SUV Tax Deduction 2005Posted on Friday, September 2nd, 2005 by Chris Bird
Is the SUV Tax Deduction Worth All the Fuss? The Latest on the SUV Tax Deduction
Tax Rules about Sports Utility Vehicles (SUV) are Confusing
In the eyes of the IRS, the SUV isn’t just another car when it comes to calculating the auto expense deduction. Every vehicle that is used primarily in business can calculate auto expenses either by taking the Standard Mileage Rate (40.5 cents a mile for each mile driven for business- for 2005) or use the Actual Expense Method, based on the total of the actual expenses incurred.
When the Actual Expense Method is used, the amount written off during a vehicle’s first year depends on how depreciation is handled. Depreciation is the percentage of an asset’s value that can be written off each year over its useful life. For example, for an asset with a five-year useful life, one-fifth the cost can be expense each year for five years (when its value is zero, in theory). Depreciation is unlike other expenses since you don’t need to spend that money in order to take the deduction.
The SUV Tax Write-off Rules Broke New Ground
Internal Revenue Service Code Section l79 lets a business write off the purchase price of equipment the first year (up to a total of $105,000). This code section eliminates the delay of depreciating assets over a number of years. Passenger cars aren’t eligible for the equipment tax deduction. But trucks and SUVs are. However, there was a $25,000 ceiling for trucks or SUVs, limiting how much could be written off the first year.
A loophole in the $350-billion stimulus plan passed in 2003 removed the $25,000 ceiling for SUVs. The large SUVS (over 6,000 pounds GVWR) were considered trucks, not passenger vehicles. The amount expensed the first year grew from a maximum of $25,000 to the full $105,000 in 2005. Suddenly, being able to write the full purchase price off immediately made the larger SUV a more attractive purchase. They gained an edge over regular automobiles and smaller SUVs subject to customary depreciation or the $25,000 ceiling.
Clever businesses owners (and auto dealers) rushed to take advantage of the loophole. It fueled SUV sales and distorted the auto market. Then Congress started to feel pressured for passing a poorly-thought-out law that rewards people for buying more car than they need and encourages gas guzzlers.
Congress passed another law that went into effect October 23, 2004, that rolled back the SUV deduction from the $105,000 in 2005 to $25,000. Unless a vehicle was placed in service before that date, the higher figure didn’t apply. Congress may feel that they fixed this deduction, but there’s been a lot of lingering confusion and mixed messages.
One point that must be considered is the fact that depreciation deductions for these heavy SUVs will always be greater than depreciation deductions for regular cars or the smaller SUVs. For example, if a Realtor were to purchase a $47,000 Escalade and use it 100% for business, the entire $47,000 would be deductible over the life of the vehicle. And $25,000 of that would be deductible during the first year.
Compare that to the purchase of a $47,000 regular car, and the maximum depreciation deduction over the first five years of business use equals $15,000 to $16,000. In effect, all Congress has done is to decrease the first-year write-off of these large SUVs.
A Tax Benefit Isn’t Necessarily a Good Deal
As a former IRS agent and a tax consultant and tax seminar leader for 20 years, I routinely explain specific tax provisions. The SUV regulations prove that just because a deduction is entirely legal, it still may not make good business or tax sense. A business owner needs to pause and wonder – besides the tax advantage, does this much vehicle make sense for my business?
Tax savings aside, the large vehicles are much more expensive to buy and operate than other automobiles. The cost of gas to drive them is considerably greater. And that’s a major concern as gas prices ratchet ever higher. Then factor in the added sales tax, repairs and insurance. Not such a good deal, any more is it?
Next, consider those dollars you’d be spending for such a massive car . You’d probably have a better return on your investment if they were spent differently. This is one purchase that will probably haunt you every time you fill the tank. And that one- shot tax savings will be far from your mind.
CAUTION: Congress is currently considering reducing the $25,000 limitation on large SUVs down to approximately $3,000 in the first year. This would put the deduction for the large SUVs on an even footing with regular car depreciation. Any changes to this $25,000 figure would probably be effective on the day the bill is signed by the President, or possibly an effective start date of January 1, 2006. If you’re going to buy one of these heavy vehicles, my advice is sooner rather than later.