By Sam Casteris
Many business owners and employees have to use a personal car for business purposes, and luckily it’s quite simple to claim these as business expenses following IRS regulations. In order to do so, it’s paramount that you keep accurate mileage and depreciation records. If you’re reading this thinking, “Oh no, I haven’t kept track of any of that this year.” You may have to wait until next year, but you have the ability to begin your record keeping soon, on January 1.
If you use your car for only business purposes, you can deduct its entire cost of operation, with some limitations discussed below. If you use your car for both business and personal purposes, you may only deduct the costs from business use.
In both cases, everything must be documented and strictly business-related. Keep reading for more on this to get started, and be sure to consult with a tax advisor. Each individual business situation is unique and can be very complex, so expert advice will definitely help ensure you are following all the rules correctly.
Keep Detailed Records
The IRS is very detail-oriented, and they expect you to be the same. Keep a record of all your expenses and business miles that you want to write off with a vehicle expense log. You can pick one of these up at most office supply or stationery stores. There are also a number of apps available for mileage tracking that will do it for you.
Items to support the deductions you claim include receipts, canceled checks, and bills. For each business trip, be sure to log the date, miles traveled, destination, and the purpose, such as whether it is for business, personal use, or your commute. For more information on record keeping, you can check out Topic No. 305 from the IRS.
Standard Mileage Rate
The IRS allows self-employed individuals and employees to use a standard mileage rate when submitting business claims. To use the standard mileage rate for a car, you must own or lease the car and use it in within the first year of your business. It’s fairly simple to track your total mileage for the year–write down the odometer reading of the first day you start using the car for business purposes and on the day the year ends.
Business miles include anything actually driven for business, such as visiting a client, going to the bank, or meeting with an accountant or lawyer. All of this counts towards your deduction, as well as the cost of parking fees and tolls you pay for the business.
If you’re self-employed, you can deduct your car loan interest that’s related to the business use of the car. Commuting time and running personal errands is travel that is not considered business related. For the most up-to-date standard mileage rate, check out Publication 463 from the IRS.
Actual Vehicle Expenses
The other method for claiming your personal car for business use is called the actual expense method. To utilize this, you must determine the actual cost to own and operate the car for business purposes. This includes gas, oil, repairs, insurance, licenses, tires, registration fees, and lease payments from the total business miles driven.
Depreciation is the amount you can deduct overtime for standard wear and tear the vehicle obtains over time. If you use the standard mileage rate, you cannot deduct depreciation on the vehicle, unless you use your car for 50% or less for business reasons.
Typically, the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System is the only method that can be used if your car was placed in service after 1986, but be sure to check with a tax advisor. Depreciation can be a very complicated subject and you want to make sure you are doing it right for your business. For more information, refer to Topic No. 704 from the IRS.
Knowing the different types of car ownership will help you determine how to claim your car for business use the correct way. A sole proprietor or self-employed owner is one that is a single-member LLC and files a Schedule C their personal tax return. Like this, you can choose to use either the standard mileage rate or actual expense method.
An S Corporation/C Corporation requires a vehicle used for business to be owned by the corporation or by an employee. The method of claiming the deduction will depend on this ownership. If the vehicle is owned by an employee or a shareholder-employee, they can submit a request for reimbursement to their employer based on their documented business miles.
Typically, the corporation or business can then reimburse the employee based on the standard rate. It’s also generally easier for a business to allow an employee to use their own personal vehicle for work and submit an expense reimbursement request. This puts the responsibility of record-keeping on the employee, which saves time and money for the employer.
Sam Casteris is a research-driven content writer with experience in health and wellness, travel, small business, and finance. She plans to deduct the business-use of her car this year.