If you have problems getting to sleep at night and you turn to the IRS tax code for help, you might find some vocabulary that is very foreign to you. One of the more uncommon words used by the IRS is the term “contemporaneous.” So what does it mean and why should you care?
According to the IRS, it means that the records used to support a claim on your tax return are created and originated at the same time as your claimed deduction. In other words, if you realize that you forgot to get a receipt for something, you are out of luck if you try to get one at a later date.
Perhaps you know you had the expense, but you simply forgot to get a receipt. You can cry foul, but time and again the IRS has had tax courts uphold their elimination of a taxpayer’s deduction for lack of contemporaneous documentation. Here are some areas where the term contemporaneous is especially important:
- Charitable contributions
- Business deductions for expenses and capital purchases
- Mileage logs
- Tip records
- Gambling losses
- Business travel expenses
The donation of vehicles, boats and planes is often the most cited area where lack of contemporaneous documentation is a problem because these types of donations have a high estimated market value that changes from month to month. But timely, written acknowledgement from the charitable organization is also required for any donation of $250 or more.
What you need to know
- Always get a receipt. Before you leave a donated item, always ask for a receipt. In the case of a vehicle, make sure the charitable organization gives you a 1098-C that is fully filled out. In addition, make sure the organization uses your vehicle or is a qualified charitable group that allows you to take the full market value of your donation.
- If you forget, call right away. As soon as you realize a confirmation or receipt is missing, call to get one sent to you. Request that the receipt be dated as of the date of the service or activity.
- Think tax year. Understanding the definition of contemporaneous is important, because it is not always precisely defined. If the documentation is received in the same year as the donation or transaction, you are usually in good shape.
- Keep a log. Many transactions require the correct documentation at the time the activity occurs. This is true with deductible mileage, gambling loses and tip income. So keep a log of your activities as they occur.
- Wait to file. To meet the IRS definition of contemporaneous, the receipt or acknowledgement must be received the earlier of either when you file your tax return OR the due date (including extensions) of your tax return. This is particularly true with charitable contributions. So if you want to play it safe, do not file until all documentation is in hand.