it looks like an app) and I can add in the info on the fly.
    It works well for me. I can add entries as needed- it records the date and time I make the entry or I can add a date of service to my questions.
    I can change my form however I like and track whatever I would like in this method.
    In-fact, I use Google forms for a lot of scout related things! Give it a try~

  44. Was audited years ago, primarily questioning my Scoting deductions. After ther IRS an glanced at my troop’s activity log (and my Commissioner Service miles), he said, “I don’t know why we bothered you.”

  45. I don’t know if this applies but if you donated for friends of scouting, can you get reimbursed from the troop, if requested?

8 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

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