# Tax depreciation rules for business automobiles

If you use an automobile in your trade or business, you may wonder how depreciation tax deductions are determined. The rules are complicated, and special limitations that apply to vehicles classified as passenger autos (which include many pickups and SUVs) can result in it taking longer than expected to fully depreciate a vehicle.

Cents-per-mile vs. actual expenses

First, note that separate depreciation calculations for a passenger auto only come into play if you choose to use the actual expense method to calculate deductions. If, instead, you use the standard mileage rate (56 cents per business mile driven for 2021), a depreciation allowance is built into the rate.

If you use the actual expense method to determine your allowable deductions for a passenger auto, you must make a separate depreciation calculation for each year until the vehicle is fully depreciated. According to the general rule, you calculate depreciation over a six-year span as follows: Year 1, 20% of the cost; Year 2, 32%; Year 3, 19.2%; Years 4 and 5, 11.52%; and Year 6, 5.76%. If a vehicle is used 50% or less for business purposes, you must use the straight-line method to calculate depreciation deductions instead of the percentages listed above.

For a passenger auto that costs more than the applicable amount for the year the vehicle is placed in service, you’re limited to specified annual depreciation ceilings. These are indexed for inflation and may change annually.

• For a passenger auto placed in service in 2021 that cost more than \$59,000, the Year 1 depreciation ceiling is \$18,200 if you choose to deduct \$8,000 of first-year bonus depreciation. The annual ceilings for later years are: Year 2, \$16,400; Year 3, \$9,800; and for all later years, \$5,860 until the vehicle is fully depreciated.
• For a passenger auto placed in service in 2021 that cost more than \$51,000, the Year 1 depreciation ceiling is \$10,200 if you don’t choose to deduct \$8,000 of first-year bonus depreciation. The annual ceilings for later years are: Year 2, \$16,400; Year 3, \$9,800; and for all later years, \$5,860 until the vehicle is fully depreciated.
• These ceilings are proportionately reduced for any nonbusiness use. And if a vehicle is used 50% or less for business purposes, you must use the straight-line method to calculate depreciation deductions.

Heavy SUVs, pickups, and vans

Much more favorable depreciation rules apply to heavy SUVs, pickups, and vans used over 50% for business, because they’re treated as transportation equipment for depreciation purposes. This means a vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) above 6,000 pounds. Quite a few SUVs and pickups pass this test. You can usually find the GVWR on a label on the inside edge of the driver-side door.

After-tax cost is what counts

What’s the impact of these depreciation limits on your business vehicle decisions? They change the after-tax cost of passenger autos used for business. That is, the true cost of a business asset is reduced by the tax savings from related depreciation deductions. To the extent depreciation deductions are reduced, and thereby deferred to future years, the value of the related tax savings is also reduced due to time-value-of-money considerations, and the true cost of the asset is therefore that much higher.

# Need a new business vehicle? Consider a heavy SUV

Are you considering buying or replacing a vehicle that you’ll use in your business? If you choose a heavy sport utility vehicle (SUV), you may be able to benefit from lucrative tax rules for those vehicles.

Bonus depreciation

Under current law, 100% first-year bonus depreciation is available for qualified new and used property that’s acquired and placed in service in a calendar year. New and pre-owned heavy SUVs, pickups and vans acquired and put to business use in 2021 are eligible for 100% first-year bonus depreciation. The only requirement is that you must use the vehicle more than 50% for business. If your business usage is between 51% and 99%, you can deduct that percentage of the cost in the first year the vehicle is placed in service. This generous tax break is available for qualifying vehicles that are acquired and placed in service through December 31, 2022.

The 100% first-year bonus depreciation write-off will reduce your federal income tax bill and self-employment tax bill, if applicable. You might get a state tax income deduction, too.

Weight requirement

This option is available only if the manufacturer’s gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) is above 6,000 pounds. You can verify a vehicle’s GVWR by looking at the manufacturer’s label, usually found on the inside edge of the driver’s side door where the door hinges meet the frame.

Note: These tax benefits are subject to adjustment for non-business use. And if business use of an SUV doesn’t exceed 50% of total use, the SUV won’t be eligible for the expensing election, and would have to be depreciated on a straight-line method over a six-tax-year period.

Detailed, contemporaneous expense records are essential — in case the IRS questions your heavy vehicle’s claimed business-use percentage.

That means you’ll need to keep track of the miles you’re driving for business purposes, compared to the vehicle’s total mileage for the year. Recordkeeping is much simpler today, now that there are apps and mobile technology you can use. Or simply keep a small calendar or mileage log in your car and record details as business trips occur.

If you’re considering buying an eligible vehicle, doing so and placing it in service before the end of this tax year could deliver a big write-off on your 2021 tax return. Before signing a sales contract, consult with us to help evaluate the right tax moves for your business.

# 5 key points about bonus depreciation

You’re probably aware of the 100% bonus depreciation tax break that’s available for a wide range of qualifying property. Here are five important points to be aware of when it comes to this powerful tax-saving tool.

