In general, if you use vehicles in pursuit of a trade or business, you can deduct the ordinary and necessary expenses incurred while operating the vehicle. Taxpayers may use either the standard mileage rate method or the actual cost method to recover vehicle costs. For purposes of these deductions, an “automobile” includes a passenger vehicle, van, pickup or panel truck.
Standard mileage rate vs. actual cost method. In lieu of proving the actual costs of operating an automobile, self-employed individuals may compute the deductible costs for their business use of an auto using a standard mileage rate. The standard mileage rate may also be used to reimburse employees who use their own car for business. Businesses that operate up to four vehicles at the same time can deduct this standard mileage rate rather than keeping track of actual costs. The 2021 standard mileage rate is 56 cents per mile and for 2020 is 57.5 cents per mile for business. Alternatively, if you use the actual cost method, you may take deductions for depreciation, lease payments, registration fees, licenses, gas, insurance, oil, repairs, garage rent, tolls, tires, and parking fees.
Substantiation. Proper recordkeeping is critical. The recordkeeping requirements vary depending upon which method you use. If you use the standard mileage rate, you should keep a daily log showing the miles traveled, destination and business purpose. Recordkeeping under the actual cost method is somewhat more onerous. You should also keep a mileage log if you use the actual cost method to establish business use percentage. In addition, you must keep receipts, invoices, and other documentation to verify expenses. Finally, you must be able to prove the original cost of the vehicle and the date it was placed in service for business use to claim depreciation.
Personal vs. business miles. Regardless of the method used, if the vehicle is driven for personal as well as business purposes, only expenses or mileage attributable to the percentage of business use are deductible. As long as you use your vehicle more than 50 percent for business during the year, you can pro-rate your deduction. You also have the option of using the standard mileage rate, based on miles of business use for the year times the prescribed rate.
Automobile depreciation and annual limits. The depreciation deductions for passenger automobiles are subject to annual limitations for the year the taxpayer places the passenger automobile in service and for each succeeding year.
Bonus depreciation.. A taxpayer who acquires a business vehicle after September 27, 2017 and places the vehicle in service before 2023 is entitled to a 100 percent bonus depreciation deduction in the placed-in-service year. Under the luxury car rules, the actual bonus deduction for the year is limited to the first-year cap (e.g., $18,100 for a vehicle placed in service in 2019 or 2020). However, without adopting an IRS safe harbor, no depreciation deductions may be claimed in any of remaining years of the vehicle’s regular depreciation period. This is because the basis of the vehicle for purposes of computing depreciation during the remaining years is reduced to $0 as if the taxpayer had claimed the full 100 percent bonus deduction. The amount of the 100 percent bonus deduction in excess of the first-year cap is recovered at a specified rate per year beginning with the first year after the last year in the vehicle’s depreciation period ($5,760 for a vehicle placed in service in 2019 or 2020).
This computational “quirk” may be avoided by adopting the IRS safe harbor method of accounting in the first tax year after the placed-in-service year. Under the safe harbor, a taxpayer deducts the first-year depreciation limit ($18,100 for 2019 and 2020 vehicles) in the placed-in-service year. In each subsequent year of the depreciation period, the taxpayer claims the depreciation deduction allowed by applying the applicable depreciation table percentage for the year to the cost of the vehicle as reduced by the first-year limit. However, if the depreciation cap for the year is less than this amount, the deduction is limited to the depreciation cap.
Section 179 deduction. A new or used vehicle may qualify for expensing under Code Sec. 179 in the tax year that it is placed in service if business use of the vehicle exceeds 50 percent. However, the sum of the section 179 expense deduction and regular first-year depreciation deduction (including any bonus depreciation) cannot exceed the applicable first-year depreciation cap for that vehicle.
Certain heavy vehicles not subject to limits. Sport utility vehicles, trucks, and vans with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) greater than 6,000 pounds are not subject to the annual depreciation caps imposed by the listed property luxury car rules because they are excluded from the definition of a passenger automobile. This can provide a tax break for buying new or used heavy vehicle that will be used over 50% in your business.
Electric plug-in motor vehicle credit. There are potential opportunities for taxpayers who purchase electric vehicles. A tax credit may be available in the year a taxpayer places a new qualified plug-in electric vehicle in service. The maximum credit is $7,500 and is reduced once a manufacturer sells 200,000 eligible vehicles for use in the United States. Eligible vehicles must satisfy several tests, including energy savings standards. The credit is generally a nonrefundable personal credit; however, any portion that is attributable to depreciable property is part of the general business credit.
We would like to evaluate the business use of your vehicle(s) to provide guidance on how to maximize deductions. Please call us at your earliest convenience to review your situation.