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

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 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

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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).

  3. 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..

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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?

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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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