5 Tips for Preventing a Vehicle Program Audit
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5 Tips for Preventing a Vehicle Program Audit

headshot of Xochitl Arteaga By Xochitl Arteaga March 28, 2024

Categories: Industry Trends Vehicle Reimbursement

There are many reasons why the IRS may audit your organization. But most decision makers often overlook their vehicle program. Have a fleet? Maybe a reimbursement program? Regardless, the way you reimburse your employees for business mileage, or charge them for personal use, could be a red flag. And preventing a vehicle program audit of your company should be a focus.

It’s important to understand why the IRS would audit your company based on how you administer your vehicle program. In many instances, the IRS not only audits the company, but its mobile employees as well. Here are five tips that go a long way toward preventing a vehicle program audit.

Tip 1: Collect IRS-Compliant Business Mileage Logs

Your mobile employees must record their mileage to the standard set by the IRS. This includes capturing the date, destination, business purpose and total mileage per trip for all business trips taken. In order to ensure they do, it’s important to implement policies stating those requirements and educate them on best practices.

Tip 2: Maintain Your Records

Staying on top of your records can make a big difference when facing a potential audit. Although audits typically occur every three years, the IRS can request files for up to six years. In order to prepare for an audit, the IRS recommends keeping those mileage records for seven years.

Tip 3: Understand Commute versus Business Mileage

According to IRS Definition Publication 463, daily transportation expenses you incur from your home to first place of business (and vice versa) are generally considered “commute.” Driving employees cannot deduct or expense this travel as business mileage. It’s important to be aware of a few different types of scenarios that are exceptions to the rule:

Scenario 1: Your employee has a Regular Office.

If an employee drives from home to a corporate office or main place of work (and vice versa), the IRS considers it commute mileage. There might be an instance in which an employee travels directly from home to a customer meeting, airport or work location that is not considered their primary or designated place of work. The IRS considers that business mileage.

Scenario 2: Your employee has a Home Office.

Say an employee has a home office that qualifies as a principal place of business. The IRS considers any mileage driven between home and any work location business mileage. For example, you work a 40-hour work week, 20 or more of those hours from home. The IRS considers any miles driven for work business mileage.

Scenario 3: Your employee does not have a work or home office.

An employee who drives between their home and temporary work site within their own city may consider this commute mileage. Alternatively, an employee who drives from their home to a temporary work site that is outside of their city may consider this business mileage.

Tip 4: Automate with Technology

How can all of this be avoided? Ensure employees understand these policies and attempt to automate processes for your employees. Manual mileage logs leave room for error given the need for an employee to remember exactly where they went, when they went, and the route they took to get there. This happens to be one of the main reasons the IRS audits employees. Leveraging a mileage capture app allows your mobile employees to set it and forget it, all while creating IRS-compliant mileage logs.

Tip 5: Understand what the IRS considers to be a “perk”

The IRS considers the majority of expense reimbursement plans Accountable Plans. These have one or more of the following conditions:

  • A business reason for the expense exists,
  • Receipts serve to substantiate the expense,
  • Employees must return excess reimbursements within a reasonable time (usually within 60 days of travel).

If the plan DOES NOT meet one or more of the above conditions, the IRS considers it a Non-Accountable Plan. This means the IRS see amounts reimbursed as income to the employee and should be included on his or her W-2 as taxable income. It is recommended that you abide by the following scenarios in order to eliminate the chance of penalties and back taxes in the event of an audit:

Personal use of company-provided vehicles

Your organization should require the tracking of personal use on your company-provided, fleet vehicles. This personal use must be included as taxable income on the employee’s W-2 or deducted through a chargeback.

Substantiated reimbursements exceeding the IRS Standard Mileage Rate

Your organization should ideally have receipts or records to prove actual costs. Companies concerned with substantiated reimbursements often adopt a Fixed and Variable Rate (FAVR) Reimbursement Program.

Overcoming Compliance and Liability Concerns

As far as compliance and liability concerns go, an IRS audit is near, if not perched at, the top of the list. But companies with programs of all shapes and sizes have other concerns. Fortunately, most of those can be corrected if caught early enough. Looking for additional details on how to prevent vehicle program compliance and liability concerns from impacting your organization? Check out the Business Guide to Vehicle Program Liability and Compliance to learn more.

Read the Guide


Disclaimer: This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied upon for, tax, legal or accounting advice. Motus does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice. For any such advice, you should consult your own advisors.

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