The COVID-19 pandemic created a situation where e-commerce sales have grown astronomically—with total online spending in the month of May reaching upward of $82 billion (an increase of 77% year-over-year). This rapid increase in online sales also led to an upsurge in the demand for trucking services, and with trucks having limited storage capacity, the trucking industry as a whole has seen a steep uptick in demand and revenue—in September alone dry-van spot rates hit a record high of $2.37 per mile. With success comes responsibility: More than ever, it’s important for owner/operators to ensure their taxes are filed accurately and on time to maximize their return and avoid penalties.

Here are five things CPAs must be aware of when filing taxes for truck owner/operators:

1. Per Diem Rates

Filing taxes as an owner/operator can be complicated and navigating the tax code can feel arduous. One of the most beneficial tax incentives for an owner/operator is the ability to deduct certain costs under the travel expense tax category, including a per diem tax deduction equal to 80% of $66 per day. In order for an owner/operator to be eligible to receive a per diem deduction, the IRS has two specific requirements:

    1. The owner/operator will be away from home overnight while traveling for work
    2. Work requires travel substantially longer than the length of a workday

Be sure to keep track of receipts from travel expenses, including meals and lodging, in order to capitalize on all per diem tax deductions and avoid losing hard-earned money while on the road.

2. Mileage Deductions

For owner/operators, the IRS considers a semi-truck to be a qualified non-personal use vehicle, which means mileage cannot be deducted as a part of business expenses. This is because owner/operators are taxed only on the profit they make and receive deductions for time off and “deadhead miles,” or miles driven without a load on a truck’s trailer. Although mileage cannot be deducted while on the road since the truck is considered a non-personal vehicle, what can be deducted are actual expenses for the truck such as fuel costs, oil changes, minor and major repairs, insurance, and even tires. Additionally, while truck mileage may not be deductible, mileage on personal vehicles used for work can be deducted if the vehicle is used for business-related driving such as during trips to a supply store or the bank.

3. Depreciating Property Deduction

One of the largest tax deductions owner/operators are eligible for is the depreciable property tax which allows owners to deduct the depreciated value of the equipment that they use—most importantly, their truck and trailer. Owner/operators have the option to choose from a variety of different depreciation schedules in order to meet their specific tax needs, providing owners with the option of an expense deduction up to $1 million for a new truck in the first year of service.  The depreciating property tax may be one of the most important tax deductions an owner/operator needs to be familiar with.

4. Tax Form 1099-NEC

For the tax year 2020, the IRS resurrected the 1099-NEC (non-employee compensation) tax form requiring owner/operators to file their taxes differently than they have in the past. Typically, at the end of the year, an owner/operator would receive a 1099-MISC form from the companies they contracted as a driver for, fill out the form, and submit that form to the IRS. This changed for 2020; now the IRS requires owner/operators to complete both the 1099-NEC and the 1099-MISC. The 1099-NEC is used exclusively to report the compensation received by contractors for fees, commissions, rewards, and other forms of payment for services rendered while the 1099-MISC is used to report miscellaneous income such as rent or legal settlement payments. Ensuring the appropriate tax forms are correctly filed within the IRS deadline is important to prevent the IRS from performing an otherwise unnecessary audit of an owner/operator’s finances.

5. Security Dog

If an owner/operator brings their dog on the road with them, there are circumstances where expenses related to the dog can be used as tax deductions. If an owner/operator uses their dog as a form of security for themselves and their truck, then expenses related to the dog while on the road are tax-deductible. These expenses can include dog food, training, veterinarian bills, or other expenses incurred in the process of caring for the dog. In order to utilize this tax deduction, the IRS requires any dog used as a guard dog must receive training from an accredited training service or school—the cost of training is deductible as well.

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