If you’re self-employed and use your car for business, you can deduct certain business-related car expenses. There are two options for claiming deductions:
Actual expenses. To use the actual expense method, you need to figure out the actual costs of operating the car for business use. You are allowed to deduct the business-related portion of costs related to gas, oil, repairs, tires, insurance, registration fees, licenses and depreciation (or lease payments).
Standard mileage rate. To use the standard mileage deduction, multiply 56 cents (in 2021) by the number of business miles traveled during the year.
Deduct car expenses such as parking fees and tolls attributable to business use separately no matter which method you choose.
Which method Is better?
For some taxpayers, using the standard mileage rate produces a larger deduction. Others fare better tax-wise by deducting actual expenses. You may use either of these methods whether you own or lease your car.
To use the standard mileage rate for a car you own, you must choose to use it in the first year the car is available for use in your business. In subsequent years, you can choose to use the standard mileage rate or actual expenses.
If you choose the standard mileage rate and lease a car for business use, you must use the standard mileage rate method for the entire lease period, including renewals.
Opting for the standard mileage rate method allows you to bypass certain limits and restrictions and is simpler; however, it’s often less advantageous in dollar terms. Generally, the standard mileage method benefits taxpayers who have less expensive cars or travel many business miles.
The standard mileage rate may understate your costs, especially if you use the car 100 percent (or close to it) for business.
Tax law requires that you keep travel expense records and that you show business versus personal use on your tax return. Furthermore, if you don’t keep track of the number of miles driven and the total amount you spent on the car, your tax adviser won’t be able to determine which of the two options is more advantageous for you at tax time.
It is essential to keep careful records of your travel expenses (if you use the actual expenses method, you must keep receipts) and record your mileage.
You can use a mileage logbook or, if you’re tech-savvy, an app on your phone or tablet. Several phone applications (apps) are available to help you track your business expenses, including mileage and billable time. These apps also allow you to create formatted reports that are easy to share with your CPA, enrolled agent or tax preparer.
To simplify your recordkeeping, consider using a separate credit card for business.
This column is for information only and should not be considered advice. For this or any other tax issues, it is advisable to consult a knowledgeable taxation professional.
Norm Grill, CPA, (N.Grill@GRILL1.com) is managing partner of Grill & Partners, LLC (www.GRILL1.com), certified public accountants and consultants to closely held companies and high-net-worth individuals, with offices in Fairfield and Darien, 203-254-3880.