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Carrying Tools or Equipment to Work: what is or is not deductable
By Julian Block

The IRS does make some exceptions to its blanket ban on deductions for commuting expenses. One of those exceptions authorizes a limited measure of relief for someone who needs to haul bulky tools or equipment that cannot go in a car. You are allowed to deduct the additional costs for hauling equipment, such as the charge for renting a trailer that is towed by your car (subject to the two percent floor applied to unreimbursed employee business expenses and most other miscellaneous itemized deductions). The car costs, though, remain nondeductible commuting expenses.

The Tax Court agreed with the IRS that the additional-cost exception could not be invoked by Ila Beards, who drove from her home in suburban Westchester County to her job as a teacher at a college in New York City. Professor Beards used her car to transport books and other materials necessary to teach her classes, as the college did not provide storage facilities.

On teaching days, she left home at noon and school at 10 in the evening; the drive each way was one hour. A trip by public transportation would have meant a walk of three blocks to a bus stop, a bus ride of 10 to 30 minutes to a train station, a train ride from the suburban station to Grand Central Station in New York City and a walk or taxi ride of 12 blocks to the college; in all, a one-way commute of about 90 minutes. On her return for the year in issue, Ms. Beards claimed a then-allowable investment credit of $462 for the car and an attention-grabbing $7,500 for car expenses.

This set of facts prompted the Tax Court to conclude that the teacher would have gotten behind the wheel even if it had not been necessary for her to transport her books. The court cited Fridays, when she still drove, though she had no classes and came in merely to attend meetings or take care of duties other than teaching. Therefore, taking the books along did not cause her to incur additional costs.

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