How Personal Property Taxes Work

Having to pay personal property taxes on watercraft can put a damper on that fun Jet Ski outing.
Having to pay personal property taxes on watercraft can put a damper on that fun Jet Ski outing.
Mustafa Ozer/AFP/Getty Images

You may already know that you need to pay property taxes on your real estate, like land, a house or a building. But what about your car, the new boat you just bought, or even Fido?

Depending on what state you live in, you could have to pay personal property tax on these and other items. Personal property taxes are usually assessed as a percentage of the value of an item. They can fall under county or state taxes, depending on where you live. Not all states tax personal property, however, and what is subject to personal property tax varies widely from state to state.

In some states, personal property tax refers to mostly household personal property items. Often that means a vehicle, like your car or truck. When buying such an item, you have to remember to take such taxes into consideration as part of the total cost. Expensive new cars often have the highest taxes, since personal property taxes are usually a percentage of the vehicle's worth.

In other states, the personal property tax only applies to businesses. In those states, the personal property is anything that can be removed from the business without damage to it. For example, you can't remove the walls of the business, so those aren't taxed under personal property. But you could take out the office furniture, which is something that many states do tax.

If you lived on a farm, the land would be taxed under real estate property taxes. If you lived in a state with personal property taxes, you might also have to pay personal property taxes on your farming equipment and your livestock.

­In this article you'll find out how personal property taxes are assessed from state to state and what can make your property tax bill change.

Personal Property Tax Assessments

Consider personal property tax costs before buying a recreational vehicle.
Consider personal property tax costs before buying a recreational vehicle.
Ann Johansson/Getty Images

Most states that tax personal property use a tax assessor to decide how much tax a person or business should pay. A tax assessor is a public official who determines the true value of an item. This true value is an amount that the average, unbiased buyer would pay for the item. Many states and their tax assessors use a blue book value to figure out the rate for various vehicles and equipment. The blue book value is what a vehicle dealer would pay to buy the item.

For example, in Virginia, the tax assessor uses the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) Blue Book value for cars, trucks, motorcycles and utility trailers. Recreational vehicles are determined based on the NADA Recreational Appraisal Guide. Vehicles have the most expensive personal property tax rates, at approximately $4.25 per $100, though it varies by county. Pleasure boats are taxed at $1.50 per $100 [sources: City of Virginia Beach, Smith].

Let's say you really like to be outdoors and travel across the country. Your family owns a sports utility vehicle, an all-terrain vehicle, a recreational vehicle and a boat. The tax assessor finds that the blue book value of your SUV is $10,650. Your ATV is worth $1,573, and your RV motor home is worth $26,845. Meanwhile, your fishing boat retails for $9,755. You have quite a few personal property taxes to pay!

To find the amount of taxes due, divide the assessed value by $100, and then multiply the result by the tax rate.

SUV: $10,650÷$100 = $106.50; $106.50 x $4.25 = $452.63

ATV: ÷$100 = $15.73; $15.73 x $.4.25 = $66.85

Recreational vehicles: $1.50 per $100

RV: $26,845 ÷ $100 = $268.45; $268.45 x $1.50 = $402.68

Pleasure boats: $1.50 per $100

Boat: $9,755 ÷ $100 = $97.55; $97.55 x $1.50 = $146.32

Total Personal Property Tax: $1,068.48

Your family has to pay more than $1,000 each year in personal property taxes for your vehicles. If you live in a state with personal property tax, consider the long-term cost when you buy a vehicle.

Many states' personal property taxes apply only to business expenses. In those cases, your personal vehicles would be exempt from paying taxes. If you owned a business, you could have to pay personal property taxes on furniture, fixtures, equipment, inventory, libraries and supplies. In Maryland, where personal property tax applies mostly to business-related items, both the county and the town would tax a business [source: Comptroller of Maryland]. That means if a business bought some furniture, it would pay personal property taxes on them once to the town, and then again to the county. Items such as office furniture that don't have a blue book to decide value are assessed based on original cost minus depreciation for age.

Some states also tax intangible assets under their personal property tax. Intangible assets are goods and items you can't actually own or touch. These would include stocks, bonds or patents, for example. Few states tax intangible assets on their personal property taxes. Most tax personal vehicles or business assets.

Read on to learn what can change your personal property tax bills.

How a Property Tax Bill Is Calculated

The General Motors building in New York City contains 50 stories. Its property value would be assessed based on the rental income generated by the occupying businesses.
The General Motors building in New York City contains 50 stories. Its property value would be assessed based on the rental income generated by the occupying businesses.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

The concepts behind the calculation of a property tax bill are pretty simple. We'll follow the path of the property tax bill for old Mr. MacDonald, who has a farm. Here is the basic formula:

((Property Value x Assessment Rate) - Exemptions) x Property Tax Rate = Tax Bill

The biggest variable in a property tax calculation in a given assessment area is usually the value of the property. Let's say that a recent appraisal valued Mr. MacDonald's property at $800,000.

