How to Deduct Unreimbursed Employee Expenses

The new tax law eliminates this deduction from 2018 until 2025

Man calculating expenses

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Although you might have unreimbursed business expenses as an employee, you will most likely not be able to deduct them. Most employees who incur job-related expenses could deduct some of those costs on their federal tax returns until the 2018 tax year, and may be able to again in 2026.

Key Takeaways

  • You won't be able to deduct employee business expenses until 2026 unless you are an Armed Forces reservist, fee-basis state or local government official, performing artist, or have impairment-related work expenses
  • Your employer must not have paid you for these expenses
  • You'll need to be able to show proof of these expenses through receipts or another method if you claim the deduction

The Effect of 2018 Tax Reform

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) ended many itemized deductions, deduction for unreimbursed employee business expenses, when it was signed into law in December 2017. The TCJA eliminates the deduction for unreimbursed employee business expenses for tax years 2018 through 2025.

You can still claim this deduction if you haven't yet filed your 2017 tax return, however. You might even be able to go back and file an amended return to claim it if you failed to do so when you could have. You have a three-year window of time to file an amended return starting from the date when you filed the original tax return or two years from the date when you last made a tax payment on that return, whichever is later.

Some employees are exempt. Armed Forces reservists, fee-basis state or local government officials, qualified performing artists, and employees with impairment-related work expenses can still claim this deduction.

Calculating Itemized Deductions 

This is an itemized deduction, so you'll have to go through all the recordkeeping and calculations that itemizing entails if you're going to claim it. It will take you longer to prepare your tax return, and it will most likely cost you more if you hire someone to prepare your return for you.


Make sure you have sufficient unreimbursed employee expenses that you'll still come out ahead when you figure in what it will cost you in time and money to claim them.

Itemizing also means you can't claim the standard deduction for your filing status, so it's not in your best interest to itemize if the total of all your itemized deductions doesn't exceed the standard deduction you're entitled to. You'll actually end up paying more in tax dollars.

It might be gratifying to use those expenses to shave a smidgen off your tax obligation, but you might do better to ask your employer to reimburse you for what you spent instead.

Eligibility for the Employee Business Expense Deduction

To take the tax deduction, your employer cannot have reimbursed you for these expenses, given you an advance toward these costs, or an allowance to pay for them.

If you had to give your employer an accounting explaining exactly what the money was spent on, and if you had to return any money left over, you most likely received an advance or an allowances. Those expenses are not deductible.

Another rule states that the things you spend money on must be ordinary and necessary business expenses for your employer. "Ordinary" means that most people in your line of work, or their employers, spend money on the same thing. "Necessary" means that the purchase or expense was more or less integral to doing business. 

Vehicle Expenses 

These include costs associated with using your personal vehicle for work-related reasons. You can either deduct a portion of your actual driving expenses based on your work-related mileage, or you can use the standard mileage rate set by the IRS each year. The rate was 56 cents a mile in 2021 and is 58.5 cents per mile for 2022, if you're an employee who still qualifies for this deduction.

Allowable miles are limited to getting from one workplace to another, visiting clients or customers, going to a business meeting away from your regular workplace, or getting from your home to a temporary workplace when you have one or more regular places of work. Commuting is not included. 

Travel, Meals, and Entertainment

Travel expenses include the cost of hotels, meals, airfare, and car rental if you must travel away from your home for business at least overnight. 

After the TCJA was passed, business entertainment expenses were no longer deductible. For example, you cannot deduct a sporting event, concert, or trip to a resort. Meal expenses are still deductible, and you will usually be limited to 50% of allowable expenses.

Other Business Expenses

These are any expenses that aren't included in the above categories, such as the cost of business cards, subscriptions to trade and business publications, home office expenses, business gifts, and work-related education. They can also include any tools or equipment that might be necessary to doing your job. 

How to Deduct Employee Business Expenses

Claiming employee business expenses begins with completing Form 2106 and calculating the deduction you're entitled to. If you weren't reimbursed by your employer, you only need to fill in steps 1 and 3 in Part I. You'll need to fill out Part II if you had vehicle expenses.

Then, add your deduction to the Schedule A form, which is the form you must use to itemize your deductions. If you are using itemized deductions, you cannot take the standard deduction.

The total of all of your itemized deductions should exceed the amount of the standard deduction you're entitled to or else you'll be paying more taxes than you have to.

The AGI Limitation

Miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% floor have been suspended until 2026.

Previously, all miscellaneous deductions were reduced by 2% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). What was left over was the amount you could claim as a tax deduction.

For example, you could only claim a deduction for the amount of your total miscellaneous expenses that exceed $1,600, or 2% of $80,000, if your AGI was $80,000. You'd get a $200 deduction if you had $1,800 in expenses. Your expenses didn't qualify for a deduction at all if all your miscellaneous expenses didn't add up to 2% of your AGI.

Recordkeeping Requirements

Assuming you meet all these rules and you want to deduct your work-related expenses, the IRS might expect you to be able to substantiate them, particularly if the total is significant. You should have proof for each expense you claim, showing the description of what you spent the money on, as well as the amount, the business purpose and relationship, and the date and place where the expense was incurred.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you deduct unreimbursed employee business expenses?

Until 2026, most unreimbursed employee expenses cannot be deducted from your taxes. However, there are some exceptions. You may be able to deduct employee business expenses if you are a teacher, an Armed Forces reservist, performing artist, a fee-basis government official, or if you have impairment-related work expenses.

What qualifies as an unreimbursed employee business expense?

In order for something to be an unreimbursed employee business expense, it must have been due to your work as an employee, and it must have been an ordinary and necessary expense. According to the IRS, an ordinary business expense should be common and accepted in your industry.

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  1. IRS. "Amended Returns and Form 1040X."

  2. IRS. "Publication 529 (12/2020), Miscellaneous Deductions."

  3. IRS. "Standard Mileage Rates."

  4. IRS. "Instructions for Form 2106 (2021)."

  5. IRS. "Topic No. 501 Should I Itemize?"

  6. IRS. "Here’s who qualifies for the employee business expense deduction."

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