Self-Employed House Cleaner’s Guide to Car (and Bus) Tax Deductions

How to use business-related travel to lower your tax bill.

Self-employed house cleaners have to travel for business—a lot. Daily travel to and from customers homes.

Travel to walkthroughs and other meetings. Travel to get, maintain or repair work equipment (including your car). Travel to re-stock cleaning supplies.

House cleaning is a business that requires you to be in constant motion.

What’s Covered In This Post

The good news is as self-employed house cleaner, you can deduct the expenses of all that travel on your taxes.

A portion of every dollar you spend on your personal car, van or truck can be written off your tax bill when you use it for business purposes.

You can even deduct public transportation expenses for business on your taxes.

What Does (And Doesn’t) Qualify For Travel-Related Tax Deductions

According to the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS), travel expenses you can deduct from your taxes must be “the ordinary and necessary expenses of traveling away from home for your business, profession, or job.”

However, the IRS says the following expenses by themselves don’t qualify your cleaning business for tax deductions:

Parking fees

Fees you pay to park your car at your place of business are non-deductible commuting expenses. You can, however, deduct business-related parking fees when visiting a customer or client.

Advertising display on car

Putting display material that advertises your business on your car doesn’t change the use of your car from personal use to business use.

If you drive a car for commuting or other personal uses, you can’t deduct your expenses for non-business uses.

Hauling tools or instruments

Hauling tools or equipment in your car while commuting to and from work don’t make your car expenses deductible.

However, you can deduct any additional costs you have for hauling tools or equipment (such as for renting a trailer you can tow with your car).

Talking on your cell phone

If you use commuting time to talk on your cell phone about business matters, these commuting costs are not deductible.

The charge for the cell phone minutes and any additional charges may be deductible, if you are using your phone for business or if your business provides the phone.

Can You Qualify For Tax Deductions Before Your Business Is Licensed?

As a self-employed house cleaner, you can track your expenses and file federal taxes and get deductions before you get a business license.

According to TaxSlayer, even before you become an “official” sole proprietor, you can still keep business records and file business taxes.

In order to deduct “ordinary and necessary” expenses from your unlicensed business, you have to file a Schedule C or Schedule C-EZ to deduct business expenses like mileage, gas and maintenance.

A Home Office Makes A (Big) Difference

Your home office can be in a recreational vehicle.
Space in a recreational vehicle (RV) can be used as a home office. Photo credit: Jonathan Cutrer

For self-employed house cleaners who work from home, the miles you travel from your home to your workplace are deductible.

Otherwise those miles are considered commuting miles and are not deductible on your taxes.

To take this deduction, you must declare a dedicated area in your home such as a spare bedroom or a portion of your dining room as your principal place of business.

Home office deductions can be used by both home owners and renters.

Your home office can be in a house, apartment, trailer, boat, RV (recreational vehicle), garage, studio or a shed on your property.

Say Yes To These Questions &
Take A Home Office Deduction

Do you have a part of your home you use
“exclusively and regularly” for business?

Do you perform these tasks in your home office?:

  • Making and receiving business phone calls, emails, texts and letters.
  • Making appointments for cleaning, walkthroughs and other customer meetings.
  • Bookkeeping or accounting tasks.
  • Filing and other record keeping tasks.

Photo credit: Taryn Elliott

To qualify for the home office deduction, your work space must fit these requirements:

Exclusive and regular use: You must use a portion of your house, apartment, condominium, mobile home, boat or similar structure for your business on a regular basis.

This includes structures on your property, you use for business such as an unattached studio, barn, greenhouse or garage.

Principal place of business: Your home office must be either the principal location of your business or a place where you regularly meet with customers or clients.

Storage Space Counts, Too

You can also claim the space you use in your home to store equipment and supplies. It is a good idea to keep your business related supplies in one concentrated spot in your home.

For example, I keep all of my cleaning supplies on shelves in the basement of my home.

Car Expense Record-keeping

You should be able to deduct most of your car expenses. Those expenses include the cost of buying or leasing your vehicle. Other car-related expenses you can deduct include:

  • Repairs And Maintenance (like oil changes or new tires)
  • Car Insurance Payments
  • Title, License and Registration Fees
  • Gas
  • Parking
  • Car Washes
  • Tolls

Your tax preparer can also deduct how much your vehicle’s value decreases (also known as depreciation) over a number of years.

The only travel related expenses you can’t deduct as a self-employed house cleaner are traffic and parking tickets.

Keep Careful Records

It is important for you to keep careful records of all your expenses. Pay for all of your car expenses with your business checking account debit card or a dedicated business credit card.

Keep a log of your mileage from your home to your customers homes. Also keep a log of your mileage anytime you shop for supplies, drive to meetings or drive anywhere business-related.

It takes a bit of time to develop the habit of writing down your beginning and ending mileage, but it’s worth it at tax time.