His property would be added to what is usually called an assessment roll, a long list of all the taxable properties in an assessment area.

The assessment rate is a percentage set by the local government. This rate varies widely, from 33.33 percent in most of Illinois to 1 percent in Los Angeles (which adds other debt service tax rates to the assessment rate) [sources: Illinois Department of Revenue, Los Angeles County Office of the Assessor]. If a government needs to increase the revenue from property taxes, it's more likely to change the assessment rate than to change the property tax rate. Let's say the assessment rate in Mr. MacDonald's area is 10 percent.

$800,000 x 0.10 = $80,000

An exemption reduces the property assessment value. Many states have homestead exemptions and exemptions for senior citizens and the disabled. Let's say that Mr. MacDonald's property is eligible for $50,000 in exemptions.

$80,000 - $50,000 = $30,000

So, the taxable value of Mr. MacDonald's property is $30,000.

Actual property tax rates vary widely but are generally limited by law. Let's say the property tax rate in Mr. MacDonald's area is 2 percent.

$30,000 x 0.02 = $600

Mr. MacDonald's tax bill is $600. This $600 goes toward relieving the $2.5 million the local government needs to fill out the budget.

You might be thinking about how a property tax bill could change over the years. Go to the next page to learn about various factors that influence the size of a tax bill.

What Makes Personal Property Tax Bills Change?

Although a newer, nicer car might be more desirable, a beat-up car like this one will have low personal property taxes.
Although a newer, nicer car might be more desirable, a beat-up car like this one will have low personal property taxes.
Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images

Personal property tax bills do not fluctuate like real estate property taxes do, so while they do change over time, the amount doesn't change wildly from year to year.

For example, real estate property taxes are often based on a percentage of the market value of your property. Market value can oscillate based on the area around you. If your neighbors all renovate their homes, the market value for the area goes up, but then so do your real estate property taxes, even though you didn't do anything. Personal property taxes don't work that way. If all of your neighbors buy new cars, your car's personal property tax rate does not change. However, some circumstances can cause variations tax bills.

Rates change from year to year based on depreciation. In general, age and wear and tear make your items less valuable. However, even the same items can be taxed differently. For example, you and your neighbor own the same car. It's the same make, model, year and color, and you even have the exact same optional features on it. Seems like they should be taxed the same personal property tax, right? Not necessarily.

Let's say you take great care of your car. You wash and wax it regularly, keeping the inside and outside in good condition. You keep it in the garage, and because you work from home, you only drive it once a week to the store. When you do drive it, you park far away to be sure that it does not get dinged by runaway shopping carts.

Meanwhile, your neighbor commutes 50 miles to and from work every day. He drives 400 miles every other weekend to visit his family. He has gotten into a couple minor fender benders. Since they just dented his car a bit, he didn't get them fixed. Plus, he parks his car on the street, where the bumpers get scratched, and the paint is starting to fade from the weather.

Your car's exceptionally low mileage and great condition mean it's worth more than your neighbor's worn-down car, even though they're the same vehicle. However, because you have the nicer car, your car's market value is higher, and your personal property taxes will be higher too. Take heart knowing that you will make a lot more if you sell it -- and of course, you have the sweeter ride.

Personal property taxes don't fluctuate much within a state, but if you're moving to a new state, you may want to check its taxes. What is taxable may change. You might even be moving to a state without personal property taxes. Some states, such as Ohio have phased out their personal property tax [source: Ohio Department of Taxation]. And more than 20 states have no tax on vehicles.

To learn more about personal property taxes, follow the links on the next page.

Last editorial update on Jan 16, 2019 03:55:50 pm.

Related Articles

Sources

  • Clay County Historical Society. "1905 Personal Property Tax List." 9/10/05. http://www.info.co.clay.mn.us/history/1905_personal_property_tax_list.htm (Accessed 5/12/08)
  • Department of Revenue: Property Tax. "Personal Property Assessment and Taxation." 6/21/07. http://www.oregon.gov/DOR/PTD/IC_303_661.shtml (Accessed 5/12/08)
  • Office of the Treasurer. "Personal Property Tax." http://www.norfolk.gov/treasurer/personal_property_tax.asp (Accessed 5/12/08)
  • Ohio Department of Taxation. "Tangible Personal Property." http://tax.ohio.gov/divisions/communications/publications/documents/tangible_personal_property_tax.pdf (Accessed 5/12/08)
  • Saint Louis County Revenue. "Personal Property Information." http://revenue.stlouisco.com/Collection/ppInfo/ (Accessed 5/12/08)
  • State of Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation. "Assessment and Taxation of Business Personal Property in Maryland." January 2007. http://www.dat.state.md.us/sdatweb/pp_brochure.pdf (Accessed 5/12/08)
  • Washington State Department of Revenue. "Personal Property Tax." March 2007. http://dor.wa.gov/docs/Pubs/Prop_Tax/PersProp.pdf (Accessed 5/12/08)