2019 Last-Minute Year-End Tax Deductions for Existing Vehicles

Yes, December 31 is just around the corner.

That’s your last day to find tax deductions available from your existing business and personal (yes, personal) vehicles that you can use to cut your 2019 taxes. But don’t wait. Get on this now!

1. Take Your Child’s Car and Sell It

We know—this sounds horrible. But stay with us. What did you do with your old business car? Do you still have it? Is your child driving it? Or does your spouse have it as a personal car?

We ask because that old business vehicle could have a big tax loss embedded in it. If so, your strategy is easy: take the vehicle and sell it to a third party before December 31 so you have a tax-deductible loss this year.

Your loss deduction depends on your percentage of business use. That’s one reason to sell this vehicle now: the longer you let your spouse or teenager use it, the smaller your business percentage becomes and the less tax benefit you receive.

2. Cash In on Past Vehicle Trade-Ins

In the past (before 2018), when you traded vehicles, you pushed your old business basis to the replacement vehicle under the old Section 1031 tax-deferred exchange rules. (But remember, this rule doesn’t apply any longer to Section 1031 exchanges of vehicles or other personal property occurring after December 31, 2017.)

Regardless of whether you used IRS mileage rates or the actual-expense method for deducting your business vehicles, you could find a big deduction here.

Check out how Sam finds a $27,000 tax-loss deduction on his existing business car. Sam has been in business for 11 years, during which he

  • converted his original personal car to business use;
  • then traded in the converted car for a new business car (car 2);
  • then traded in car 2 for a replacement business car (car 3); and
  • then traded in car 3 for another replacement business car (car 4), which he is driving today.

During the 11 years Sam has been in business, he has owned four cars. Further, he deducted each of his cars using IRS standard mileage rates.

If Sam sells his mileage-rate car today, he realizes a tax loss of $27,000. The loss is the accumulation of 11 years of car activity, during which Sam never cashed out because he always traded cars before he knew anything about gain or loss. Further, Sam thought his use of IRS mileage rates was the end of it—nothing more to think about (wrong thinking here, too).

Because the trades occurred before 2018, they were Section 1031 exchanges and so deferred the tax results to the next vehicle. IRS mileage rates contain a depreciation component of which Sam was unaware. That’s one possible reason Sam unknowingly accumulated his big deduction.

To get a mental picture of how this one sale produces a cash cow, consider this: when Sam sells car 4, he is really selling four cars—because the old Section 1031 exchange rules added the old basis of each vehicle to the replacement vehicle’s basis.

Examine your car for this possible loss deduction. Have you been trading business cars? If so, your tax loss deduction could be big!

3. Put Your Personal Vehicle in Business Service

Lawmakers reinstated 100 percent bonus depreciation, and that creates an effective strategy that costs you nothing but can produce solid deductions.

Are you (or your spouse) driving a personal SUV, crossover vehicle, or pickup truck with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) greater than 6,000 pounds? Would you like to increase your tax deductions for this year? If so, place that personal vehicle in business service this year.

 © 2019 Bradford Tax Institute

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