It's tax time and you didn't track your miles as an independent contractor delivering for Doordash, Grubhub, Uber Eats, Postmates or others.
Is it time to panic?
Maybe you didn't know you need to. Perhaps you didn't think you needed it. Maybe you didn't realize you CAN claim your miles even when taking a standard deduction.
All you know is… that's a lot of taxes you owe. Is it still possible to claim your miles?
You can breathe a sigh of relief. If you did forget to track your miles when delivering for these gig companies (or other business miles) it may still be possible to capture many of the miles that you drove, even without a current record.
The IRS Requires Mile Tracking.
Here's the deal with miles: It's easy for people to abuse this deduction. It happens all the time. In fact, the kind of miles we drive already puts us at a higher risk for audit.
You want to keep an accurate record of your miles, both to capture every mile AND to satisfy the IRS if they start asking if your numbers are legit.
The IRS requires the following:
You need to know your odometer reading at the start and the end of the year. That's because they want the total miles for each vehicle you use.
You then need a daily record that shows the date, the number of miles you drove, the business purpose of your trip, and where you went.
It is allowable to record those miles with a GPS app or with a hand written record (or spreadsheet). The main thing is that whatever method you use captures those four criteria. This means you need a daily record.
But what if I don't have that record and it's tax time?
If you claim miles without any record, you can expect the tax courts to declare that you cannot claim ANY mileage OR actual business expense. You need to have a record.
There is good news. The IRS did make an allowance for when you don't have complete records. You can go back and retroactively build a mileage log, HOWEVER you need to create a written statement about that log AND you have to have evidence to support the log.
How Do I Create a Log if I Forgot to Record Miles?
Here are the things that I would suggest that you do:
1. Gather any maintenance records you can find on your car.
Oil changes, new tires, anything where they would have recorded your odometer reading. This gives you a basis to show your overall miles.
Your closest record to the start of the year and the closest one to the end of the year help you establish how many miles you drover overall for the year.
2. Look for any kind of documentation you can find to help you determine actual miles that you drove.
You cannot just grab miles out of thin air, you need a basis. We'll talk about where you can find information.
3. Create a DAILY log based on your information.
Remember the IRS requires the date and the miles for that date. An overall summary such as the mileage total on the annual tax report from Uber Eats will NOT meet that requirement. For each day that you drove and that you can identify miles that you drove, record the date, the miles, where you went, and the business purpose. For example, you could notate something like “Denver Metro – Delivery for Grubhub and Doordash” which would cover both the where and the purpose.
Save any of the documentation you can get in a single place
You can have it either printed in a file or store it digitally in a folder. Notate on your log what kind of documentation you used and where you have it filed.
Where can you find information on delivery miles?
Fortunately, there are a number of places where we can find actual evidence of miles that we drove. Y
our GPS app may have been keeping a history without you even realizing it.
Some of the earnings records from some of the apps will provide information that would be sufficient to claim miles. Those records may not capture everything, but they do give you a basis to collect some miles.
Finally, look for third party applications that may keep the data you need.
Forgot to track your miles? Don't make the same mistake again
There are several ways to track your miles. Check out this article to learn more about how to track.
Or get a good mileage tracking app. Check out Hurdlr (sponsored) – they have free and paid versions of their app, available on Android and IOS.
Check your GPS history.
If you have Google Maps on your phone, you may be in luck. This is actually kind of creepy when you think about it, but there's a good chance that Google Maps has a record of almost everywhere you've been with your phone.
I told you that was creepy.
But it's good news if you're scrambling to identify miles that you can claim on your taxes.
The ability to track has to be enabled. You may or may not have it enabled on your phone. I don't recall ever enabling anything, and I have records dating to March 2017.
You can find out if you have a history by tapping the menu (normally the 3 or 4 lines at the left of the search box) and then search for “Your Timeline.” You can see more about how to do that here:
Google timeline probably didn't capture every mile, but probably most of them. The mileage isn't always precise, as sometimes your phone is off or not getting GPS signal.
In this screenshot I'm guessing that it wasn't tracking for part of the trip. At some point it figured out it hadn't been tracking, and just put a straight line between the points it stopped and started.
Here's one really good thing with Google Maps. You don't have to have it in navigation mode for it to record. It just seems to track you.
Wherever you go.
But if you haven't been tracking, that creepy thing may have saved you a ton of money.
Waze also keeps a history feature, but not as full fledged. You can disable the history and you can delete records. The history is stored in a list of Drives.
Now the problem is, if you weren't using them for navigation, Waze probably didn't record the trip. You have to pull up the history trip by trip rather than seeing a total route for the day.
It's not as easy to get to the history. First, you have to have created an account (I ran Waze for the longest time without doing so). Then you have to go to a browser and enter https://waze.com/editor and then select Drives to see a list of trips.
If you navigate everywhere you go, you can pull up enough data to capture most of your miles.
Or if you are like me, where I don't tend to navigate to the restaurants since I know where most of them are, you may be missing half your miles.
