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Deducting auto loan interest on your federal income tax return is not allowed for typical borrowers. But if you’re self-employed and use your car for business, you may be able to write off at least a portion of your interest payment.Of course, any time you’re dealing with taxes and the IRS, it’s important to follow the rules, keep accurate records, and be cautious about claiming any deduction. If you’re unsure about whether this particular tax strategy is right for you, you may want to consult with a professional advisor.
What Is Auto Loan Interest?Auto loan interest is a finance charge you may pay when you borrow money from a lender to finance the purchase of a car, a truck, or some other type of vehicle.There are different types of auto loans. Some auto loans are interest-free with a 0% annual percentage rate (APR). Other auto loans may charge simple interest or precomputed interest. When you make your payment every month on a simple interest car loan, a portion of the money goes toward paying the interest you owe and the rest goes toward the principal balance. The percentage of the payment going toward principal may increase over the life of the loan.Because auto loans are secured loans in most cases — that is, the car is usually pledged as collateral — the interest rates are typically lower than they are for unsecured loans. But paying car loan interest over time still adds up, so you can’t blame car owners for wondering whether they can write off those monthly interest charges on their taxes.Recommended: What Is the Average Car Loan Length?
Is Auto Loan Interest Deductible?Unfortunately, car loan interest isn’t deductible for all taxpayers. You can’t write off any of the interest you pay on your auto loan if you’re a typical W-2 employee and use your car to report to work for an employer. Using your car in those circumstances is generally not considered a business expense.But if you own your business or you’re self-employed, it’s a different story. You can, with some limits, deduct the interest you pay on debts that are directly connected to your business. And that may include the interest on an auto loan if the car is for work, or for work and personal use.Here’s how that breaks down depending on how you use the car:
If You Financed a Personal VehicleIf you’re a freelancer, independent contractor, gig worker, or small business owner, chances are you use your car for work at least part of the time. Which means that even if you financed the car as a personal vehicle, you may still be able to write off some of the loan interest as a car-related business expense (just as you might deduct other costs, such as gas, tolls, and licenses) on Schedule C of your tax return. The amount you can deduct will depend on how you use your car.For example, if your car use was 60% business and 40% personal (based on the total miles you drove in the tax year), you can deduct only 60% of the amount of interest paid.
If You Financed a Business VehicleIf you own a small business or operate as a limited liability company (LLC), you may have financed your car with a business or commercial auto loan, using your business name and making payments with your business bank account.If that’s the case, it’s likely you’re using the car or truck solely for business purposes. (The lender may even require that you document how you’ll use the car.) And that means you can write off 100% of your car interest costs for the year.
How Do You Write Off Car Loan Interest?There are two ways to deduct car loan interest on your federal income tax return, and there are pros and cons regarding each, depending on how you use your car. If you qualify to use both methods, you may want to run the numbers to determine which might be better for you.Both methods require tracking your business and personal mileage for the year as well as some car expenses. So no matter which one you choose, you’ll want to keep complete, clear, and organized records to make things easier when you fill out your tax return, and to use as backup in case the IRS questions the deduction.
Actual Expenses MethodIf you choose to use the actual expenses method, you may deduct all eligible car expenses that were directly related to your work in that tax year — including auto loan interest. But remember, you can write off only the portion that was used for business.IRS publication 463, “Travel, Gift, and Car Expenses,” lists actual car expenses as:
- Depreciation (with limits)
- Licenses and registration fees
- Gas and oil
- Lease payments (with limits)
- Garage rental and parking fees
- Interest (if you are self-employed and use the car for business)
Standard Mileage Rate MethodIf you opt for the standard mileage deduction, your main record-keeping focus will be on the number of business miles you drive.To calculate your deduction, you’ll multiply the business miles for the year by the IRS-established standard mileage rate. For your business car usage in 2022, the standard mileage rate is 58.5 cents per mile from Jan. 1 through June 30 and 62.5 cents per mile from July 1 through Dec. 31.If you decide to use the standard mileage rate method, you can’t deduct all of your car’s costs as you would with the actual expense method. Many of those costs — including gas, oil, registration fees, insurance, maintenance, and repairs — are already factored into the standard mileage rate. But you still can deduct the business portion of your car loan interest, as well as business-related parking fees and tolls, and personal property taxes on the vehicle.Taxpayers who choose the standard mileage rate method must use it in the first year the vehicle is available for business use. After that, they can switch back and forth between the standard mileage rate method and the actual expenses method.
Can Auto Loan Interest Be Deducted If It Isn’t a Business Expense?The IRS lists six types of interest that are deductible on a federal income tax return:
- Qualified mortgage interest
Unless you’re using a vehicle you financed for non-farm or farm business, you shouldn’t expect to get a tax deduction for the interest you pay on an auto loan.
- Interest incurred to produce rents or royalties (this may be limited)
Is There a Tax Benefit to Auto Loan Refinancing?There are some pros and cons to auto loan refinancing. Depending on your personal circumstances, refinancing may be an option worth considering if you’re looking to free up some cash flow for business or personal needs. And though it might not be the primary reason to refinance, as a bonus there could be some tax benefits should you go that route.You may consider cash-out auto refinancing or cash-back refinancing. For example, let’s say your pickup truck is worth $8,000 and you owe just $4,000. If you refinanced for $6,500, you’d still owe less than what the truck is worth, and you’d have $2,500 left over after you paid off the old loan. You could put that money into your business or use it to tide you over between freelancing jobs. And as long as you’re using the truck for business, you can write off at least a portion of the interest on your taxes each year.Refinancing may also be a strategy worth exploring if you hope to lower your monthly car loan payments by qualifying for a lower interest rate or extending the length of the loan.Keep in mind, though, that if the length of the loan is extended, you could end up paying more in interest over the long haul — so you’ll want to choose the refinancing option that’s right for you. It can be helpful to use an auto refinancing comparison site like Lantern by SoFi to review the refinancing rates and terms lenders are currently offering, then crunch the numbers before deciding to move to a new loan.Recommended: What Is the Average APR for a Car Loan?
The TakeawayYou can’t deduct your car loan principal payments on your taxes, but if you’re self-employed and you’re financing a car you use for work, all or a portion of the auto loan interest may be tax deductible. The amount you can deduct will depend on how many miles you drive for business vs. personal use. And you’ll have to track your mileage and keep good records in order to file an accurate tax return.If you’re financing your car — or thinking about refinancing your auto loan — deducting the interest and other car expenses may be a money-saving strategy worth exploring. Lantern by SoFi can help you find an auto refinance loan that’s right for you. Just complete a form and see your options.Compare auto loan refinance rates with Lantern.
Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.
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About the Author
Kim Franke-FolstadKim Franke-Folstad is an award-winning journalist with 30 years of experience writing and editing for newspapers, magazines and websites. Her work for SoFi covers a range of topics related to personal finance, including budgeting, saving, borrowing, and investing.