Thursday, June 4, 2009

What You're Probably Forgetting To Pack For Conference

Good morning, Everyone. Audra here.

Okay, so I had this really great idea for the blog this month--punctuation!! Terrific stuff learning where to place all those commas, apostrophes and semi-colons! Ooo, I feel your anticipation!!

Well...before I work myself up so much not even a Ruthy Special Latte will calm my nerves, I have some bad news...the punctuation will have to wait. Why you ask??
Divine Intervention.

Last weekend, I attended my Northern Colorado group - Front Range Christian Fiction Writers.
Danica Favorite-McDonald was our guest speaker. Amazing woman sharing her amazing knowledge. I knew right then, I had to snap her up for Seekerville : )

I know many of you already know Danica. I don't really need to say anything more.

Welcome, Danica : )

I'm about to say a really bad word. Don't worry, God and I will have a chat about it later. Yes, I am talking about taxes. Some of you are confused and wondering what packing for a conference has to do with taxes. Everything. For many writers, attending writing conferences can provide an important business deduction. Yet many people are still forgetting some expenses they can legitimately claim as business deductions. Frankly, that's about as bad as forgetting to pack your underwear.

As you head into conference season, here are five commonly missed deductions to think about:

Mileage. Some of you are saying, “but I flew to the conference.” Yes, but you drove to the airport, didn't you? At 55 cents per mile, that's not a bad deduction.

Meals and incidentals. How many of us really eat the rubber chicken they serve at the banquets? Please. Life's too short. The trouble is, sometimes we get receipts, sometimes we don't. Or we go out as a group, don't want to bother with separate tickets, and have no idea how to keep track. More money we give to Uncle Sam that rightfully belongs to us. Here's the solution: the IRS Per Diem Rates, found in publication 1542: Rather than keeping track of every single receipt (although you can if you want), the IRS gives a standard daily allowance for meals and incidentals based on locality. (For those of you going to RWA in Washington, DC, my next conference, it's $64 a day). You can either use your actual receipts for the trip OR the IRS allowance. In my experience, the IRS allowance has always been a better deduction.

Miscellaneous receipts. Organization is not really my thing, believe it or not. Don't ever attempt to get into my purse because you will not come out alive. Not because I'll kill you, but because something in it will. At conferences, we end up with all kinds of junk: bookmarks, promo items, the cute cover flat you just couldn't pass up, handouts, business cards, receipts, and the occasional “what was I thinking” piece of paper.

My solution: a conference binder.

When I leave for the conference, I print out all my reservation information and any other items I may need for the conference. All of it gets punched and put into my binder. I also put in an envelope. Throughout the conference, as I accumulate junk, I immediately stick the important stuff into the envelope. After the conference, I sort through the envelope. All of my tax information gets put back in the envelope, including all the reservation information I put in the binder (because if you're doing everything electronically, those are your receipts). I total everything on the outside of the envelope according to tax category, seal the envelope, and when tax time comes, I have it all there. No need to sort through piles of information and receipts and worry if I've remembered everything (definitely not) because it's all together.

Shipping or baggage charges. A lot of airlines now charge for bags. But it's usually a separate charge paid at the airport, so it's not on your eticket receipt. A lot of my clients forget this expense, so I imagine a lot of writers are forgetting it as well. In addition, if you ship anything home from the conference, for example, boxes of books you pick up at RWA, depending on how you ship it, you may be forgetting to claim that deduction. A couple of years ago, one of the hotels didn't know the charge because it was a Sunday, so I never got a receipt for the actual amount, other than the weird charge on my credit card statement a month later. If you're not paying attention, it's an easy expense to miss.

Things you should not be claiming. I had to squeeze this one in, because claiming expenses you're not entitled to could end up costing you money in the long run. If the IRS audits you and determines that you should not have claimed that particular expense, you could be subject to penalties and interest on top of paying taxes on the additional income.

I'll give my top three:

1. Your spouse. Unless your spouse specifically has a business purpose in being there (just keeping you company does not count), you do not get to claim their expenses. You can still claim yours, but theirs are not deductible.

2. Your conference clothes. Yes, I know most of us work in our Pjs. We have to go out and buy cute clothes so people don't think we're total freaks. Even though we will probably only wear that outfit to the conference, it's not deductible. The only clothing items that are ever deductible are ones that you can only wear for that business purpose. For example, a Mickey Mouse costume. Pretty clear, you could only wear it for your Mickey Mouse job. Business attire, even though you only wear it for conference, could be worn elsewhere. The could be worn elsewhere standard makes it nondeductible for business purposes.

3. Personal travel. If you're combining your trip with a visit to your great-aunt Elsie, that's wonderful, make sure you're only deducting the business portion of your trip. The part of your trip that included visiting great-aunt Elsie is not deductible.
So have fun this summer as you head out to all your conferences. Now that you're armed with important information about your conference tax deductions, you can finish packing. Just don't forget your underwear.


Tina M. Russo said...

