In 2012 the IRS standard business mileage reimbursement rate is 55.5 cents per mile. If you drive a lot of business miles it can be a pretty hefty addition to your standard income. At one point I was driving 720 miles a week for business. Unfortunately, only 365 of those miles were reimbursable, which ended up being $202.58 in mileage reimbursement a week! I did this for about 12 weeks for a total of roughly $2,400.
Whenever I’ve talked to anyone who receives mileage checks they all tell me how much money they “make” by driving for business miles. The mileage rate more than covers the cost of the gas they use! I want to challenge this assumption. The IRS doesn’t aim for people to make money for getting mileage reimbursement so what costs are assumed in that 55.5 cents per mile? According to the IRS (Rev Proc 2010-51), “Items such as depreciation [decrease in value] or lease payments, maintenance and repairs, tires, gasoline (including all taxes thereon), oil, insurance, and license and registration fees” are the types of costs covered by this mileage rate. It turns out that 55.5 cents per mile isn’t just gas money after all.
So how did I use my mileage reimbursement? I decided I would add my actual business gas usage to my gas budget and then figure out what to do with the rest. I would take the actual miles on my expense report divided by my actual miles per gallon (MPG) to get the number of gallons of gas I used for business purposes. I calculated the gas mileage of my car each time I filled up the tank. To do this:
- Reset your odometer when you first fill up your tank. In order for this to work you have to completely fill your tank.
- Drive like normal and don’t reset your odometer.
- The next time you go to the gas station fully fill you gas tank again. Check your odometer and divided the number of miles you drove by the number of gallons of gas you just put in your tank to get your miles per gallon (MPG).
- You can now reset your odometer again for your next tank of gas.
Turns out I averaged 40 MPG in my Honda Civic as these were mostly highway miles. Next I took the 720 miles I drove per week and divided by my MPG (40) to find out I used 18 gallons of gas per week for business purposes. Multiply that times an average gas price to get your additional business gas cost. For simplicity I assumed gas would be 3.50 a gallon for a total of $63 dollars per week in gasoline costs.
Running the numbers means that after spending $63 in gas I still had $140 a week left over! Great deal… until you consider the other costs the IRS listed. This money was supposed to cover the decrease in value and lifespan of my car and help me pay for any maintenance or repairs, including oil changes, due to the extra mileage. It is also supposed to cover my insurance costs, license and registration fees and any personal property taxes I would have to pay. That $140 had a long way to go.
So what should you do with your “extra” mileage money that exceeds the cost of your gas? Hopefully you are already paying your insurance, license and registration fees and property taxes. Driving a few extra miles for business shouldn’t cause those items to increase in cost so I didn’t allocate any extra money to those items. Extra maintenance and oil changes will probably increase with mileage so putting some money aside for those items would be a good idea. The big money item in the list is the decrease in value and lifespan of your car. I suggest you put the rest of the money in a new car fund to replace your car and the value it lost from your business miles when it eventually gets sold or scrapped if you drive it into the ground.
Now if I wasn’t paying attention this money would have gone into my checking account along with my paychecks and I could have very easily spent it along with my normal money. If I wasn’t careful I could have adjusted my lifestyle up to the additional income since the money was coming in so regularly. Instead I saved that extra $140 a week. I already had enough money put away for car maintenance so I put the whole $140 into my new car fund for when I eventually need a newer car. After 12 weeks my new car fund had an additional $1,680 in my new car fund. Not bad for being a disciplined saver.
You may be able to take a mileage reimbursement deduction if you own your own business but you can’t deduct mileage paid to you by someone else.
What will you be doing with your mileage reimbursement money in the future now that you know all of the costs it is supposed to cover? Let me know in the comments below!
Lance Cothern, CPA holds a CPA license in Indiana. He’s a personal finance, debt and credit expert that writes professionally for top-tier publications including U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, Investopedia, Credit Karma, Business Insider and more.
Additionally, his expertise has been featured on Yahoo, MSN, USA Today, Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, Fast Company, Kiplinger, Reuters, CNBC and more.
Lance is the founder of Money Manifesto. He started writing about money and helping people solve their financial problems in 2012. You can read more about him and find links to his other work and media mentions here.