Chicagoland Field Trips
Taxes and Scouting
This paper describes what expenses it is believed a Scout leader can and cannot deduct for tax purposes under the current (1995) U.S. tax laws. These expenses can be deducted under Charitable Contributions on Schedule A, Form 1040.
The information contained here, although specifically oriented to Scout leaders, also applies to work for other nonprofit charitable organizations that are recognized by the U.S. government.
If you are a Scout leader, you are allowed a charitable tax deduction for your non-reimbursed, out-of-pocket expenses that are directly connected with the performance of your duties.
There are a few exceptions to this general guideline that are pointed out later. Also be aware that expenses that you pay for your children or for other leaders are not deductible.
The miles driven for Scout events (Troop / Pack meetings, committee meetings, campouts, service projects, training sessions etc.) can be deducted. The cost for trips for obtaining materials, food, etc., for Scouting events is also deductible.
A trip for performing your duties as a Scout leader can be combined with another activity. However, you may only deduct that portion of the trip that is related to Scouting. For example, if you drive six miles to the Scout office to drop off paperwork and an extra two to visit a friend, you may only deduct six of the eight miles.
Please also be aware that if the trip involves travel that you would have had to do anyway, the extra portion is not deductible. For example, assume your house is between where you work and where your Scout meetings are held; if you take your uniform with you to work in the morning and go directly from work to a Scout meeting in the evening, then home afterward, you can only deduct the round-trip mileage from your home, not the extra miles from work. If you went back to work before going home, you could deduct the round trip from work.
The current rate for use of your vehicle is 12 cents per mile. Your records should show date, mileage, and activity. Odometer readings are not required but can be recorded if you so choose.
If your actual expenses are more than 12 cents per mile, you may deduct the actual expenses for gas, oil, windshield washer fluid, etc. Your records must show the actual amount spent.
You may also deduct parking fees and tolls paid for a Scout event.
Travel expenses for Scout trips away from home may be deducted if you are a leader supervising youth in a genuine and substantial sense. This includes costs for train fare, bus fare, air fare, taxi fare, airport shuttle, rental cars, etc.
The IRS rules say that such costs can be deducted as long as "there is no significant element of personal pleasure, recreation, or vacation in such travel."
The rules do not define what is a significant element; however, their examples lead you to believe that you must be on duty at least half the time.
If you are one of the adult leaders required by Scout rules for an event, you are on duty for the entire event. If there are more than eight Scouts, the additional leaders required by Scout policy are covered. If you are not one of the required leaders but still perform as a leader for the majority of the time of an event, you are also covered.
Having fun on a Scout trip does not disqualify you from deducting the cost of the trip. What matters is that you must serve in a true adult leadership capacity.
If you simply attend an event as an observer, or as a non-required adult, and do not have a significant part in organization, program, or responsibility for youth, your costs are not deductible.
If you combine a personal vacation with a Scout trip, where you are not with the Scouts for a period of time before, after, or during the main part of the trip, it is very likely that part or all of the costs for the trip will not be allowed as a charitable deduction.
Reasonable costs for your meals are deductible if in connection with a Scout trip away from home. This includes the cost of food for campouts, restaurant meals, snacks, sodas, etc.
Pancake Breakfasts, etc.
The cost for pancake breakfasts, spaghetti dinners, and other such fund raisers can only be deducted if you purchase a ticket as a donation and return the ticket for resale. If you attend, and the cost is more than what a similar meal would cost elsewhere, you can deduct the difference; otherwise, you cannot deduct it.
Banquets, Dinners, etc.
The cost for recognition banquets, dinners, etc. are, in general, not deductible. However, if the event is for fund raising, the amount you pay above the normal cost for the meal is deductible. Also, if a set percentage of the cost is allocated to a general fund to support Scouting, or is allocated for other costs that are deductible, this portion is deductible.
It is not unusual for a council to have a policy that a 10 to 15 percent surcharge be included in the cost of events, which supports the general Scouting movement.
Ceremonies and Courts of Honor
The costs of items that you provide for ceremonies recognizing Scouts and Scouters, such as Courts of Honor, is deductible. This includes awards, decorations, candles, and other such items.
The cost you pay for a motel room, camping fee, or other accommodation fee while on a Scout trip is deductible.
If you pay your yearly registration fee yourself, it is deductible. If you have to pay a fee for fingerprinting or any other similar service, this fee is also deductible.
Leaders fees for summer camp, camporees, jamborees, conclaves, Philmont, Sea Base, Scout conferences, etc. are deductible.
Your fees for admission to parks, museums, art galleries, exhibitions, and other similar cultural / educational activities that you visit as the leader of a Scouting event are deductible.
Costs for athletic events, movies, and other forms of entertainment are not deductible.
Tips for Service
Tips given to waiters, guides, porters, bus drivers, bellboys, maids, and other service personnel while serving as a leader on a Scout trip are deductible.
If you are an officially designated leader for an international Scout trip, the costs for required travel documents, immunizations, entry fees, exit fees, and other similar ancillary costs associated with the trip, are deductible.
The cost for phone calls, postage, printing, envelopes, and other communications expenses directly related to the performance of your duties as a Scout leader are deductible.
Costs for required services directly related to a Scout activity are deductible; for example, the cost for towing a broken-down vehicle while providing transportation for a Scouting event.
The cost for repairs and general maintenance for your vehicle is not deductible even if it was damaged while performing as a Scout leader.
Your fees for showers, pool use, docking, and other such facilities are deductible if they are part of a Scout event.
The cost of materials used in Scout activities (wood, rope, leather, fuel, water filter elements, etc.) is deductible, as is the transportation needed to purchase such items.
First Aid Supplies
The cost for First Aid supplies bought in preparation for a Scout trip is deductible.
