Does a Volunteer Worker Fill Out a W-9 for Reimbursement of Travel Expenses

by James Rada, Jr.; Updated September 26, 2017

Volunteers offer their services to their preferred charities, churches and other organizations for free. However, while volunteers give freely of their time, many organizations don’t want their volunteers to have to pay to volunteer because they use their own gasoline and vehicles to get to their volunteer work and some will even use their personal vehicles to perform the work. If an organization can afford it, it will often reimburse volunteers for their travel expenses. Care needs to be taken, though, not to create a tax liability for the volunteer.

Form W-9

Form W-9 is a request for a taxpayer identification number. In the case of volunteers, this would be their Social Security numbers. It also asks for the number of exemptions the volunteer has. If the organization is going to offer reimbursements to volunteers, then this form needs to be filled out. If the reimbursements remain nontaxable, then the information will not be needed except in the organization's bookkeeping to show who the reimbursements were paid to.

Reimbursement

To not be considered income, reimbursements need to be for the actual travel expenses that can be documented under an accountable plan. This means that volunteers need to provide documentation of expenses and that any reimbursement over actual expenses be returned. Documentation needs to show time, place, the business purpose and amount of the expense.

Transportation Expenses

Transportation expenses are for local travel costs. Though this is generally done in a car, it can include airfare, bus tickets, shuttle costs and taxi fares. Also, any tolls and parking fees. For travel in a personal vehicle, it can be difficult to determine actual costs for things like an oil change or gasoline fill-up. It is easier to reimburse the volunteer per mile up to the federal standard mileage reimbursement rate.

Travel Deductions

The federal government sets reimbursement rates for business, charitable, medical appointment and moving miles each year based on the costs to operate a vehicles. If volunteers are reimbursed more than the federal rate, the excess is considered income, in which case the information on the Form W-9 would be needed. If the volunteer is reimbursed at a lower rate, then the volunteer also can claim the difference between the actual reimbursement rate and the federal rate as a deduction on federal income taxes.

About the Author

James Rada, Jr. was a newspaper reporter for eight years and earned 23 awards from the Maryland Delaware D.C. Press Association, Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists, Maryland State Teachers’ Association and CNHI. He also worked for 12 years as a marketing communications writer, earning a Print Copywriter of the Year Award from the Utah Ad Federation. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications.