How would you like to squeeze more time out of your busy week, cut down on record-keeping duties, and reduce piles of paperwork and old receipts? The optional standard mileage rates for business vehicles can help you do just that. Businesses that operate up to four vehicles at the same time can deduct this standard mileage rate rather than keeping track of depreciation, gas, and repairs.

The business standard mileage rate for 2013 is 56.5 cents-per-mile. The business rate reflects, among other things, gasoline, depreciation and maintenance costs each year. The business standard mileage rate for 2012 has been 55.5 cents-per-mile (the same as for the second half of 2011 and up from 51 cents-per-mile for the first half of 2011).

Four or more vehicles

Businesses using no more than four vehicles for business purposes can use the business standard mileage rate. Generally, the IRS prohibits taxpayers from using the business standard mileage rate to compute the deductible expenses of five or more vehicles the taxpayer owns or leases and uses simultaneously, such as in a fleet operation.

Depreciation

The depreciation component of the business standard mileage rate is 23 cents-per-mile for 2013, the same as for 2012. In 2011 the rate was 22 cents-per-mile. Businesses that use the standard mileage rate are not allowed to take actual depreciation deduction amounts, even if they are higher than the depreciation component. Before deciding to use the standard mileage rate, a look at whether you will do better under the actual expense method, which includes actual depreciation, should be considered. Especially for circumstances in which Code Section 179 expensing and/or bonus depreciation is available; taking actual expenses, including actual depreciation, may be worth the effort.

Luxury vehicle caps. If actual depreciation is taken on a business vehicle, Congress wanted to be sure that vehicles selling above a certain price point did not enable their owners to take a larger write-off because of that premium cost. The “luxury vehicle” limits are designed to do just that, although taxpayers may debate the price points above which Congress set the “luxury” level. For example, using the standard mileage rate to value an employee’s personal use of a business vehicle is not allowed if the vehicle is valued at more than $15,900 for 2012 (projected to rise to $16,000 in 2013); Light trucks or vans are governed by a slightly higher level of $16,700 for 2012 (and $17,000 for 2013). This value also translates into the cap allowed on depreciation taken each year on the vehicle. For example, the maximum depreciation deduction for passenger automobiles first placed in service by the taxpayer in the 2012 calendar year is $3,160 for the first year (in addition to $8,000 for bonus depreciation, if applicable). For light trucks and vans, the first year cap is slightly higher: $3,360 (but with the same additional $8,000 deduction for bonus depreciation).

Special rules for heavy SUVs. For many years, SUV owners enjoyed a special tax break, often referred to as the “SUV loophole.” As explained, the “luxury car” rules place strict limits on the maximum amount of depreciation that may be claimed on passenger automobiles, including trucks and vans, during each year of a vehicle’s recovery (depreciation) period. Generally, however, the luxury vehicle limits only apply to vehicles primarily used on public streets with an unloaded gross weight of 6,000 pounds or less. A truck or van, including an SUV built on a truck chassis, is not subject to the annual vehicle depreciation limitations if its gross vehicle weight rating (maximum loaded weight) is in excess of 6,000 pounds. This “loophole” treatment had allowed many taxpayers who purchased an SUV with a gross weight in excess of 6,000 pounds to write off the entire cost in the year of purchase under the Code Sec. 179 expensing deduction.

Congress started to crack down on the so-called “SUV loophole” when, in the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004, it put the brakes on the cost of any SUV that may be expensed under Code Sec. 179 to $25,000, in addition to being counted toward the total caps on deductions for Code Sec. 179 property of all types. For example, a $139,000/$560,000 overall Section 179 expensing limits apply for 2012 (this is scheduled to drop to $25,000 for 2013, with a $200,000 investment ceiling, unless Congress takes further action). If the SUV is not built on a truck chassis or if it does not have a gross vehicle weight of more than 6,000 pounds, however, the “luxury vehicle” limit puts an even lower cap on those deductions. Nevertheless, heavy SUVs continue to benefit from a “bonus depreciation” loophole in the law in which a deduction for bonus depreciation is not capped for those vehicles not falling under the luxury-vehicle depreciation caps (that is, heavy SUVs). Although bonus depreciation applies to 2012, Congress may not extend it into 2013, or it may do so but without retaining what some have termed an unintended benefit for heavy SUV owners.

Bonus depreciation. Bonus depreciation for 2012 may be added to the available first-year deductions allowed on the purchase of a vehicle used for business if certain criteria are met. For most vehicles (those that are not fully depreciated in their first-year after applying the cap), business taxpayers claiming 50 percent bonus depreciation in 2012 are allowed an additional $8,000 in first year depreciation over and above the $3,160 first-year limit, for a total of $11,160 in the first tax year. Bonus depreciation, however, is for new vehicles only, and only if placed in service within the tax year. The section 179 expensing deduction, on the other hand, is available for both used and new vehicles.

Personal and business use

If you use your business vehicle for personal trips (including commuting back and forth from home and your principle business location) you must pro-rate your deduction to exclude the percentage of personal use. The magic number here is 50 percent. 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.

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