In December, people start thinking about how they’re going change their act come January. If we’re talking about managing fleet taxes, though, why wait? There’s still time to tie up loose ends for the current calendar year while re-focusing your fleet tax compliance efforts for 2016.
Here are some tips to help you get on track this month:
Make a list
The term “fleet taxes” covers a huge range of taxes and fees that fleets typically must pay, including fuel taxes, vehicle licensing fees, and use taxes.
These taxes and fees can be federal, provincial, state, or administered by other levels of government. It sounds like a lot to manage – and it is. A missed payment or late return can strip you of your credentials when you need them the most.
You need to be organized and systematic about meeting every filing date, paying what you owe (or collecting refunds), and reporting and storing accurate information.
Get a big calendar and mark down the deadlines for all the various forms and fees you pay. Account for everything, from quarterly IFTA returns to the annual fee for your US Customs transponder.
Who is in charge?
If you’re reading this, you’re probably responsible for fleet tax compliance at your company. Also, your job title probably is not “Fleet Tax Compliance Manager.” You’re more likely an accountant or CFO or owner or bookkeeper. Few companies have a person on staff who is dedicated solely to this type of work.
Make one person responsible for fleet tax compliance. Even if you hand the work off to a service bureau, they’re counting on you to provide the necessary details about where you run, the distances you travel, what you haul, how many trucks you have, and how those things might change as your company evolves.
I get more questions about IFTA than any other fleet tax compliance topic. A lot of calls come in when the quarterly fuel tax return is almost due and there’s a mad scramble for receipts and trip sheets to support the return.
Instead of waiting until the filing deadline, summarize your IFTA data every month and make it easy for your drivers to write and file the trip reports and receipts you need. Taking these two steps will do wonders for your compliance and sanity around filing time.Speaking of which, have you filed your three quarters of IFTA so far?
If you haven’t, or you have amounts owing, you’re in for a surprise when your base jurisdiction decides not to renew your IFTA license. Even tiny amounts of interest outstanding can derail your renewal.
Another thing you might not realize is that you can’t display your 2016 IFTA decal until one month before the expiry of your old one.
Most jurisdictions don’t pay any attention, but some, like Nevada, will write you up if you’ve covered up your old 2015 decal with a new 2016 decal before Dec. 1. Best to keep both years displayed.
IFTA has a grace period to Feb. 29, 2016, for you to display next year’s decals, but only if you’ve renewed your license by Dec. 31.Sometime in December, IFTA will post the grace period letter on its Web site (www.iftach.org).
UCR & URS
The UCR (Unified Carrier Registration) is a state-based registration program that allows you to register your fleet and pay fees through your base jurisdiction. Did you know that you can pay your UCR online with the State of Indiana (www.ucr.in.gov/ucrHome.html)? I see they now have a mobile version of this site allowing law enforcement to verify anywhere, anytime.
UCR is not the same as the Unified Registration System (URS), which will consolidate several different registration processes and do away with MC numbers. Instead, carriers will be identified only by their USDOT number. After a delay, the FMCSA released new implementation dates for carriers to use the URS: Dec. 12 for new entrant carriers and Sept. 30, 2016, for carriers that already have a USDOT number.
If you want to make fixing your fleet tax compliance problems a New Year’s resolution for 2016, you’re missing an opportunity.
There’s still time in 2015. If you work with a service bureau or fleet tax consultant, ask for help during the remaining days of December. Then start planning for the year ahead.
Sandy Johnson has been managing IFTA, IRP, and other fleet taxes for more than 25 years. She operates FleetTaxPro.com, which provides vehicle tax and license compliance services for trucking operations ranging from single vehicles to large fleets. She can be reached at 877-860-8025 or FleetTaxPro.com.