Claiming the IRS Meal Allowance

Self-employed

If you're self-employed, you may claim 50% of your meals allowance on Schedule C.

Employees

If you're an employee, use Form 2106, Employee Business Expenses (or 2106-EZ to report your meal allowance along with your other business-related expenses and reimbursements. Only 50% of the meal allowance is deductible.

The 50% meal allowance is deducted on Schedule A as a miscellaneous itemized deduction. It's added to any other miscellaneous deductions you may have and is subject to the 2% of adjusted gross income (AGI) floor.

For example, if your AGI is $50,000, 2% x $50,000 is $1,000. If your total miscellaneous deductions are $1,100, only $100 is deductible.

Transportation Industry Workers

Individuals subject to the Department of Transportation hours of service limits, such as, interstate truck drivers, pilots, railroad operators, and other transportation industry employees, may claim 80% of food and beverage cost when working away from home rather than 50%.

Your lodging expense is your actual cost. There is a per diem allowance for employers to use to reimburse employees.

IRS Publication 1542 (CONUS M&IE Rates)

The CONUS M&IE rates are published in IRS Publication 1542. CONUS stands for "Continental United States). M&IE stands for "meals and incidental expenses".

Publication 1542 shows the CONUS M&IE rates in effect for the twelve months, October 1 through September 30 (the federal government's fiscal year). Fiscal year 2016 will run, October 1, 2015 through September 30, 2016.

If you'd prefer not to deal with keeping records of your meal costs while away from home on business trips, you can claim an IRS meal allowance. You must have proof of your business trip. Keep a record of the time, place, and business purposes of the trip. As long as you have this proof, you may claim the allowance even if your actual costs are less than the allowance.

For travel to the lower 48 continental United States (CONUS) locations, the standard meal allowance (M&IE) rages from $51 to $74 for 2016. However, higher rates apply in major cities and other high-cost locations designated by the government.

The basic and high-cost-area meal rats are determined by the federal government's General Services Administration (GSA). The IRS allows taxpayers to use the applicable rates in figuring their meal allowance deduction.

Incidental expenses (M&IE) include a limited number of incidentals, such as fees and tips for porters, baggage carriers, hotel maids, or room stewards.

In computing your meal allowance (M&IE) for business trips, you can apply the rates in effect for the fist nine months of the year to business trips in the last three months. You can use the first set of rates for the first nine months and the updated rates for the last three months.

Trips in the last three months:

For trips you took in the last three months of the calendar year (October, November, December), you have two options for applying the rates. Keep in mind, you must consistently use one of these options; you may not switch between options.

  • Option1: Use the rates in effect for the first none months, or
  • Option 2: Use the revised rates that took effect October 1