If you have partial information that shows you were in one place, and the next record shows you starting at another, It is reasonable to calculate those miles and add them in to your totals. Do not estimate, but calculate. We'll get into that further down.
iPhone Apple Maps
I don't have an iPhone and never have. All I can tell you is what I see when I search for how to find location history.
The problem that I see there is that it looks like the results show everything grouped by location. That could make it very cumbersome to try to put together a timeline based on your location history. You may have to do a lot of calculating distances between locations.
Getting information from pay records
Grubhub pay records
If you drive primarily with Grubhub, you can pull a lot of your mileage information off the pay reports. In the times that I've compared, the mileage that they calculate for the trip (from ping to dropoff) CURRENTLY tends to be pretty on target with what the actual distance is.
If most or all your deliveries were with Grubhub, this will capture a significant portion of your actual miles dating back to when they changed their pay model.
What it won't capture is the miles between when you drop off an order and when you get the ping for the next order.
If you get the offer for the next delivery before you drop off, understand that they calculate the miles from where you will drop off, not from where you are. That's good news: you aren't in danger of double-claiming any miles.
There was a dramatic shift in the accuracy of the Grubhub miles when they changed the pay model (early 2019). Any pay records prior to that change are going to miss a lot of your miles. Prior to the new model, they only calculated miles between the restaurant and the customer and they did it in a straight line measurement.
I would figure they only captured a third of your total miles, if that. Unfortunately, if you have no other documentation, those are the only miles you'll be able to claim legitimately.
Uber Eats Earnings History
Uber Eats also provides a mileage amount on the delivery summaries. Unfortunately they are still measuring miles as being from where you pick up the food to the drop off.
Those miles are estimated based on the most efficient route (not on straight line like the old Grubhub model). Even still, you are losing half your miles when relying on the Uber Eats reports.
One difference between your documentation from Grubhub and that of Uber Eats is that you do have a map that shows the general location on your Uber Eats deliveries. If you have consecutive Uber Eats delivery records, it is reasonable to calculate the distance between where you dropped off an order and where the next restaurant is.
We'll touch on that more in a bit.
How do I find my Doordash miles?
If youj're relying on Doordash and their information, may God have mercy on your soul! Doordash is…. not very good.
Okay, they are horrible when it comes to providing information.
They do not email pay summaries. They do not keep pay weekly summaries on line. Yes, you can tap on earnings and see what you earned for the week, however they only keep the past few months available.
And you know what's NOT in the earnings statement? The estimated miles.
he good news is, you CAN pull down a daily estimation of your miles. It's just hard to find.
In fact I couldn't find it intuitively on their site, I had to learn of this site from someone else. If you go to Driver.Doordash.com you can log in with your Doordash login, and select Stats and get an estimate of your miles.
Problems with the Doordash Mileage Report.
Let me be blunt: If you are relying on this mileage report, you cost yourself a lot of money by not tracking. It's something, but it doesn't capture nearly the miles you need to capture.
If you can't read it in the image, this is how Doordash says they track the deliveries:
“To estimate your mileage for a particular date, we look at al lthe deliveries you completed, and the times that you marked the pickups and drop-offs as complete. Then we add up the distances between the pickups and the drop-offs. Our estimates only include the distances that you traveled while transporting an order. We don't generally include distances from one drop-off to the next pickup. All of the distances are computed in a straight line fashion, because, as there is no required route, we cannot calculate based on the actual roads you took.”Doordash description of how they calculate miles.
Translation: They mark where you were when you MARKED that you picked up the food. They mark where you were when you delivered the food. Then they calculate a straight line distance between the two. That's usually going to be much shorter.
In other words, this report is not tracking your miles TO The restaurant or anything else and is providing an extremely short delivery path. In fact, it's not tracking miles at all.
This is absurd, to be honest, because all they have to do is list the miles that they calculate when they offer you the job in the first place.
That said, I'm not going to get worked up over how they do things because it's not really their job to report on miles anyway. That's yours. You probably cost yourself about 2/3 of your mileage deduction by not tracking your own miles.
If you use the Doordash mile list, print out the entire page including their explanation, and keep that as documentation.
I would not advice you try to calculate the missing miles because you have no documentation to show what you are basing the calculation on. You have no map, you have no starting point, and you have no reasonable explanation you could give to an auditor.
Understand that Doordash doesn't make this mileage report available until a month or two into the following year. For 2019, it wasn't until well into February that they made those miles available.
Update (March 2021)
As of late March 2021, Doordash has not updated their site with 2020 miles. They may not.
Doordash sent out an email late February that was meant to provide a mileage update. “Your estimated 2020 delivery mileage – calculated from when you accepted deliveries until you marked them complete.” It was just a single total. The total they came up with was 85% of my actual Doordash miles (I track every trip which allows me to pull that information).
The good news is, this is a lot better than their estimates from the past. I get the impression they did this based on actual estimated distances. The bad news is, they don't provide a daily breakdown which is necessary under IRS requirements. This makes me think they won't be uploading a log this year.
Is there other information that can be used?
There is one thing that could be a saving grace for Doordash drivers. If you use the Dasher Utility (only available on Android) you can pull up a record of the delivery offers you received and which ones you accepted. You can also get a report off the app of what miles you drove for the day (as I understand, it's based on the Doordash calculations prior to your accepting the offer).
