Switch from the Milage-Rate to the Actual-Expense Method

Is the mileage rate sticking it to you?

Could you increase your tax deductions by switching from the IRS mileage rate to the actual-expense method? If so, you will be happy to learn you can make that switch.

When you choose the mileage rate, you elect out of the actual-expense method and also elect out of MACRS depreciation.

This does not mean that you are locked out forever. The IRS grants you two ways to escape from your original mileage-rate decision and switch to the actual-expense method.

Escape 1: The Early Escape

You can make an early escape out of your choice regarding the IRS mileage rate and totally undo that original decision. But you generally have to hurry to do that.

The “hurry” part means that you must amend your tax return before the original due date, including extensions.

Example. You bought a new vehicle in 2021, and when you filed your tax return on April 15, 2022, you chose the IRS mileage-rate method. Now, you realize that was a mistake. You have until 11:59 p.m. on October 17, 2022, to file an amended return and elect actual expenses, including the Section 179 deduction, bonus depreciation, and MACRS depreciation.

In other words, when you amend your return before the final extended filing date, you undo your original tax return position and replace it with the one in the amended return.

Once the final extended filing date passes (September 15 for calendar-year corporations and October 17 for individuals), your ability to undo the original return is gone.

But you can still come out ahead with the later escape.

Escape 2: The Later Escape

In the later escape, you simply switch from the IRS mileage-rate to the actual-expense method, using straight-line depreciation over the vehicle’s remaining useful life.

It’s possible to switch from the IRS mileage-rate to the actual-expense method with MACRS depreciation, but you need the consent of the IRS commissioner. Forget that. Getting consent is too expensive, too time-consuming, and too likely to face rejection.

And besides, the switch to straight-line depreciation works very well, as you’ll see.

To make the switch to the straight-line depreciation method, you need to know your vehicle’s

  1. adjusted basis,
  2. remaining useful life, and
  3. estimated salvage value at the end of its useful life.

Your adjusted basis is the original cost (or other basis) reduced by depreciation. Inside the IRS mileage rate is depreciation at so much a mile. For 2022, the depreciation that’s inside each 58.5- and 62.5-cent mile is 26 cents.

Example. You paid $45,000 for the business portion of your vehicle and drove it 5,000 business miles. Depreciation on the 5,000 miles is $1,300 (5,000 times 26 cents). Your adjusted business basis is $43,700 ($45,000 minus $1,300).

Your official “estimated useful life” is how long you expect to keep the vehicle. That’s easy. Say you estimate that you will keep the vehicle for three more years. So, three years is the estimated useful life at the time of your switch.

Next, you estimate your salvage value by using the Kelly Blue Book or other respected valuation guide. Here, you establish what you think you can reasonably sell the vehicle for at the end of its estimated useful life. Make sure to print or otherwise capture the valuation evidence for your tax file.

IRS grants a bonus reduction in salvage value. If you estimate your vehicle’s useful life at three years or more, you can reduce your salvage value estimate by an amount equal to 10 percent of your basis in the property.

Example. Say you estimate a salvage value of $15,000 on a vehicle with an adjusted basis of $43,700. By using the 10 percent bonus reduction in salvage value, you can reduce your estimated salvage value by $4,370, giving you a salvage value of $10,630 ($15,000 – $4,370).

Straight-line depreciation. With an adjusted basis of $43,700, and salvage value of $10,630, you are going to depreciate $33,070 ($43,700 – $10,630) over three years. Assuming there’s no change in your business mileage, your depreciation deduction for each of the three years is $11,023.

If your estimated salvage value is less than 10 percent of your adjusted basis at the time of the switch from the IRS mileage rate to actual expenses, you use the IRS salvage-value bonus to simply make your salvage value zero.

If you would like to explore the actual-expense method as a possibility for you, contact us today.

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