Good morning Danica. Welcome to Seekerville. We have non tax deductible java and scones for you.

Thanks for the tips.

Some of our friends don't know that you have an alter ego. Folks she is also Dream on eharlequin. Shhh..a secret. We are honored to have you here to share as conference season begins.

Erica Vetsch said...

Good morning, Danica!

Such great reminders. I'll be socking away those receipts to hand over to my accountant.

Thanks for the tip about the receipt envie in my conference binder!

Rose said...


Thanks for the tips. I ususally keep all my receipts but I didn't know about the daily food allowance. That's so much better.


Glynna Kaye said...

Thanks for the tax tips, Danica! I've never taken tax deductions for my writing before, but now that I'm going to be (gulp!) published by Steeple Hill in October this year, I've been faithfully collecting my receipts and printing out canceled checks for the past 5 months! I'm going to ACFW this year, so will take your advice and prepare a binder of some variety to collect the tax deductibles.

Jill Kemerer said...

Thanks for the great tips! And for making me laugh about your purse!

Audra Harders said...

Good morning, all.

Good morning, Danica : )

Taxes, I shudder just thinking...oh well, April 15 is behind us and I don't have to think about it for a whole year...not! I'm so awful about collecting receipts, well not collecting them, but labeling and organizing them.

I forget to write down mileage all the time.

I'm praying some of these words of wisdom will rub off on me : )

Coffee and assorted creamers are ready to go. I've baked cinnamon rolls and pop over to go with Tina's scones (thanks for setting up the buffet, Tina!)


Janet Dean said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Danica! Thanks for the tax information. I love the envelope suggestion for gathering, then filing receipts. Very efficient method of handling them. I didn't realize we could claim a daily food allowance. How does that work if you eat lunches and breakfasts at the conference?


JStantonChandler said...

Good morning, Danica.

Thanks for the great information.

I do have one question: do you have to wait until you are published before you can write off your writing expenses? I didn't know if the IRS would require some sort of "proof" that you were a writer before they would "allow" those expenses to be written off.

Thanks again!

Cara Slaughter said...

Danica, thanks for the info. I usually forget about important things like tax deductions! They're part of a conference, too.

Julie Lessman said...

Oh, gosh, Danica, where was this blog LAST year when I learned the hard way that wardrobe is NOT deductible!! Never mind that I will never wear that tailored khaki safari-style jacket again to save my soul due to a day-in, day-out at-home wardrobe of jeans and t-shirts. Sigh.

Excellent blog, by the way, and welcome to Seekerville. Not only did you make a "taxing" subject fun and light, but you saved a lot of people's butt with this invaluable knowledge. Good job, Danica ... and good going, Audra, for bringing her here!


lynnrush said...

Interesting post. I've never thought about this aspect of writing (well, maybe 'cuz I'm unpubbed still...LOL).

Thanks for this.

Mary Connealy said...

Thanks for this, Danica. I didn't know about the per diem IRS allowable deduction. I'm pretty good about saving receipts but this would be a lot easier. This is just for meals, right? Not additional conference deductions like taxi and stuff like that.

Mary Connealy said...

I've got a side pocket in my wallet where I just stick every receipt, then go through and deal with it when I get home.

I've done some traveling for my job, government, and they've got really strict rules. Every receipt for a meal MUST HAVE written on it, Wednesday Breakfast, Wednesday Lunch...etc. And I'm given a maximum amount. Can't remember what it is, but something like $8 for breakfast, $16 dollars for lunch $25 dollars for dinner. No alcohol can appear on the receipt, even if you don't ask to be reimbursed. So if you want a drink you have to ask the waiter to put that on a separate bill.

Lots of rules, plus they're slow paying, I have to get my receipts to them within X number of days or don't even both. But they can't take up to two months to pay me back.

Which, considering a plane ticket needs to purchased well in advance, you can end up carrying a plane ticket on your credit card, earning interest charges for up to four months...if you can't afford to pay the balance yourself and need to the reimbursement check.

Gina Welborn said...


Thanks for mentioning having a conference binder. It also makes sense to have a tax binder. Some of my receipts are printouts from internet transactions, while other are regular receipts.

I'm such a non-organized person that I'm gonna adopt your suggestion.

A writer I know puts together a binder for every conference she attends. In addition to printing out all the information on the conference website, she put each in a separate file. The one that impressed me the most was the section on Editors and Agents.

She prints out each editor and agent's official bio on the conference website, then she goes about researching each and listing what she learns.

During the conference, if she knows she's gonna run into (not literally, although that can happen) a particular editor or agent, she'll be sure to reveiw first what she knows about him/her.

She also has a section on authors.

Considering how many TBL entrants want to buy me a drink at RWA nationals in DC, I ought to start scheduling them in my date book. Too bad the extent of my drinking is Cherry Coke, caramel lattes, and lemon water.

Thanks, Dream, for the wise advice.

Myra Johnson said...

Great info, Danica! I've been putting together a conference notebook for a few years now--and it sounds a lot like the one Gina just described! I have dividers for my registration info, conference schedule, editor & agent info, pitching notes, etc.