I would be interested in hearing from anyone any other information that might be useful. As it stands right now, if none of these options will help you, I'm not sure if there's anything you can do. Other than start recording your miles so this doesn't happen again!
What about Calculating or Estimating Miles?
There are instances where you can legitimately calculate some distances. Understand: Calculating is not the same as estimating.
When can you calculate miles?
When you have evidence that shows you were at one location and then were at another location as part of your business driving, it is a reasonable assumption that your miles between those locations are business miles.
Be absolutely careful that you have not tracked any other miles for that day that could be a duplication.
For example, you have a Waze history driving to a customer. But then your next history is from the next restaurant to the next customer. In that instance, you can calculate the distance between that first dropoff and the next restaurant.
The same would be true if you did multiple Uber Eats deliveries. With both Uber Eats and Waze, you have maps that show the general location of where you were. Those give you evidence of where you've been. There had to be a way to get between those points, so it's reasonable to calculate.
Calculating the distance.
If you do calculate, you want to document it. And you want to use a good source. Do not estimate.
Identify the nearest major intersection from the map. Then Google it.
Ask Google: “Directions from Hampden and Santa Fe to Broadway and Mississippi.” It took me about 10-15 seconds to search for that and screenshot it.
If you do calculate, I really recommend that you keep a screenshot of it for documentation.
The problem with estimating.
It's real easy to say “I know I drive so many miles per hour, or so many miles per day.”
Maybe you noticed that you average about 3/4 mile of driving for every dollar you earn when you do track. But you didn't track on Saturday and you made $100. Based on that average it can be tempting to estimate you drove 75 miles that day.
I'm not going to tell you what to do there. That's a tough one, you know?
You could make a very conservative estimate where you know for sure you drove a lot more miles than that. I don't think that's cheating to do that.
The thing I'm going to tell you though is that if you do estimate like that and you don't have any backing for those miles, you have an extremely high chance of the whole deduction being tossed out. You also are looking at the potential of penalties being far higher than the extra taxes you pay.
Only you can determine if it's worth the chance.
A new alternative: PARA's mileage tool.
Para has devised an algorithm where they can sift through trip data from your apps including time that you are active on deliveries. Based on your activity, they can put together an evidence based log, including the date and miles. They'll provide an IRS compliant log.
They tell me they've spent a lot of time going over how they come up with the data and confirming that this log would meet the IRS requirements for reconstructing the log.
I'll admit I was a bit skeptical about the data. I had them run my numbers and they came within 3% of the actual total, which is not bad. For all I know that could be a one time deal and who knows how close they get with other logs.
If anyone wants to try their tool out who already has a good mileage log, I'd love to see how well they compare for you.
The way it works is you create an account with their site. From there, you log into your driver accounts through a third party interface that can pull your trip information. It takes some time for that information to populate in their system. They tell you it may be as much as 72 hours and they'll forward a log.
You can try Para's mileage log construction tool here.
Once you've gathered your information, build your log.
Remember that you can't just rely on an overall total.
Remember, we have the IRS saying above that you can build a log based on evidence. The clip from the publication that we posted above said you need a written statement, and you need documentation.
What you want to do is create your log and state that the log is based on the following documentation. Then list the type of documentation you have.
You need daily totals. Do not rely on one annual report. The IRS requires a DAILY log with daily totals. You need to break it down.
That means it is going to take some homework. It may take a few hours. Those few hours could save a LOT of money, so think of it like possibly earning hundreds of dollars per hour.
From whatever sources you identify, add up your miles for the day. I really recommend that as you do it, either print out your information or take a screenshot and save it.
If you calculate distances between where your information has gaps, screenshot the calculation. Keep your documentation in a file folder or store it digitally in a dedicated file.
Be careful not to record any miles that are duplications. For instance, do not go through your GPS history and THEN go back through your Grubhub miles. Don't count miles twice, it will get you in trouble.
Is it worth all this effort?
That's something only you can answer.
If you drove 1000 miles, that's $575 you can take off your taxes for the 2020 tax year. Taking $575 off your taxes lowers your self employment tax by $89. It can lower your income tax by another $58 (or more depending on your bracket).
That's roughly $150 less in taxes for every 1000 miles you identify.
How long will that take to do all the work? Is it 10 hours work to save $150 off your tax bill. You could think of it as earning $15 per hour. Or you could decide it's better to drive those 10 hours and earn $200.
But if it's 5 hours work and you're talking a couple thousand dollars in taxes, yeah, it's worth it.
And by the way, when you're done?
Start tracking your miles. Don't get in this spot again.
Check out Hurdlr Mileage and Expense Tracking (sponsored)
Hurdlr has a free version and a paid version. You can track your miles and record your income and expenses. Available for Android and IOS – learn more here.
The Delivery Driver's Tax Information Series
- Introduction to the Delivery Driver's Tax Information Series
- Your Taxes are Based on your Profits, not Revenue
- Understanding your Revenue: Money In
- Understanding your Expenses: Money Out
- Filling Out Your Taxes
- Preparing for next year: How much should I save?