Vehicle mileage deduction rate increases for 2019

Just about every family-owned and closely-held business relies on vehicles to get things done. From company cars for the bosses to service vehicles and delivery trucks, and of course your employee’s cars being utilized for business purposes, these vehicles can add up to be a considerable expense of the course of the year. Thankfully, the Federal Government permits us to deduct some of the cost of operating work vehicles on our annual tax forms. It’s a good thing, but the deduction can cause confusion if reporting and expensing accounting for them is absent or sloppy.

Even if you have decent accounting systems, another factor, if ignored, can cause confusion: Each year, the IRS adjusts the optional standard mileage rate businesses use to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile used for business. For 2019, that rate has increased by 3.5 cents, to the highest level since 2008. As a result, you might be able to claim a larger deduction for vehicle-related expense for 2019 than you can for 2018.

Actual costs vs. mileage rate

Businesses have a choice to make when it comes to how they plan to deduct their vehicle use expenses. On the one hand, they can deduct the actual expenses attributable to business use of vehicles. This includes gas, oil, tires, insurance, repairs, licenses and vehicle registration fees. In addition, you can claim a depreciation allowance for the vehicle. However, in many cases depreciation write-offs on vehicles are subject to certain limits that don’t apply to other types of business assets.

Keeping a daily log of business trip mileage is important justification when deducting vehicle mileage use at tax time.

The mileage rate comes into play when taxpayers don’t want to keep track of actual vehicle-related expenses. With this approach, you don’t have to account for all your actual expenses, although you still must record certain information, such as the mileage for each business trip, the date and the destination.

The mileage rate approach also is popular with businesses that reimburse employees for business use of their personal automobiles. Such reimbursements can help attract and retain employees who’re expected to drive their personal vehicle extensively for business purposes. Why? Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, employees can no longer deduct unreimbursed employee business expenses, such as business mileage, on their individual income tax returns.

But be aware that you must comply with various rules. If you don’t, you risk having the reimbursements considered taxable wages to the employees.

The 2019 rate

The business cents-per-mile rate is adjusted annually. It is based on an annual study commissioned by the IRS about the fixed and variable costs of operating a vehicle, such as gas, maintenance, repair and depreciation. Occasionally, if there is a substantial change in average gas prices, the IRS will change the mileage rate midyear.

Beginning on January 1, 2019, the standard mileage rate for the business use of a car (van, pickup or panel truck) is 58 cents per mile. For 2018, the rate was 54.5 cents per mile.

More considerations

There are certain situations where you can’t use the cents-per-mile rate. It depends in part on how you’ve claimed deductions for the same vehicle in the past or, if the vehicle is new to your business this year, whether you want to take advantage of certain first-year depreciation breaks on it.

As you can see, there are many variables to consider in determining whether to use the mileage rate to deduct vehicle expenses. Please don’t hesitate to contact a Cummings Keegan & Co. P.L.L.P. professional if you have questions about tracking and claiming such expenses in 2019 — or claiming them on your 2018 income tax return.

© 2019

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