Q: How Does Mileage Reimbursement Work?

Some jobs require people to use their personal cars for work purposes. If you require your employees to do this, you’ll want to know all about mileage reimbursement rates and laws to make sure you’re staying compliant.

In this overview, we’ll explain all the twists and turns of mileage reimbursement in 2020 so you can decide what to do for your employees as they zip around town.

What are the 2020 mileage reimbursement rates?

Each year, the IRS sets a standard mileage reimbursement rate so contractors, employees, and employers can use them for tax purposes. This rate applies to both cars and trucks and fluctuates year by year.

For 2020, the standard IRS mileage rates are:

  • 57.5 cents per mile for regular business driving. (This is the one that applies to most companies. This 2020 rate is down from 2019’s 58 cents.)
  • 17 cents per mile for medical or moving work (This rate is lower than 2019’s 20 cent rate.)
  • 14 cents per mile for charity-related work (This is the same as the 2019 rate.)

Most companies use the business rate (57.5 cents) as their holy grail when crafting their travel reimbursement policies.

Do you have to follow these federal mileage rates exactly? Not quite, but we’ll explain more below.

Do I have to reimburse my employees for driving their cars?

The short story:

  • Possibly. You may be required to, depending on which state you live in and whether your team earns minimum wage.
  • Reimbursing them can help you pay less in taxes, since reimbursements are a deductible business expense.
  • It can also help keep your team happy, since they won’t have to dig into their own pockets for work expenses. Employee retention for the win.
  • You can only reimburse your employees when they drive to and from specific work duties. That means regular commutes to and from work are not a part of this equation.

The long story:

There is no federal law that says you need to pay your team for driving their cars for work purposes. However, your state may require you to do so.

For example, California and Massachusetts both have laws that say companies have to pay their employees for business expenses like mileage. Check out your state’s labor law website to ensure you’re following the letter of the law.

Do some of your employees who travel for work make minimum wage or something close to it? Then there’s another thing to note from the Fair Labor Standards Act: If your team member’s work-related travel expenses dip their earnings below the applicable minimum wage, you’re responsible for making up the difference.

Even if your particular state doesn’t require mileage reimbursement, it can be a good idea to do it anyway since it’s a pretty standard business practice. Folks who use their personal cars for work tasks generally appreciate getting paid back since gas, insurance, and repairs are out-of-pocket expenses that don’t come cheap.

Should I use the standard IRS mileage rate in 2020?

Most companies do.

However, the federal mileage reimbursement rate is merely a recommendation. You can reimburse your employees more or less as you wish.

Just know that if you use a rate that exceeds the federal standard, that excess would be taxable for the employee.

How do mileage tax deductions work?

Employees who track their mileage to and from specific work obligations (or any of the other tax-deductible destinations mentioned above) can deduct that mileage using the IRS deduction rates or the actual costs of using their own vehicles.

Your team can chronicle everything by using one of the many mileage tracking apps out there, or just a good old-fashioned spreadsheet.

Can all of my employees deduct their mileage expenses?

Not exactly.

Your employees can’t use the business standard mileage rate after claiming a Section 179 deduction for that same vehicle. They also can’t use the business rate for more than four vehicles at the same time.

And unfortunately, as we mentioned earlier, they can’t deduct their commute, as nice as that would be. (You could, however, minimize your team’s commuting headaches by offering commuter benefits.)

How do I reimburse my team?

If you’re paying back your team, you can use expense-tracking software to pay folks every few weeks or months at the rate you choose.

Set a rate, have employees enter their mileage, and calculate how much you owe them. You can then reimburse them through your payroll software.

And there you have it—your playbook for mileage reimbursement. With this guide in your (mental) dashboard, you’ll be able to pay back your team, stay compliant, and keep your company moving and grooving.

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