The cost for medical services and supplies for an injury that you suffer on a Scout trip is not deductible under charitable contributions. This must go under normal medical expenses.
Equipment that is bought for a Scouting activity, is deductible if it is donated to the Scout organization after its use. For example, a water filter for a trip to the Boundary Waters or Isle Royale.
The cost for photographs, slides, video film, and audio tapes that you use for the publicity and documentation of Scouting events is deductible. This includes material bought for showing at Scout meetings, poster displays, newspaper articles, etc.
The cost for these same items is not deductible if bought for your personal use and enjoyment. These items must be used in your capacity as a Scout leader to be deductible.
The costs for uniforms, patches, hats, insignia, neckerchiefs, name tags, and other uniform parts are fully deductible provided that they are not of general utility or wear. The cost of upkeep, e.g., washing, dry cleaning, etc. is also deductible.
The costs for uniforms, patches, pins, insignia, etc. that are bought for collection or trading is not deductible. However, if such items are later donated to a Scout museum or similar non-profit group, their cost/value may be deducted at that time.
Patches and other Scouting memorabilia that are sold as fund raisers for Scouting activities are deductible to the extent that the cost exceeds the fair market value of the items purchased.
Instructional materials (books, charts, maps, etc.) that you purchase for use in the education of Scouts is deductible.
Fees for instructional courses taken to better qualify you as a Scout leader, or to prepare you for activities that will be done in your Scout unit are deductible. Examples include lifesaving, CPR, kayaking, rock climbing, etc.
Background materials that you purchase for and use in instruction and preparation for a Scout activity (e.g., books on the ecology of the Florida Keys in preparation for a trip to the Florida Sea Base, or language books and tapes for a Scouting trip to Costa Rica).
If you publish a troop newsletter or use a computer in other ways in the performance of your duties as a Scout leader, you will probably have some computer-related deductible expenses. These would include the cost of paper, toner, ribbons, labels, Scout related software, etc.
If the computer is used for other purposes, some of these expenses will have to be prorated.
If you use an on-line-service to perform your duties as a Scout leader; for example, to plan trips away from home, to obtain resource material, to obtain advice on Scouting related problems, ... you may deduct that portion of the fees for this service that are in the performance of your Scout duties.
Remember, to keep records that can substantiate your Scout use.
Purchases for Fund-Raising Events
If you purchase goods that are sold as a fund-raising event, you may only deduct the difference between what you paid for the item and its fair market value. For example, if you purchase a candy bar for $1.00 and it is normally sold in stores for 50c, you may deduct 50c as a donation.
If you have your car washed at a fund-raising event, you can only deduct the amount above what the fair market value of a car wash is in your area.
Raffle tickets are not approved for Scout fund-raising events. They are also not deductible.
Donation of Property
Property, stocks, and other similar items donated to a Scout organization usually can be deducted at their fair market value. Check with IRS Publication 526 and your tax advisor.
Use of Property
If you let Scouts use your property (boat, car, trailer, motor home, vacation home, etc.), you may deduct the actual out-of-pocket operating expenses (fuel, utilities, etc.) associated with this use.
You cannot deduct the estimated rental value for the use of the property. You also cannot deduct any loss in value or damage that may happen because of its use; at least, you cannot deduct it under Charitable Contributions.
Donation of Food
Donations of food for a Scout sponsored food drive can be deducted for what the food costs at a grocery store. If you make a special trip to purchase the food, the mileage for the trip is also deducted.
If you make a donation to a Scouting organization and receive a premium of significant value (more than just a thank-you cup), the value of this premium must be deducted from your donation or claimed as income. Some premiums, for example plaques given to Friends of Scouting, are amortized over the number of years for which there are spaces for recognition, thus making them not of significant value for any given year. Most Scouting organizations are aware of this IRS condition and adjust premiums accordingly.
Partially Reimbursed Expenses
If you are partially reimbursed for expenses you incur as a Scout leader, you may deduct the difference between your cost and the amount you are reimbursed. If you receive more than the actual cost, this is income.
Expenses for Scouts that are family members are not deductible.
Expenses you pay for Scouts who are not family members are deductible if you pay this money to your Scout organization and these Scouts are selected by your Scout organization to receive assistance.
Expenses you pay for other adults are not deductible.
You cannot deduct the value of your personal time contributed to Scout activities, even if you would normally be paid for the service you are doing.
You cannot deduct child care expenses as a charitable contribution even if such service is necessary for you to do your volunteer work.
A reliable written record is required for IRS purposes. To be reliable, the record must have been made at or near the time of the activity; or, you must have other proof of your participation in the activity. A marked up calendar with places, mileage, etc. would suffice for records; but, a more organized record would be better. A Troop calendar with annotations is acceptable.
Events that Cross Years
If you are a leader in an event that crosses over tax years (such as the next World Jamboree will), or if you pay fees this year for an event that will happen next year, you need to claim the expenses in the year that they are paid.
Credit Card Use
If you pay for a deductible Scouting expense via a credit card, you must claim the deduction in the year that you pay the credit card bill.
The information provided here is believed to be correct and accurate at the time this paper was prepared. However, tax laws and the publications describing them are often vague or incomplete. Because of this, they are open to different interpretations by different people. It is not unusual to receive several different answers to a single tax question if the answer is not explicitly spelled out in the law or supporting publications.
Any charitable deduction you claim is your responsibility. If you have any doubt as to the deductibility of an expense you are thinking of claiming, check with your tax advisor.
If you know of cases or tax rulings that disagree with information stated here, have additional information that should be added, or if you have noticed any inaccuracies in the above information, please report them to the person currently maintaining this document:
Thomas N. Turba
Troop Resources Scouting File Cabinet