U.S. Internal Revenue Service Issues Mileage Rates for 2021

On 22 December 2020, the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) provided new optional standard mileage rates for use on an automobile for business, charitable, medical, or moving purposes for 2021.

The IRS released new optional standard mileage rates used to calculate deductible costs of operating an automobile for business, charitable, medical, or moving purposes. According to the press release of Notice 2021-02, the new business mileage rate is 56 cents per mile driven for business use, down 1.5 cents from the 2020 rate.

The Notice also covers the impact of changes made by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) that affect deductions for automobile use. IRS has explained these impacts in much greater detail in a Revenue Procedure issued earlier in 2019:

  • Unreimbursed automobile costs are no longer deductible as miscellaneous itemized deductions, so the standard mileage rate is not applicable.
  • The 20 cents per mile rate for use of a vehicle in moving is not applicable to most movers because moving expenses are no longer deductible, except for certain members of the active duty military.

The TCJA suspended the deductions for miscellaneous itemized deductions, and moving expenses, through 2025. Previously, there was an allowance for an itemized deduction of miscellaneous business expenses by individuals, to the extent those expenses exceeded 2% of adjusted gross income.

Worldwide ERC® members with business travelers who are incurring unreimbursed travel costs, such as automobile use, will need to determine whether to supplement tax assistance to take account of those costs that are no longer deductible. Note that if a company does reimburse automobile costs at the standard rate of 56 cents per mile, those reimbursements remain not taxable.

Companies will also need to consider how to handle automobile use by employees who are moving. Although many will still choose to use the 16 cents per mile rate for reimbursement, those costs are now taxable.

The standard rates are based on an annual study of fixed and variable costs of operating an automobile conducted for the IRS by an independent contractor. The rates for business and moving differ because the rate for business use includes fixed costs such as depreciation, which are not allowed as medical or moving deductions. Both rates include variable expenses such as fuel. Taxpayers are also allowed to deduct items, such as parking and tolls, in addition to the standard mileage rate.

Use of the standard deduction rates is optional; taxpayers are always free to determine their own actual costs of operating a vehicle. However, such costs must be substantiated through detailed records, while the use of the standard rates avoids any need to substantiate the underlying costs incurred, although taxpayers must still maintain records of the miles driven and the purpose of each trip.

Some companies use mileage rates higher than the standard rates to reimburse business travelers. In such cases, the excess amounts are treated as taxable wages, and are subject to withholding and payroll taxes. Amounts up to the standard mileage rate are excluded from the income of the employee.

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How This Impacts Mobility

Companies will need to adjust their benefits models to reflect the new rates. Companies will also need to adjust their reimbursement policies accordingly and decide whether to use the standard rate or some other rate. Similarly, unreimbursed travelers will no longer be able to deduct automobile expenses, and companies may want to re-examine their reimbursement policies as a result. Should any member have questions regarding these policies, please reach out to our Vice President of Member Engagement and Public Policy Rebecca Peters, rpeters@worldwideerc.org.