Julie Dale, CPA-Austin
Changes to the like-kind exchange rules in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) will have a major impact on the vehicle trade-in process. Under prior law, trading a vehicle in on the purchase of another vehicle triggered the like-kind exchange rules and resulted in the deferral of any gain or loss recognized on the old vehicle. Now that like-kind exchanges are restricted to real estate only under the TCJA, there is no like-kind exchange treatment for vehicle trade ins.
For passenger automobiles used in businesses, this change will potentially result in a tax benefit. The limits placed on depreciation on these vehicles almost guarantee a loss will be recognized when traded in to purchase a new vehicle. This loss will now be recognized when it would have been deferred under the old rules. There are still other limitations that may defer current recognition, such as the passive loss or at-risk basis limits.
For business trucks, the law change will result in a tax liability that many will not expect. Trucks with a gross vehicle weight rating 6,000 pounds or more are not subject to the passenger automobile depreciation limits. This can lead to a potential deduction in the year of purchase equal to the total cost of the truck if bonus depreciation applies or a Section 179 election is made.
For example, a corporation purchases a 2017 Ford F-250 on Oct. 1, 2017 for $60,000. Since 100 percent bonus depreciation applies to this purchase, the corporation deducts the entire $60,000 as depreciation expense in 2017. On Oct. 22, 2018, the corporation trades the 2017 Ford F-250 in on a purchase of a 2018 BMW M5. The trade-in allowance given is $45,000. This results in ordinary income of $45,000 to the corporation on the trade-in allowance, an $18,000 depreciation deduction for the BMW, and a tax liability increased by $5,670 (21 percent of the difference). Under prior law, there would have been no gain recognized and no federal income taxes owed on this transaction.
This is a good example of why it is so important that taxpayers seek tax advice when considering a transaction even as mundane as trading in a vehicle. If this trade in was not truly necessary, then the tax bill of $5,670 could be avoided by seeking advice in advance. If the trade in was necessary, at least the corporation would be able to plan for the tax bill early instead of finding out when the 2018 tax return is prepared.