There are some things you need to know about taxes for Uber drivers, and the rules for meal write-offs are a big one. Can you write off the meals you eat in between passengers?
In general, Uber drivers can't deduct the food they eat on the go. This article will explain why — and dive into the meals they can write off.
Why Uber drivers can't deduct meals on the go
If a rideshare driver buys a granola bar during a long shift, they can't write it off on their tax return. They also can't deduct the coffee they drink to stay awake while working late. Sounds super unfair, right?
Here’s the thought process: the driver's contract doesn’t specify that they need to eat, so it’s not technically a requirement for their employment. That's right: Uber would have to require that you eat on the job for it to be a business expense.
Requirements like this do come up for some self-employed people. For instance, a security guard on a 1099 contract might be unable to leave their post all day, enabling them to deduct the meals they eat on the job.
An Uber driver, though, can theoretically turn the app off, grab a bite, and then start working again. So the meal wouldn't be deductible.
Understanding meal write-offs
Rule of thumb: If eating on the job is not a requirement for employment, then it's not a legitimate business expense.
That's why most meals aren't deductible for Uber drivers. But to get a sense of why this rule exists in place, we first need to establish how Uber drivers compare to traditional contractors, on the one hand, and employees on the other hand.
How Uber drivers are classified as workers
As a general rule, rideshare drivers are considered independent contractors, not employees. If you drive for Uber, you'll be issued a 1099 on your earnings, which will be subject to self-employment taxes.
But even though Uber drivers are technically independent contractors, your day-to-day work might look more similar to that of an employee. That's because you don't have to acquire clients, and you don't control all the terms of your own work.
Take a look at this chart, which compares rideshare drivers to more traditional contractors and W-2 employees.
How meal write-offs for contractors work
Why is this whole issue of contractor vs. employee relevant here?
Because the nature of traditional contract work makes it pretty easy for most traditional contractors to claim write-offs for meals. The autonomy of their work means they can cast a wider net for business expenses.
W-2 employees, on the other hand, can't claim meal write-offs. Driving for Uber looks, in practice, pretty similar to W-2 employment, so meal write-offs are mostly off-limits for them as well.
Let's dig into the details by examining the last two criteria from our chart above.
Working to acquire clients
As an Uber driver, you get customers through the Uber app depending on your proximity to passengers looking for the ride. You can get good reviews, which might increase your odds of landing more business. But ultimately, Uber brings your customers to you — meaning you do relatively minimal work when it comes to sourcing them.
In contrast, a more traditional contractor is responsible for scouting out their own clients. Take a hairstylist who owns a hair salon. They might benefit from occasional random walk-ins, but their business primarily comes from their salon's reputation and their ability to build a client base over time.
The hairstylist can write off any business meals they might eat with potential customers (to woo them) and current customers (to keep them coming back). But an Uber driver can't.
Controlling the terms of work
Rideshare companies like Uber typically have pre-established contracts with compensation for every driver. In addition, drivers must agree to background checks, submit information about their vehicles, and agree to abide by the conditions of the company.
All in all, drivers have limited say in the terms of their employment. Put simply, drivers are very similar to W-2 employees in everything except their working hours (and taxes). This lack of autonomy means relatively few opportunities for meal write-offs.
But don’t despair! Keeper has a whole page of tax deductions specifically for rideshare drivers, from your cell phone to your car. If you download the app, it'll be able to track all these write-offs for you automatically, so you can save the most money possible on your tax bill.
And there's more good news — under some circumstances, your meals actually are tax-deductible.
When Uber drivers can deduct their meals
The meals and snacks you eat on the job as an Uber driver normally can't be written off. And you won't have a lot of chances to wine and dine potential customers. But there are some cases when you can deduct your meal expenses.
In general, you have to be either eating with a business contact or driving far from your home base. Here are the situations when you would be able to take a meal deduction.
When you're eating with a fellow driver
Lunches with clients aren't the only possible business meals. If you grab food with a fellow rideshare driver and talk about work, your meal counts as a tax-deductible expense.
Say you get together with a more experienced Uber driver over burgers, and they give you some pointers on surge pricing strategy or tracking your car expenses. (Or maybe you're the one doling out advice to someone who just joined the platform.)
Your fellow drivers count as your coworkers, so the IRS will treat lunches with them as legitimate business meals. You don't even have to pay for the other person's entree.
For recordkeeping purposes, though, it's a good idea to leave some digital breadcrumbs so you can prove you were talking about work — say, a calendar event or an email followup summarizing your discussion. That way, you're covered in the event of an IRS audit.
Here’s another tidbit that’s good to know: In 2021 and 2022, business meals you eat in restaurants are temporarily 100% tax-deductible.
When you're eating with a potential referral
Referring new drivers to Uber is a great way to earn rewards and supplement your total income from the app.
If you know someone who's potentially interested in rideshare driving, you might take them out for dinner to answer their questions and sell them on joining you. That meal would be a write-off.
When you're traveling for work
Most meals have to be eaten with someone to be considered a legitimate tax deduction. But an exception kicks in if you travel for work.
Of course, the normal driving you do over the course of a work day doesn't count. You have to be pretty far from your usual stomping grounds — at least 100 miles away from home. That's far enough you wouldn't be able to return home to sleep.
Say you're an Uber driver based in Kansas. Your brother lives in Austin, where SXSW, the music festival, happens in March. You drive down there and crash with him for a couple of weeks while the festival is going on, so you can drive all those music-lovers around.
If you're working full days while you're there, your trip to Austin would count as a business trip. That means you'd be able to write off your travel expenses, including meals — even if there's no one eating with you.
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At Keeper, we’re on a mission to help people overcome the complexity of taxes. We’ve provided this information for educational purposes, and it does not constitute tax, legal, or accounting advice. If you would like a tax expert to clarify it for you, feel free to sign up for Keeper. You may also email email@example.com with your questions.