I also print out a conference schedule grid that shows which workshops I signed up for, the times, and locations. There's also a column for entering my personal appointments. This goes in the clear plastic pocket on the front of my binder so I can see it easily.

Pass the scones, please. It's lunchtime and I'm hungry!

Danica/Dream said...

Good morning everyone! Thanks so much for having me.

Yes, I am Dream on eHarlequin, so do stop by and say hi. I loved having so many of you Seekers at our chat last month.

Glynna, congrats! I'll be hitting you up soon to blog for us on eHarlequin. :)

Audra, forgetting to write down your mileage is not a big deal at all. I've introduced many clients to your soon to be new best friend, Mapquest. Look at your calendar and use it and your new best friend to reconstruct the mileage you forgot to write down.

Janet, if you eat breakfast and lunches at the conference, there is also a way you can just take the per diem for dinner. The GSA website (which is what the IRS uses for determining per diem)has a place to break it down by meal, so you could just claim the dinner per diem:

Jennifer, the answer to your question is an entire class worth of information. The short answer is that it depends. Yes, an unpublished author can deduct writing expenses, HOWEVER (note the big pause here!), it should be done carefully and with thorough knowledge of tax law.

Mary, if you incur expenses in excess of what your employer reimburses, that's something you might be able to deduct on your schedule A if you itemize your deductions.

Gina, that's a great thought about printing out info on the editors and agents. I embarrassed myself at a conference recently when I had an editor appointment, and the editor asked me which of his house's books I'd read. Talk about being put on the spot! However, I HAD done my research and knew this publisher had published a number of books like mine. Unfortunately, I mis-remembered the author (since I hadn't written it down) and it ended up being an awkward moment.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi Danica, Great advice on tax deductions. Those of us who take our writing seriously need to know that the IRS does also. If you have receipts and everything documented, you have the right to take a deduction.

I've been audited before for writing expenses and truthfully, the IRS agent showed me ways to collect more deductions. He was so impressed with ALL my receipts and records. So that is key. Keep those receipts.

The other key is you need to show you're serious about your writing being a business, not a hobby or convenient tax deduction. So I took in all my rejection letters and he was convinced. So keep those also and if you are audited, take them in. Of course if you're published, take in your books and offer him/her one. They can't accept it, but it shows you are writing for a career--not a hobby.

Thanks for the scones Tina. Yum Yum

Audra, thanks for bringing Danica along to Seekerville

Caroline said...

Danica, thanks for the great information. I'm going to make my conference binder and take it along. I'm not organized unless forced and this will help immensely!! Also, the food Per Diem Rate reminder is gold.

Here's to a fantastic, tax deductible conference!!

I'm sending my other loops over here for their mini-course in writing business deductions.


Pass the coffee please~~~<3

Stephanie Newton said...

Thanks for the heads-up on conference info, Danica! My writing income bumped us into another tax bracket (which we didn't realize until we got hit with a whopper of a tax bill this year) so I'm trying to keep track of every little expense this year, on the theory that every little bit helps. It's easier said than done. A binder is a great idea. (Much better than the bottom of my purse, which was my previous plan ;o)

Debby Giusti said...

I'm amazed! You're Steeple Hill's online gal, a writer, mom, and a tax expert! I was impressed before, now I'm blown away!!!

Nice to have you with us today, and thanks for the great tax tips. I didn't know about the per diem allowance either!

Love the notebook idea. We'll all be so organized this year at RWA and ACFW!

Audra Harders said...

Danica, along with the mileage forgetfulness : ) I also seem to misplace receipts I print off for payment I make on the computer. Is there anyway to find copies of those, especially when you pay by credit card?

Lorna said...

Thanks for the excellent ideas. I love the envelope system and the per diem idea.

RumorsOfGlory said...

Wow, look at all the comments Danica. Good job.

Danica/Dream said...

So glad these are helpful tips!

Audra, re: the computer printoff receipts. I never delete mine from the computer. I have a special folder in my inbox for electronic receipts. I always print them as a hard copy for my files, but just in case I misplace them, I still have that electronic backup.

Sandra's experience proves one point I cannot stress enough. The most important thing you can do tax-wise is keep good records.

Audra Harders said...

Thank you for joining us today, Danica. I'm organizing my day timer right now and taping an envelope for receipts to the back cover : )

Can't wait to see you in Denver!

Danica/Dream said...

Thanks for having me! I enjoyed it!

Missy Tippens said...

Hey, Danica! Welcome! And thanks so much for the great info. I had no idea I could do a per diem! And I'm always so cheap when I eat out that I'm sure $64 could be more than I spend! LOL

Thanks for the idea about an envelope for receipts. I always have them bulging out of my wallet. :)

Missy Tippens said...

Myra! I didn't know you were so organized. You're starting to sound like Pam Spreadsheet Hillman!


Gina, your friend sounds the same. I think I'm missing that organization gene.