1. Bonus depreciation is scheduled to phase out

Under current law, 100% bonus depreciation will be phased out in steps for property placed in service in calendar years 2023 through 2027. Thus, an 80% rate will apply to property placed in service in 2023, 60% in 2024, 40% in 2025, and 20% in 2026, and a 0% rate will apply in 2027 and later years.

For certain aircraft (generally, company planes) and for the pre-January 1, 2027 costs of certain property with a long production period, the phaseout is scheduled to take place a year later, from 2024 to 2028.

Of course, Congress could pass legislation to extend or revise the above rules.

2. Bonus depreciation is available for new and most used property

In the past, used property didn’t qualify. It currently qualifies unless:

• The taxpayer previously used the property and
• The property was acquired in certain forbidden transactions (generally acquisitions that are tax free or from a related person or entity).

3. Taxpayers should sometimes make the election to turn down bonus depreciation

Taxpayers can elect to reject bonus depreciation for one or more classes of property. The election out may be useful for sole proprietorships, and business entities taxed under the rules for partnerships and S corporations, that want to prevent “wasting” depreciation deductions by applying them against lower-bracket income in the year property was placed in service — instead of against anticipated higher bracket income in later years.

Note that business entities taxed as “regular” corporations (in other words, non-S corporations) are taxed at a flat rate.

4. Bonus depreciation is available for certain building improvements

Before the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), bonus depreciation was available for two types of real property:

• Land improvements other than buildings, for example fencing and parking lots, and
• “Qualified improvement property,” a broad category of internal improvements made to non-residential buildings after the buildings are placed in service.

The TCJA inadvertently eliminated bonus depreciation for qualified improvement property.

However, the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) made a retroactive technical correction to the TCJA. The correction makes qualified improvement property placed in service after December 31, 2017, eligible for bonus depreciation.

5. 100% bonus depreciation has reduced the importance of “Section 179 expensing”

If you own a smaller business, you&rsqu;ve likely benefited from Sec. 179 expensing. This is an elective benefit that — subject to dollar limits — allows an immediate deduction of the cost of equipment, machinery, off-the-shelf computer software and some building improvements. Sec. 179 has been enhanced by the TCJA, but the availability of 100% bonus depreciation is economically equivalent and has greatly reduced the cases in which Sec. 179 expensing is useful.

We can help

The above discussion touches only on some major aspects of bonus depreciation. This is a complex area with tax implications for transactions other than simple asset acquisitions. Contact us if you have any questions about how to proceed in your situation.

# Accelerate depreciation deductions with a cost segregation study

Is your business depreciating over a 30-year period the entire cost of constructing the building that houses your operation? If so, you should consider a cost segregation study. It may allow you to accelerate depreciation deductions on certain items, thereby reducing taxes and boosting cash flow. And under current law, the potential benefits of a cost segregation study are now even greater than they were a few years ago due to enhancements to certain depreciation-related tax breaks.

Depreciation basics

Business buildings generally have a 39-year depreciation period (27.5 years for residential rental properties). Most times, you depreciate a building’s structural components, including walls, windows, HVAC systems, elevators, plumbing and wiring, along with the building. Personal property — such as equipment, machinery, furniture and fixtures — is eligible for accelerated depreciation, usually over five or seven years. And land improvements, such as fences, outdoor lighting and parking lots, are depreciable over 15 years.

Often, businesses allocate all or most of their buildings’ acquisition or construction costs to real property, overlooking opportunities to allocate costs to shorter-lived personal property or land improvements. In some cases — computers or furniture, for example — the distinction between real and personal property is obvious. But the line between the two is frequently less clear. Items that appear to be “part of a building” may in fact be personal property, like removable wall and floor coverings, removable partitions, awnings and canopies, window treatments, signs and decorative lighting.

In addition, certain items that otherwise would be treated as real property may qualify as personal property if they serve more of a business function than a structural purpose. This includes reinforced flooring to support heavy manufacturing equipment, electrical or plumbing installations required to operate specialized equipment, or dedicated cooling systems for data processing rooms.

Identifying and substantiating costs

A cost segregation study combines accounting and engineering techniques to identify building costs that are properly allocable to tangible personal property rather than real property. Although the relative costs and benefits of a cost segregation study depend on your particular facts and circumstances, it can be a valuable investment.

Speedier depreciation tax breaks

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) enhances certain depreciation-related tax breaks, which may also enhance the benefits of a cost segregation study. Among other things, the act permanently increased limits on Section 179 expensing, which allows you to immediately deduct the entire cost of qualifying equipment or other fixed assets up to specified thresholds.

The TCJA also expanded 15-year-property treatment to apply to qualified improvement property. Previously this break was limited to qualified leasehold-improvement, retail-improvement and restaurant property. And it temporarily increased first-year bonus depreciation to 100% (from 50%).

