Harry here.  Today, we’ve got a really well-researched guest post from the QuickBooks Self-Employed team on the difference between the standard mileage and actual vehicle expense methods.

    I’ve always assumed that the standard mileage rate was the best option, but as you’ll see below, the actual vehicle expense method could save you a lot of money.  For rideshare drivers, this deduction could be in the thousands of dollars or more, so it’s imperative that you keep good records of mileage and expenses.  That’s actually why we’ve partnered up with Intuit, since they offer a great product to help with that. 

    👉 Your two most important tools during tax season: Turbotax to file your taxes and a mileage tracking app to keep track of your miles!

    If you drive for Lyft or Uber (or have any other job that requires a lot of travel by car), you should be deducting your business expenses to prevent overpaying your taxes. These expenses include both “common operating expenses” for the self-employed as well as vehicle expenses—which make up the majority of deductions for rideshare drivers.

    To deduct the costs associated with the use of your vehicle, you can use either the Standard Mileage method or Actual Expenses method. You won’t be able to take both deductions, so you need to evaluate which method provides the bigger tax benefit for you. To help with the decision, we’ve outlined the basics of each method and highlighted two examples that illustrate the differences among each.

    Rideshare Deductions: The Debate Between Mileage or Expenses

    If you have been driving for a while you probably know that most drivers gravitate towards using the standard mileage deduction. What many do not realize however is that depending on how much you drive and the sort of expenses you incur while driving, that could drastically affect one option versus the other.

    Standard Mileage

    The simplest method for calculating your vehicle-related rideshare deductions is to use the standard mileage deduction. For tax year 2015, this is 57.5 cents per mile.

    You are eligible to count any miles you drive for ridesharing, including the miles you drive looking for passengers to pick up (even if there are no passengers in your car). However, if you run personal errands in between taking customers, you can’t deduct that mileage.

    In order to claim this deduction, you need to keep a detailed mileage log. Your mileage log should include the date, start time and end time, the activity involved, and the beginning and ending odometer readings. Annual summaries from Lyft and Uber provide a record of the mileage driven with a passenger in the car. However, mileage and expense-tracking tools can help you maximize this mileage amount because they are the most comprehensive.

    Choosing the Standard Mileage deduction means that you cannot deduct any other expenses related to your car. If you’d prefer to to deduct other items, you need to use the Actual Expenses method.

    Actual Expenses

    When deducting actual expenses, you can only deduct the portion associated with your self-employed work. Here are some of the items you can include as part of your Actual Expenses deduction:

    • A portion of your lease payment (if you are leasing your vehicle)
    • Auto loan interest (if you’re financing the purchase of your vehicle)
    • Auto Insurance
    • Maintenance and Repairs (like oil changes, new tires, replacing brake pads, etc.)
    • Depreciation: When you use the Actual Expenses method, you can use a depreciation table to deduct a portion of this on your taxes. Just make sure the deduction is in proportion to your business driving time.
    • Registration: You can’t deduct your title, licensing and registration fees in all states. However, if your car registration cost is based on a particular formula, you might be able to deduct a portion of the cost. Check with a knowledgeable tax professional to determine whether this is an option for you.

    Remember to save all of your receipts and keep good records so that you have the information you need to make a decision on your rideshare deductions.

    Example: Part-Time Rideshare Driver

    Assume you drove 10,000 miles in the year 2015, and 5,000 of those miles were for Lyft or Uber. Here’s how you would break down your deductions using the Actual Expenses method:

    • Gas: $1,000
    • Insurance: $1,500
    • Repairs: $400
    • Lease Payments: $6,000
    • Oil: $100
    • Washes: $500

    These figures total to $9,500 in car-related expenses. Since you used your car for business purposes 50% of the time, you would multiply your total expenses by 50% to get your actual deduction, which comes out to $4,750.

    If you use these same figure to calculate your deductions using the Standard Mileage method, you would multiply your business mileage (5,000 miles) by the standard mileage rate (57.5 cents per mile), which comes out to $2,875.

    As you can see, in this example, the driver will save the most on taxes by using the Actual Expenses method for the deduction.

    Example: Full-Time Rideshare Driver

    rideshare deductions

    Now, assume you drove 40,000 miles in the year 2015, and 30,000 of those miles were for Lyft or Uber. Here’s how the Actual Expenses method would work in this instance:

    • Gas: $4,000
    • Depreciation: $3,160
    • Insurance: $1,500
    • Repairs: $1,200
    • Oil: $190
    • Tires: $500
    • Washes: $750

    If you add these rideshare deductions up, your total expenses come out to $11,300. Since you used your car for business 75% of the time, you would multiply your total expenses by 75% to get your actual deduction, which comes out to $8,475.

    If you use the Standard Method with these same numbers, you would multiply the number of miles driven for business (30,000) by the standard mileage rate (57.5 cents per mile), which comes out to $17,250.

    In this particular example, the driver will save the most on taxes by using the Standard Mileage method.

    As you can see, the method you choose to calculate your car-related expenses can translate to either saving on taxes or adding to your tax burden. Accounting software like QuickBooks Self-Employed can help you keep track of mileage, automate your deductions and calculate both methods, allowing you to decide which method works best for you.

    For more tax-time tips, see our complete guide to taxes for the self-employed, as well as our guide to deductions and expenses.

    Some notes from Harry:

    • If you opt for the standard mileage rate, you must choose to use that in the first year the car is used as a business. In later years, you can then choose either method.
    • I think a $500/mo lease is pretty high (in the part-time driver example) but the point is still valid.

    This article is intended to provide you with general information; it does not constitute any type of tax advice. The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone, and do not represent the opinions of Lyft, Uber or any employee thereof. For recommendations related to your overall financial and tax status, consult a certified tax professional in your jurisdiction.

    -Harry @ RSG

    Additional Resources

    Harry Campbell

    Harry Campbell

    I'm Harry, the owner and founder of The Rideshare Guy Blog and Podcast. I used to be a full-time engineer but now I'm a rideshare blogger! I write about my experience driving for Uber, Lyft, and other services and my goal is to help drivers earn more money by working smarter, not harder.