A per diem is a rate given to employees or contractors to cover the daily expense of meals, lodging or another item. Every industry has different rates, and the trucking industry has a per diem meal rate set by the Internal Revenue Service. For truck drivers, the IRS allows you to claim a per diem meal expense for days when you travel away from your home.
According to the IRS, a transportation worker is an individual involved in directly moving goods or people by plane, ship, barge, bus, train or truck. As a transportation worker, you can claim a per diem if your job regularly demands that you travel away from your home. The IRS permits you to deduct this per diem expense to cover your meals. The per diem rate for meals as of 2011 is 80 percent of $59 per day in the continental United States and 80 percent of $65 per day if you travel to Canada or Mexico.
The IRS requires you to keep track of your per diem expenses in order to receive the per diem deduction. Truck drivers should maintain a daily log that itemizes the number of days you traveled away from your home. At the end of the year, you will need to total your daily log to determine your total per diem deduction. You should always keep your receipts to back up your meal expenses and prove that you traveled away from your home on days you claim the per diem. In the event of an audit, the IRS will disallow all daily per diem allowances if you cannot back up your claimed days away from your home with receipts.
Calculating Your Rate
When you calculate your per diem for the year, make sure you use the correct information from your daily log. To calculate your total per diem, multiply the number of days you traveled away from your home by the daily per diem amount for the tax year. For example, for tax year 2011, assume you traveled for 100 days; 100 days x $59= $5,900. The IRS allows you to deduct 80 percent of the per diem. Thus, continuing the same example, $5,900 x 0.8 = $4,720. This figure represents your total per diem for the tax year.
State and Local Taxes
You can take the full per diem deductions when you spend the night away from your home. You will have to use different calculations if you spend partial days away from your home. Additionally, states and local municipalities may apply different per diem rates for state and local returns than the IRS.