No Mileage Log, No Deduction

From the Desk of C.G. Johnson & Company


You know with tax season in “full steam”, I’ve been trying to keep my clients really aware of things that could be red flags with the IRS. Things that could cost them deductions or credits because of lack of documentation. No matter how hard I stress it, it seems that taxpayers “don’t have the time”, “feel it is too much work” or tell me “but, I’ve always been doing it this way”. I’m pretty adamant and annoying when I discuss compliance that other dreaded “C” word, so I found this article written by the Bradford Institute back in 2007 about how a lack of compliance cost a taxpayer a huge deduction and gave him a huge tax liability.


Knowing your mileage at the end of the prior year and documented business mileage throughout the year on a calendar and having your ending mileage at the end of the current tax year. There will be no question. It is really important that all of this ties out. Real Estate professionals, Sales people, caregivers,  people who do not get their mileage or other auto expenses reimbursed by qualified employer plans really need to take responsibility for this. It is not the tax preparers job to create or document these logs for you. It is your responsibility to be in compliance.


If you have any questions, I urge you to reach out to see what you can do to make sure you are in COMPLIANCE.

In this case involving Gary Lee Colvin, the court allowed $780 as a business deduction for auto use. Colvin claimed $6,033 on his tax return, but he was missing that critical mileage log to prove his business use.

The court had this to say about the auto deduction: Automobile mileage deductions are subject to the strict substantiation requirements of section 274(d). The court will not grant a deduction to the taxpayer who proves business use but fails the heightened substantiation requirements of section 274(d).

Section 274(d) requires specific documentation for travel, entertainment, and listed property (such as the automobile).

To deduct expenses subject to section 274(d), the taxpayer must substantiate, by adequate records or sufficient evidence to corroborate the taxpayer’s own testimony, the amount spent (or mileage, if electing the mileage method), the time and place of use, and the business purpose.

In lieu of a contemporaneous log of auto use, the taxpayer may present corroborative evidence to support his or her reconstruction of the elements of use, but that corroborative evidence must have “a high degree of probative value to elevate such statement” to the level of credibility of a contemporaneous record.

The court had this to say about the standard mileage rate:

In lieu of substantiating the actual amount of any expenditure relating to the business use of a passenger automobile, a taxpayer may use a standard mileage rate as established by the IRS.

The standard mileage rate is to be multiplied by the number of business miles traveled.

The use of the standard mileage rate establishes only the amount deemed expended with respect to the business use of a passenger automobile. The taxpayer must still establish the business mileage, the time, and the business purpose of each use.

The court’s comments are instructive. You need a mileage log, regardless of how you deduct your vehicle. No mileage log, no deductions. Also, the fact that the mileage rate is simply an alternative to expenses is instructive: you need the mileage log to find your business miles; then you multiply the business miles by the mileage rate to find your business deduction.

Planning tips for mileage log. You might consider the three­month sample for the mileage log.

2 With this sample, you maintain your mileage log for three months of the taxable year and then use the three­month log to substantiate the business/investment use of your vehicle for the year. The IRS says you may use this three- month sample if you can demonstrate by other evidence (such as your appointment book) that your three­ month selection is representative of your use for the taxable year.

3 Finding three months in a row that represent your year should be walk­in­the­park easy.

Remember, you need the three­month sample regardless of whether you use the mileage rate or the actual expense deduction method. If you use the mileage rate, you will need four odometer readings for the year:

odometer reading on January 1 of the current year

odometer reading at the beginning of the three­month test period

odometer reading at the end of the three­month test period

odometer reading on December 31 of the current year.

Always keep your mileage on the same page or in the same electronic record that you record your appointments. Do not make extra work for yourself by creating a separate mileage log that duplicates your other information. Be efficient and effective in your record keeping; keep the mileage next to the cause of the mileage as noted in your calendar, daybook, Blackberry, or other record.

Planning tip for expenses. For vehicle expenses, you need documentary evidence, such as receipts, paid bills, and cancelled checks, to support expenditures of $75 or more.

4 Think in terms of proving what you bought (receipts) and how you paid for it (cancelled checks). You need to prove both to audit­proof your deductions.

Here are some easy steps to follow for tracking vehicle expenses:

Use Quicken or a similar software program to record expenses.

Charge gas, oil, and other vehicle expenses to a credit card.

Always get receipts that show what you purchased—even for amounts less than $75.

At the end of the month, attach the receipts to the credit card statement.

Allocate all credit card charges to the proper categories (e.g., personal, entertainment, vehicle expenses—or a more detailed breakdown, if you like). You will find that the fewer categories you use, the easier it is for you to keep your records.


C.G. Johnson & Company

210  E. 3rd Street, Unit 305

Beach, CA 90802

(818) 990-6529

(818) 817-9312 Fax

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