By Janet Groene, F47166
Tax expert Julian Block phoned me with an alert for full-timers who do volunteer work. “I just returned from a northern California state park where my volunteer guide was an absolute gem “” an RVer who donates her services,” he said. “However, she was astonished to learn she had been missing out on hundreds of dollars a year in tax deductions.
“The guide and her husband stayed in their RV for three months,” Mr. Block continued, “and that meant substantial deductions for meals. The round trip from [her home] to the park north of San Francisco had to be well in excess of 1,200 miles. That would mean another deduction for fuel and tolls, and she also wore a uniform.” He added that the cost of buying and cleaning uniforms also is deductible.
Whether you’re a full-timer or a part-time motorhome enthusiast, Mr. Block said you can deduct 14 cents per mile (or the actual cost of gas and oil if you keep records) for RV trips connected with volunteer work for non-profit causes. Also deductible, he said, are three meals a day while you’re on a volunteer mission. Moving costs also are deductible if you live in your coach and must move for a job-related reason.
If you file your taxes using the “long form” and list your deductions, you might want to read Mr. Block’s book Travel and Moving Expenses before filing your 2006 tax return. While he doesn’t specifically mention RVs, his rules apply to RV travelers the same as to auto travelers. The guide is $19.95 postage paid from www.julianblocktaxexpert.com. To order by mail, send a check or money order to Julian Block, 3 Washington Square, Larchmont, NY 10538.
Mr. Block has an accounting degree from Roosevelt University, a law degree from DePaul University, and a master’s of law degree in taxation from New York University Graduate Law School. In addition to his books, which have received favorable reviews in the New York Times and Forbes, he has written for magazines such as AARP, Bloomberg Personal Finance, Consumer Reports, Financial Planning, and Money. It’s important to discuss deductions with your own tax expert, but Mr. Block’s tips are valuable, because they alert people to deductions they never knew existed. This California RVer had never mentioned her RV volunteerism to her accountant, because she had no idea that many of her RV expenses were deductible.
When you’re on the road full-time, most of your life’s secrets are on the road with you. With each batch of mail, you receive more personal paperwork containing information that could cause anything from mere embarrassment to financial disaster if it fell into the wrong hands. We’ve all seen full-timers at the post office or the campground office sorting a bushel of mail and throwing half of it into the wastebasket without opening it.
These folks will never know how many of those discarded envelopes contained blank checks that could be written on the recipient’s credit card account, or credit card applications that could be filled out by a thief. We know now that even bulk mail contains information we need to keep secure. It’s a new world out there, with identity theft around every corner, so we asked members of my full-timer’s panel to share their thoughts about shredding documents and other safety steps.
“Your question is indeed a tough one in this day and age,” wrote Suzanne Budovec, F154606. “We do not carry a shredder … just not enough room.” However, the Budovecs cleaned out all their 1980 tax records and burned them while in a campground that had a fire ring, and took another five years of accumulated paperwork to their friends who have a shredder. “We have spent hours cutting records into small pieces,” Suzanne noted. “We put those pieces in different bags and different dumpsters.” This strategy eliminates the chance that a thief could put the pieces back together again.
Peter and Connie Bradish, F203498, don’t carry a shredder either, but they go through all their postal mail carefully to tear off names. Then they discard the bulk of the mail, cut up the personal portions, and discard them elsewhere. “It’s really important not to give dumpster divers all your information in one trash bag,” Connie observed.
Robert Pfluger F330934, like most of our panel, carries a shredder that fits over a wastebasket. “We actually use it very little, because we have everything automated online,” he wrote. “We get no paper statements from checking, credit card, mutual funds, cell phone, auto and coach insurance, or satellite TV.” The couple’s snail mail, mostly magazines, goes to his mother-in-law, who sends it on every three months.
But is it safe to do everything online? Bob believes it is. “We used our laptop with Wi-Fi for several years with SSL3.0 and felt comfortable when using secure Web sites from financial institutions.” He also believes library computers are encrypted and safe.
“Currently we use a Cingular third-generation (3G) PC card by Sierra Wireless, which gives us broadband speed and total encryption for security. The current broadband network is just in major cities. When we’re on the Cingular EDGE network, speed is slower but still much better than trying to find a Wi-Fi hot spot.
“We pay $54.95 for unlimited use. Sprint and other companies offer similar programs,” Bob wrote, estimating that the “cost is sure to come down in the future. We think no paper is the best security.”
“The newest hazard can be Wi-Fi systems in parks,” warned Ken and Bonnie Martin, F186388. “We use them extensively, but one has to stay on top of antivirus and firewall software.” The Martins do most of their work offline. Then they log on; do their business; log off; and shut down the laptop.
Richard and Betty Miller, F333547, wrote: “We carry a cross-cut shredder and put shredded paper in the garbage, not in a bag by itself.” As for security, the Millers suggested that folks should rent a post office box so only they and the post office will have access to their mail. The Millers acknowledge, however, that delivery services can’t use a United States Postal Service box. They also suggested full-timers should have a fireproof safe or lockbox to carry in the RV. Hide it in a place that is difficult to get to, and it will be difficult for thieves, too. One final piece of advice they had was to place a fake security camera in the window of the RV with a sign announcing that the coach is equipped with video surveillance. “It is an effective deterrent,” Richard wrote.
Ron and Sandy Rice, F375396, have full-timed for six years. They bought a shredder that has an adjustable arm to fit over almost any size wastebasket, and they get it out about once a month to cut up papers they keep in a file labeled “Shred.” Meanwhile, the 12-inch-by-5-inch-by-2-inch shredder tucks away in a corner of the closet. “You don’t need a bulky shredder with its own container,” Sandy wrote. “Just look for the top shredder piece that adjusts to fit over a container you already have.”
If you have a strip shredder, not a crosscut model, I suggest separating the strips into two piles and disposing of them in separate bags. I don’t recommend small, portable units that are hand-cranked or battery-operated.
Books for travelers
Authors Stan and Sandra Posner have once again done a huge service for snowbirds with their exit-by-exit information in Drive I-95 ($22.95, Travelsmart). The book is fun to read, with information about the sight-seeing, dining, services, and shopping found at each exit. It’s even more fun to explore along the way when you have time. When you’re looking for a supermarket, Wal-Mart, veterinarian, hospital, or RV service center, the book can be a lifesaver. The new (third) edition covers I-95 from Boston, Massachusetts, to the Florida border. The book is spiral-bound for easy thumbing and has an extra-heavy cover to stand up to frequent use.