Can you deduct your car on your taxes?

As a car company, we often get customers asking us, “Can you deduct your car on your taxes?They’re not alone: Americans everywhere are starting to think through their finances as tax season approaches. But most people don’t know all the ways that their cars can have an impact on their returns, or vice versa. We’ve rounded up some of the best tips you need to know to maximize your money. 

Your taxes and your [next] car

Perhaps the most obvious way to get the most out of tax season is if you receive a refund from the government after filing your return. The average American receives about $2,900 back on their annual tax refund. Compare that to the average used car price of about $20,000, and an average 12 percent down payment of $2,400. So it’s easy to see how that extra cash windfall can literally pay for a new set of wheels. It’s no wonder why TurboTax lists replacing your car as one of the best ways to spend your tax refund. Some people also use that cash to pay for service or upgrades to their current vehicle. 

One of the hidden benefits to putting a tax return towards a car’s down payment is that you can generally either afford a more expensive car (a higher-value asset). Alternatively, you can apply more money towards the down payment, which can lower your overall loan amount and APR. Keep in mind that high-quality used cars tend to retain their value better than brand new cars, so your money will go farther if you choose to buy used. 

Moreover, if you purchased or used a car for professional purposes (for example, a van for your catering business), you can also write that off on your taxes. Here’s a full rundown of the tax considerations for business vehicles.

Other Ways to Use Your Car on Your Taxes

Even if you don’t have a refund coming your way, you can still take advantage of some vehicle-related benefits come tax season.  You can deduct sales tax on a car purchase for local and state taxes when you itemize your deductions. (Given the large price tag of a new car, that’s a lot of sales tax).

On the flip side, if you live in certain states, you can also get a huge sales tax benefit by trading in a car. Those states will let you apply your trade-in credit to the total price before tax is applied, meaning it will bring down the overall taxable amount. So you’ll end up paying much less in sales tax upfront. 

Pro tip: Run the numbers first to see what your payments and APR might be when accounting for that extra cash. Better yet, get prequalified to get an accurate estimate of your monthly payments upfront. (Shift’s prequalification tool even lets you shop based on your predicted loan terms.) That’s some savvy financial planning.

How to Pay for a Car — Everything You Need to Know

A car is the second most expensive real asset that most people have, and one of the biggest purchases most people ever make. It’s a big decision and can have a meaningful impact on your monthly budget and financial position. So, how do you pay for a car? We’ve compiled out best tips and tricks.

To finance, or not to finance?

Many of our customers choose to pay for their car with financing even if they have cash on hand — there are a few benefits to doing so.

  • Build your credit: Financing an auto loan can build credit in a few ways. Expanding your available credit and maintaining a history of on-time payments can improve your FICO score. Auto loans are a type of “installment credit,” which means they are paid in fixed installments over a fixed time period. Many lenders view installment credit more favorably than “revolving credit,” like credit cards. You can learn more about credit score basics at Transunion.
  • Build an emergency fund: Personal financial managers generally recommend keeping enough money to cover 3-6 months of living expenses in the bank or a liquid investment account to help deal with unexpected major life disruptions, such as illness or job loss. If you don’t have an emergency fund, it may make sense to prioritize your money to start one and avoid going into debt when unplanned expenses occur.
  • Get a better return on your money: Many Shift customers get low interest rates on their auto loans, starting at 2-4% for well qualified buyers. Instead of paying for the car in cash, some choose to invest that cash to try to earn a higher return. The average term of an auto loan is 5 years. Morningstar Index Performance Return shows that the annualized returns of major stock indices over the past 5 years range from almost 9% to over 18%.Morningstar Index Performance Return
    For example, Jane Smith is deciding between paying cash or financing her $20,000 car purchase at a 3% interest rate. If she chooses to invest, such as in a low-cost index fund, she could grow that $20,000 to more than $32,000 after five years (assume 10% rate of return, where 10% is the average long term return in the stock market). She would pay less than $1,600 in total interest for the loan. That leaves her with more than $10,000 because she decided to invest instead of paying in cash. Consult your investment advisor to see what makes sense for you.
  • Protect your investment without paying everything upfront: Almost half of our financing customers choose to include a vehicle protection plan or gap coverage in their loan. These plans can be a good way to protect against the unexpected costs of owning a car, from breakdowns to accidents. They can typically be included in your financing package, so you don’t have to pay the full cost up front.

Although there are many benefits to financing your vehicle, there are also things to keep in mind.

Cars and taxes: your guide to maximize your money. 

What to consider in deciding how to pay for a car

  • Budget for interest cost: Unlike the 0% APR loans you may have seen advertised for new cars, interest rates for used cars won’t be lower than 2-4%. This means you will pay some amount of money every year in interest. Check out our car loan calculator to understand the cost of interest for your loan.
  • Be aware of hidden fees: Prepayment fees, balloon payments, or other hidden fees can catch borrowers off guard. Prepayment fees, for example, are charged by some lenders if you decide to fully pay off your loan prior to a certain date. If you finance with Shift, you don’t have to worry – Shift financing does not include hidden fees.
  • Shop around: Different lenders may offer different interest rates and terms to the same borrower, so there is a benefit to shopping around. When you apply for financing with Shift, we instantly provide you with the best offer from multiple lenders, so you get the benefit of shopping around without the hassle.

If you’re still deciding how much you can afford, we’ve built a handy car loan calculator to help you find a car that works for your budget. Even if you can afford to pay in cash, financing may make sense if you have better uses for your money, as long as you pay your monthly installments in full and on time. If you decide to finance, you can easily apply today from your Buyer Dashboard or from shift.com.

Please be sure to read your loan contract for the full terms of your specific loan.

Image via Alexa Mazzarello

Calculate the cost of your car

One of the most common discussions we have with customers deals with matching the right car to a given budget. It can be tough! We’ve seen cars that cost less than $10k, one car that cost $138k, and thousands of cars in between.

To help you better calibrate your car budget and get a better sense for the Shift inventory that matches it, we’ve created a quick and easy car loan calculator. Continue reading “Calculate the cost of your car”