Making favorable depreciation changes

Fortunately, it isn’t too late to get the benefit of speedier depreciation for items that were incorrectly assumed to be part of your building for depreciation purposes. You don’t have to amend your past returns (or meet a deadline for claiming tax refunds) to claim the depreciation that you could have already claimed. Instead, you can claim that depreciation by following procedures, in connection with the next tax return that you file, that will result in “automatic” IRS consent to a change in your accounting for depreciation.

Cost segregation studies can yield substantial benefits, but they’re not right for every business. We must judge whether a study will result in overall tax savings greater than the costs of the study itself. To find out whether this would be worthwhile for you, contact us.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has enhanced two depreciation-related breaks that are popular year-end tax planning tools for businesses. To take advantage of these breaks, you must purchase qualifying assets and place them in service by the end of the tax year. That means there’s still time to reduce your 2018 tax liability with these breaks, but you need to act soon.

Section 179 expensing

Sec. 179 expensing is valuable because it allows businesses to deduct up to 100% of the cost of qualifying assets in Year 1 instead of depreciating the cost over a number of years. Sec. 179 expensing can be used for assets such as equipment, furniture and software. Beginning in 2018, the TCJA expanded the list of qualifying assets to include qualified improvement property, certain property used primarily to furnish lodging and the following improvements to nonresidential real property: roofs, HVAC equipment, fire protection and alarm systems, and security systems.

The maximum Sec. 179 deduction for 2018 is \$1 million, up from \$510,000 for 2017. The deduction begins to phase out dollar-for-dollar for 2018 when total asset acquisitions for the tax year exceed \$2.5 million, up from \$2.03 million for 2017.

100% bonus depreciation

For qualified assets that your business places in service in 2018, the TCJA allows you to claim 100% first-year bonus depreciation • compared to 50% in 2017. This break is available when buying computer systems, software, machinery, equipment and office furniture. The TCJA has expanded eligible assets to include used assets; previously, only new assets were eligible.

However, due to a TCJA drafting error, qualified improvement property will be eligible only if a technical correction is issued. Also be aware that, under the TCJA, certain businesses aren’t eligible for bonus depreciation in 2018, such as real estate businesses that elect to deduct 100% of their business interest and auto dealerships with floor plan financing (if the dealership has average annual gross receipts of more than \$25 million for the three previous tax years).

Keep in mind that Sec. 179 expensing and bonus depreciation can also be used for business vehicles. So purchasing vehicles before year end could reduce your 2018 tax liability. But, depending on the type of vehicle, additional limits may apply.

Investing in business assets is a traditional and powerful year-end tax planning strategy, and it might make even more sense in 2018 because of the TCJA enhancements to Sec. 179 expensing and bonus depreciation. If you have questions about these breaks or other ways to maximize your depreciation deductions, please contact us at 205-345-9898.

Businesses that acquire, construct or substantially improve a building — or did so in previous years — should consider a cost segregation study. It may allow you to accelerate depreciation deductions, thus reducing taxes and boosting cash flow. And the potential benefits are now even greater due to enhancements to certain depreciation-related breaks under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA).

Real property vs. tangible personal property

IRS rules generally allow you to depreciate commercial buildings over 39 years (27½ years for residential properties). Most times, you’ll depreciate a building’s structural components — such as walls, windows, HVAC systems, elevators, plumbing and wiring — along with the building. Personal property — such as equipment, machinery, furniture and fixtures — is eligible for accelerated depreciation, usually over five or seven years. And land improvements — fences, outdoor lighting and parking lots, for example — are depreciable over 15 years.

Too often, businesses allocate all or most of a building’s acquisition or construction costs to real property, overlooking opportunities to allocate costs to shorter-lived personal property or land improvements. In some cases — computers or furniture, for instance — the distinction between real and personal property is obvious. But often the line between the two is less clear. Items that appear to be part of a building may in fact be personal property, like removable wall and floor coverings, removable partitions, awnings and canopies, window treatments, signs and decorative lighting.

In addition, certain items that otherwise would be treated as real property may qualify as personal property if they serve more of a business function than a structural purpose. This includes reinforced flooring to support heavy manufacturing equipment, electrical or plumbing installations required to operate specialized equipment, or dedicated cooling systems for data processing rooms.

A cost segregation study combines accounting and engineering techniques to identify building costs that are properly allocable to tangible personal property rather than real property. Although the relative costs and benefits of a cost segregation study depend on your particular facts and circumstances, it can be a valuable investment.

Depreciation break enhancements

Last year’s TCJA enhances certain depreciation-related tax breaks, which may also enhance the benefits of a cost segregation study. Among other things, the act permanently increased limits on Section 179 expensing. Sec. 179 allows you to immediately deduct the entire cost of qualifying equipment or other fixed assets up to specified thresholds.

The TCJA also expanded 15-year-property treatment to apply to qualified improvement property. Previously this break was limited to qualified leasehold-improvement, retail-improvement and restaurant property. And it temporarily increased first-year bonus depreciation to 100% (from 50%).

Assess the potential savings

Cost segregation studies may yield substantial benefits, but they’re not right for every business. To find out whether a study would be worthwhile for yours, contact us  at 205-345-9898 for help assessing the potential tax savings.