Related: Top 10 Records Self-Employed House Cleaners Need To Keep

There’s An App For That

What if the thought of writing down all of your business travel mileage makes you groan? You can use a phone app for tracking your travel mileage.

There are dozens of mileage tracking apps to choose from. Some are free, others have monthly or yearly charges.

There are mileage tracking apps for both Android and iPhone. Plus, some bookkeeping programs offer mileage tracking apps as part of their small business package.

2 Benefits Of Mileage Tracking Apps

According to TaxAct blog, mileage tracking apps have two main benefits:

1. Mileage tracking apps remove guesswork

Using a mileage tracking app makes it easy to record your business mileage accurately, every time.  

No more guessing or losing your notes, no more estimates or forgotten expenses, no more uncertainty.

All of your miles are right there on your phone for you to review, revise, and edit at any time.

A good mileage tracking app produces IRS required reports so you don’t have to worry about having incomplete or incorrect data. It’s important to choose an app that follows IRS rules.

2. Mileage tracking apps automate mileage tracking


Since mileage tracking through an app is automated, you don’t have to spend extra effort calculating your business miles traveled or remembering to stop and take down your mileage when you are in a hurry.  

Two IRS Travel Expense Methods

The IRS accepts two methods of tracking your vehicle-related expenses and travel miles. One is a flat rate per mile and the other involves tracking miles and all expenses related to your vehicle.

Both methods require you to maintain careful records justifying your business related expenses in case you’re audited.

The simplest way to prove business vs. personal use is to keep a mileage log.

The Standard Mileage Method

The Standard Mileage method uses a flat rate set by the IRS. You use the flat rate to figure out how much you can deduct.

The IRS changes the Standard mileage rates yearly. Their changes are based on the average cost of gas and maintenance, which can change year to year.

The IRS publishes a table of Standard Mileage Rates that is updated each year.

Self-employed persons can use the standard mileage rate but must decide to use this method the first year the car is available for business use.

Then, in later years, they can switch back and forth between the methods without penalty.

However, if you lease your vehicle, you must use the standard mileage rate method for the entire lease period (including renewals) if the standard mileage rate is chosen the first year.

Tip

Take a photo of your odometer on New Year’s Day and save it, so you can always see where your mileage stood at the beginning of the tax year.

Then take another odometer photo on the following New Year’s Eve to record your mileage at the end of the tax year.

Subtract your New Year’s Day mileage from your New Year’s Eve mileage to find out how many total miles you’ve driven that year.

Car odometer circled on dashboard.
Odometer settings in circle. Source

The Actual Expense Method

With the Actual Expense Method, you not only keep track of all vehicle related expenses, you also have to keep a clear record of how much you use your vehicle for business vs. personal purposes.

Total those miles at the end of each month.

At tax time, you total all of the miles you drove, plus money spent on operating your vehicle.

Then you or your tax preparer multiply your total vehicle expenses by the percentage of the vehicle’s business use.

Suppose at the end of the year, you find 60% of the miles you drove were business-related and 40% were personal.

You multiply your total vehicle expenses by 60% to figure the business portion.

So $1,000 of total car expenses x .60 business use = $600 in business expenses.

Travel Expense Tax Links For CA, UK, AU & NZ

Tap to get travel expense links in Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand.

Public Transportation Expenses

What if you use public transportation to get to and from your customer’s homes?

If you have a home office, any trip by public transportation (bus, subway or light rail) from your home office to any business-related site is tax deductible.

Like drivers, house cleaners who use public transportation have to keep receipts, plus trip and travel records with dates and routes.

The cost of bus, light rail and subway passes can be deducted by self-employed house cleaners if they use it for travel from their main work location (their home office) to customer’s homes and back.

What If You Didn’t Track Your Mileage Last Year?

If you didn’t track your miles last year or keep receipts, you can still claim business travel-related deductions.

A post on Stride, “What To Do If You Didn’t Track Your Mileage”, provides six tips for coming up with mileage averages.

You will first have to do some research to come up with your average miles per month.

Once you come up with mileage totals for one month and can prove you drove about the same amount each month you can use those monthly totals for the rest of the year.

Constant Motion Can Mean Constant Tax Deductions

It’s good to know that your constant motion as a self-employed house cleaner can lower your tax bill.

With some careful recordkeeping and a home office, you can write off a lot of business travel-related expenses.

You don’t even have to have a car to benefit from business travel deductions, just a trip recording and receipt system.

As always, it is a good idea to talk to your tax preparer about your business travel-related deductions.

He or she should be able to tell you exactly what you need to claim legal travel and trip deductions for your city, state and federal taxes.

Here’s to productive (and deductible) business travels!

Car icon with wind

How do you keep track of your car or bus travel expenses? Do you use paper and pen or a phone app? Share your tips in the comments below. ⬇︎

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