Don’t Expose Yourself with Improper Use of the $75 RuleTax Planning
When the $75 rule applies, you don’t need a receipt.
The problem with this rule is that it is often thought to apply to all tax deductions. That’s wrong.
Now, think of the taxpayers who incorrectly apply the $75 rule to all of their tax deductions. They are exposed to a massive loss of deductions and likely some penalties too.
The $75 Rule
IRS Reg. Section 1.274-5(c)(2)(iii) contains the $75 rule.1 Notice 95-50 contains a clear explanation of what the $75 rule applies to.2 Here’s how it works:
You don’t need a receipt for business travel expenses that are less than $75, with two exceptions:
- (1) you always need a receipt for lodging regardless of price, and (2) you don’t need a receipt for transportation costs of $75 or more if the receipt is not readily available (an unlikely event, in our opinion).
- You don’t need a receipt for business vehicle expenses that are less than $75—this rule applies to all modes of transportation, including your yacht and airplane3 (assuming you are so lucky as to have a yacht and an airplane).
- You don’t need a receipt for business gifts that cost less than $75—but remember that there’s a $25 limit on deductions for business gifts, so the practical limit is $25.
Key point. Technically, the $75 rule applies to entertainment—but you may remember that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) disallows business entertainment deductions, so the $75 rule has no application with respect to business entertainment.
Business meals. Thanks to the TCJA, business meals are not entertainment, so you need receipts for all business meals, except for meals consumed while in travel status where the $75 rule applies.
Receipts Rule Quiz
Here are five questions about the $75 rule, along with the answer for each.
You can see how easy it is to get this rule wrong.
Your bank and credit card statements do not give you a receipt. As with a canceled check, the statements prove that you paid the money but not what you paid for. You need both the receipt (proof of what you purchased) and the canceled check or credit card statement (proof of payment) to prove the expenditure.
Example. Sally spends $85 on gas and $25 on groceries at the gas station. The credit card shows the $110 purchase, but only the receipt sets forth the $85 gas purchase.
With Receipt or Without Receipt
The fact that you can avoid having a receipt does not let you off the hook for documenting your expense.
To properly document a $60 meal consumed during deductible business travel, you need to prove the following:
- Amount spent
- Date of the meal
- Name and location of the restaurant
Because the meal is under $75, you don’t need a receipt. But with no receipt, you have to write down this information. With a receipt, you have this information already recorded.
Key point. Receipts often take less time—and for sure, receipts are better evidence in an IRS audit.
Don’t think you can make up expenses and get away with it.
Example. Willie shows the IRS agent a log book indicating he spent $180 a day on business meals ($50 on breakfast, $60 on lunch, and $70 on dinner) for each of four consecutive business travel days. The IRS examiner asks Willie where he got the $720 in cash that he supposedly spent on the meals:
- Did he make an ATM withdrawal?
- Did he cash a check?
Ease the Pain
Don’t let the $75 receipts rule clutter your mind. Keep receipts for everything. It’s not complicated. And in many cases, it makes meeting your burden of proof as a business taxpayer easier.