IRS mileage log requirements

UPDATED FEB 14, 2020 • 3 MIN READ

Depending on your situation, there can be different requirements, legal or otherwise, for record-keeping when it comes to your mileage log.

Your employer might also have specific requirements for mileage reporting, and the IRS also has rules that apply to business owners and self-employed. There are even cases where, as an employee, you might want to keep your own records. 

In this article, we will look at mileage logging from both from the perspective of the employee and the self-employed.

The IRS defines adequate records

Regardless of the circumstances of your employment, you will likely be asked to record the following:

  • "the mileage for each business use"
  • "the total mileage for the year"
  • the time (date will do), place (your destination), and purpose

This is what the IRS considers adequate records (scroll to table 5.2 for an example) when it comes to logging business mileage.

It is also required that the record is timely. This means that it must be made at or near the time of the trip. Anything that is updated weekly is considered good enough. 

If you're self-employed or a business owner, you need to adhere to the IRS's definition of adequate records. Keep in mind that the rules cover all transportation-related expenses.

Which formats does the IRS accept?

Paper, diary, account book, digital spreadsheets, CSV files, PDF files, Xlsx (Microsoft's Excel) are all accepted by the IRS. In other words, the format does not matter as long as the right records are present (see "Adequate records" above).

The IRS actually provides a paper template, but it is from a time before electronic mileage logs. We do not recommend that you try to keep records by hand, mostly due to how tedious it can get.

Your employer should inform you which records they need, and include the formats that they can process.

Does the IRS require odometer readings every trip?

It is a myth that the IRS requires you to record your odometer at the beginning and end of your trips.

There's currently nothing in the law that requires you to log odometer readings except for the beginning and the end of each year, and when you start using a new vehicle.

However, do keep in mind that your employer might ask you to record odometer readings more frequently.

What are the mileage tracking requirements?

There are no requirements for how you track your mileage as such, except that you have to record the mileage of each trip. That means either

  1. recording the odometer at the beginning and end of the trip, or
  2. tracking/recording your trips differently, for instance using your phone or a GPS.

The easiest way is probably to use a mileage app. There's a whole range of apps that are designed to solve the exact problem of tracking and recording your mileage, of which Driversnote is one. We provide mobile apps for users of iOS and Android and for both self-employed and employees.

Mileage tracking made simple

Try our easy-to-use app for free.

Do I also need to log personal trips?

If you drive the vehicle(s) for personal use as well, you also need to be able to prove the portion of use that is for business. You work this out as a percentage of miles driven for both business and personal use. That means keeping a log of all trips and then calculating the share used for business.

For how long should I keep records?

It depends. That's the best short answer we can give. The IRS states that: "Generally, this means you must keep records that support your deduction (or an item of income) for 3 years from the date you file the income tax return on which the deduction is claimed."

The IRS also reminds us that a return filed early is considered filed on the due date.

Keep in mind that different rules apply if your employer is a relative. 

As an employee, do I need to keep copies of records?

As an employee, you might be asked to prove your expenses (which could include mileage for various reasons) later on. This can happen due to no fault of yours, so it is generally a good idea to keep copies.

Using a digital mileage log and tracker makes it more likely that you will have adequate records available if needed.

If you get audited

If you get audited the IRS can ask for mileage logs, which are accepted in any of the abovementioned formats.

To speed up the process and avoid errors, be sure to order your mileage logs and records at least by year. 

 

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This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied upon for, legal, tax or accounting advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal, tax or accounting advisor.