The hardest-hit area of the country in the Manabi Province where at least 200 people were killed and, as time quickly passes by, finding survivors seems to becoming less likely. As rescue teams begin to wrap up their searches, many people will be filing into the country to help rebuild. Missions teams from the United States will likely be among the groups traveling to Ecuador to help.
If you are planning on joining one of these mission trips out of the country, there may be a few things that you can deduct from your taxes for lending a helping hand. Can you get tax deductions for expenses associated with a mission trip?
If there is a correct answer to that question, it would be maybe. IRS law says that you can deduct any unreimbursed or out-of-pocket contributions to qualified charities. The main piece of advice when it comes to tax deductions is when in doubt get a receipt and keep it.
Generally, the church pays for the group to go on the mission trip. They hold a fundraiser within the community and set a goal for the trip. Once the goal is met, the church books the airline tickets and any other necessary reservations for the people who signed up for the mission trip. This means that you don’t technically get to deduct any of this travel or expense from your taxes.
Where you can get a tax deduction is the fundraiser part of the mission trip. If you contribute money to the mission trip, you will be able to deduct that money from your taxes as a donation to charity (because churches are nonprofit organizations).
You can also deduct any unreimbursed expenses. For instance, if you use your personal car to travel for the mission trip, you can deduct mileage. You can also deduct mileage if you traveled to-and-from meetings prior to the trip itself. You will also be able to be reimbursed if you buy supplies for the trip or purchase food and beverage on the trip (excluding alcoholic beverages).
Some churches hold a fundraiser and also require a mission trip fee from the participants. If you have to pay a fee, you can deduct that fee from your taxes as well. You will need to request a letter form the church stating the date, place and the purpose of your missions work. For instance, if your group plans to depart for Ecuador on June 1 to help rebuild areas in Manabi Province, you would need a letter stating that for the IRS.
What is not tax deductible is the time and effort that going on a mission trip will take. If you have to take unpaid time off from work to go, you will not be reimbursed. You will also not be reimbursed for the value of your time.
All of the above should not be considered tax advice, but rather a general guideline. If you have any questions about tax deductions when it comes to mission trips or volunteering for charity, you can contact your tax preparer or the IRS directly.
Photo: Flickr: Graeme Maclean