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Is Car Loan Interest Tax Deductible?

Is Car Loan Interest Tax Deductible?
Kim Franke-Folstad
Kim Franke-FolstadUpdated August 16, 2022
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Editor’s note: Lantern by SoFi seeks to provide content that is objective, independent and accurate. Writers are separate from our business operation and do not receive direct compensation from advertisers or partners. Read more about our Editorial Guidelines and How We Make Money.
Deducting auto loan interest on your income-tax return is not typically allowed. 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 what you pay when you borrow money from a lender to finance the purchase of a car, a truck, or some other type of vehicle. When you make your payment every month, a portion of the money goes toward paying the interest you owe and the rest goes toward the principal balance.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. Still, over time (the average new car loan is about 70 months), paying interest can make buying your car much more expensive. So you can’t blame car owners for wondering if and how they could write off those monthly interest charges on their taxes, the way they can with a home mortgage or a qualified student loan.

Is Auto Loan Interest Deductible?

Unfortunately, car loan interest isn’t deductible for all taxpayers. Should you use your car for work and  you’re an employee, you can’t write off any of the interest you pay on your auto loan. 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 Vehicle

If 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 still may 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 Vehicle

If 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 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 Method

If you choose to use the actual expenses method, you can 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
  • Tolls
  • Lease payments (with limits)
  • Insurance
  • Garage rental and parking fees
  • Repairs
  • Tires
  • Interest (if you are self-employed and use the car for business)
  • Personal property taxes

Standard Mileage Rate Method

If 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. (That’s 56 cents per mile for 2021.) 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 five types of interest that are deductible on an income tax return. 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. You may have heard that you could use a home equity loan or home equity line of credit (HELOC) to pay for a car and deduct the interest. This is no longer the case.  The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 suspended until 2026 the deduction for interest paid on home equity loans and lines of credit unless they are used to “buy, build or substantially improve the taxpayer’s home that secures the loan.” 

Is There a Tax Benefit to Auto Loan Refinancing?

Refinancing a car loan 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.  Let’s say your pickup 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 also may be a strategy worth exploring if you hope to lower your car payments by qualifying for a lower interest rate, by extending the length of the loan, or, if possible, doing both.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 find the best loan available. It can be helpful to use an auto refinancing comparison site like Lantern to review the refinancing rates and terms lenders are currently offering, then crunch the numbers before deciding to move to a new loan.

The Takeaway

You can’t deduct your car 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. But writing off the loan interest could help cut the cost of using your car for work. So 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.Compare auto loan refinancing rates today 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.
Photo credit: iStock/shapecharge

About the Author

Kim Franke-Folstad

Kim Franke-Folstad

Kim 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.
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