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SUV Tax Deduction Gains Momentum

Posted on Tuesday, September 2nd, 2003 by

The new SUV tax bill quadruples the deduction available on small-business equipment purchases, which include trucks. The catch? You’ve got to buy a  big one.

The SUV loophole just got big enough to drive a Hummer through.

Among the provisions of the tax package just approved by Congress is an increase in the deduction allowed for small-business equipment purchases, which rises from $25,000 to $100,000. That means real estate agents, lawyers, doctors — anybody who files a Schedule C or corporate tax return — can write off the entire cost of virtually any big sport-utility vehicle. The potential tax savings in the top bracket is $35,000.

The dramatically higher limit greatly simplifies the math. The deduction for SUV purchases was already pretty hefty, but it came in three parts: A $25,000 equipment deduction, plus 30% of the remaining price (courtesy of the 2002 economic stimulus bill), plus the standard five-year depreciation schedule on the remainder. On a $72,000 Range Rover, the deduction came to about $45,000 the first year, for a tax savings of more than $16,000.

It’s so much easier — and cheaper — to write the whole thing off. Simply multiply the purchase price by your tax rate. The tax savings on that same Range Rover? More than $25,000 in the top brackets. In contrast, those who buy ultra-efficient gas-electric hybrids for personal use get a tax deduction of $2,000, worth at most $700.

The business deduction is proportional; that is, the write-off must reflect the percentage of the vehicle ‘s use that is devoted to business. The minimum is 50%. And the deduction applies only to vehicles designated as light trucks. Far less generous rules apply to business use of cars and smaller trucks.

Bigger is better. 

The catch is that the qualifying vehicle must have a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) over 6,000 lbs. That’s the weight of the truck plus its maximum payload. At one time, the limit was believed to be high enough to eliminate all but the loophole’s intended target, farm and industrial vehicles. Now added layers of safety and luxury equipment have made all vehicles porkier. Even some midsized sport-utilities just creep over that 6,000 GVWR line. (The GVWR typically is printed on the inside of the driver’s door; check as you shop.)

The least expensive SUV to cross the three-ton GVWR threshold is the Dodge Durango, which has a sticker price starting at about $29,000. All of that would be deductible under the new law and would save someone paying the top rates at least $10,000. (DaimlerChrysler currently offers a $4,500 rebate on the Durango, which would make the net outlay for a small business owner approximately $14,500 — half its MSRP.)

Only two sport-utilities would bust the $100,000 limit: the $105,160 Hummer H1 (last seen thundering across Iraq in olive drab), and the Porsche Cayenne, which, when loaded with features such as a 450-horsepower twin-turbo V-8 and a $2,300 spare tire, can top $100,000 and 150 mph with ease.

The most fuel-efficient SUV to qualify is the $39,500 BMW X5, with EPA ratings of 16 city and 21 highway. The worst? They’re so big they fall outside the scope of the rating system, but expect single digits — and remember that the cost of gasoline is deductible, too.

Bear in mind that this $100,000 SUV loophole could snap shut; lawmakers who led a failed effort earlier this year to remove preferential tax treatment for sport-utilities have promised to try again.

A shopping guide

Below is a chart of sport-utility vehicles with GVWR above 6,000 lbs., plus their EPA mileage ratings. In addition, all full-size pickup trucks and vans qualify for the deduction.

Write it off
SUV MSRP Mileage SUV MSRP Mileage
BMW X5 $39,500 16/21 Land Rover Discovery $34,350 12/16
Cadillac Escalade $53,855 12/16 Land Rover Range Rover $71,200 12/17
Chevrolet Suburban $39,750 14/18 Lexus LX 470 $63,625 13/17
Chevrolet Tahoe $35,015 14/18 Lexus GX 470 $44,925 15/18
Dodge Durango $28,995 14/18 Lincoln Navigator $49,225 11/16
Ford Expedition $34,390 14/18 Mercedes-Benz M-Class $37,320 15/19
Ford Excursion $39,690 Not rated* Mercedes-Benz G-500 $74,320 13/14
Hummer H2 $48,455 Not rated* Porsche Cayenne $55,900 14/18
Hummer H1 $105,160 Not rated* Toyota Land Cruiser $54,465 13/17
GMC Yukon $35,725 14/18 Toyota Sequoia $32,135 14/17

MSRP and mileage ratings of cheapest 4WD model
*Vehicles above 8,500 GVWR not rated

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