How per diem works for long haul owner-operator truckers
Long-haul truckers with nights away from home have two options to deduct food expenses:
Record the actual expenses (save or scan your receipts!), or
Claim per diem.
What is per diem?
Claiming per diem simplifies deductions for food expenses when you're traveling for business away from home. Instead of keeping all of your food receipts, you multiply the number of days you were on the road by the daily rate.
The current daily rate for the transportation industry is $66 per day through September 30, 2020. This is updated every year, effective October 1st. Note: if you travel to Canada or Mexico, the rate is currently $71. The IRS updates the per diem rates through notices like this one (see Section 3).
Per diem covers food and drink expenses
You cannot claim any food or drink (water, coffee, soda, etc.) expenses when you take the per diem rate. Taking a customer out for a meal is the exception--capture that expense as a Business Meal.
The beginning of that last paragraph is important: Do NOT deduct food expenses if you are taking per diem.
The records you need to keep to prove your per diem days
Downloading your ELD data is recommended.
Calculating per diem is easier if you have a calendar
Marking dates on a calendar makes adding your per diem easier when you don't return home at the end of your 14-hour DOT hours of service workday. We made a calendar for you to download! Click here to get your calendar.
Here is the formula to calculate per diem:
0.75 days for the day you leave your home and cannot return home.
1.0 days for every full day you are gone.
0.75 days for the day you return home.
Example 1: Bob departs form his Texas home on Monday to pick up a load, which is delivered to Florida. Bob picks up a load that is delivered near his home in Texas on Saturday of the same week. Lets to the math:
0.75 days (leaving) + 4.0 days (Tuesday through Friday) + 0.75 days (returning) = 5.5 days
Example 2: Ralph departs Monday morning to pick up and deliver a load, which requires an overnight. He is able to get back home by Tuesday afternoon. We don't get any full days but Ralph was gone for more than 12 hours, so he should start counting per diem like this:
0.75 days (leaving) + 0.75 days (returning) = 1.5 days
If you aren't sure about your calculation or have a question about per diem, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are happy to help.