A novated lease may help you finance the cost of a car, and possibly some running expenses too, while potentially reducing your taxable income, according to ASIC’s Moneysmart. Some employees may also be offered one as part of their overall salary package. So how does it work, and what are some of the pros and cons of this type of agreement?
What is a novated lease or a salary sacrifice car?
A novated lease (also known as ‘salary sacrificing’ a car) is a three-way agreement between you, your employer and a finance company. It works by you asking your employer if they will agree to make lease repayments on a car using your pre-tax salary. If they agree you can then take out the lease with a finance company (which may be chosen by your employer). From there it will be your employer’s responsibility to make the lease repayments directly to the finance company on your behalf.
Types of car salary sacrificing or novated leases
There are typically two types of novated leases available – fully maintained and non-maintained. It’s up to your employer which type of lease, if any, they are willing to agree to.
1. Fully-maintained novated lease
If your employer offers this type of lease, both the purchase price of the vehicle (as well as any finance costs such as fees and interest) and its running costs (such as fuel, services, registration and car insurance) will be calculated into the repayments your employer takes out of your pre-tax salary.
For example, a finance company may provide you with a fuel card to use at particular petrol stations, or get you to send them the bills for your registration or car servicing. When it comes to car insurance, depending on the finance company you use, they may arrange insurance through a preferred provider, or allow you to use an insurer of your choice.
2. Non-maintained novated lease
Under this type of lease, only the purchase price of the vehicle plus administration fees and interest are calculated into the lease repayments taken from your pre-tax income. This means that you will be responsible for paying the running costs of the vehicle from your post-tax salary.
How do you apply for a novated lease?
To apply for a novated lease for your car, you can follow these five steps:
1. Talk with your employer
- To apply for a novated lease, you will first need to ask your employer if they offer this type of benefit.
- If you are offered one as part of your salary package (such as when you take on a new job or are promoted), there may be limits as to the type and value of the car, as well as other conditions.
- The lease itself is typically handled by an external fleet finance company, salary sacrificing (salary packaging) business or a similar organisation.
- Your employer may have a preferred organisation to use, or you may be able to choose your own – talk to your employer to find out their policy on this.
- It might also be a good idea to talk with a suitably qualified professional to obtain independent tax and financial advice around salary sacrificing and novated leases, before entering into any agreements.
- You will typically need to apply to the outside organisation and be approved for the salary sacrificing scheme (also called completing a credit application).
- The approval process is what you may expect with other financial agreements, in that the company may ask you for details about your income and expenses, and will most likely perform a credit check.
- The employer may also have to provide information about you to the company (as well as adjust their payroll records to accommodate the arrangement).
3. Set up a lease agreement
- The finance company you or your employer chooses will usually liaise with you and your employer to set up the lease agreement (sometimes called a deed of novation), including determining:
- the duration of the lease
- how many kilometres you expect to travel each year (to help calculate running costs, if they are included in the lease)
- the type of car you are after
These agreements must be made before your salary is deposited into your account, as you cannot salary sacrifice the cost of a vehicle after you’ve been paid. The ATO recommends you and your employer clearly state and agree on all of the terms of any salary sacrifice arrangement in writing.
4. Find a car, liaise with the company and begin the lease agreement
- This is where you get to go shopping for a new car. It’s important to note:
- Some organisations/employers will allow you to choose whatever car suits your budget (and your lease limits).
- Other organisations/employers may require you to select from a specific list or recommendations (such as only purchasing a new car) or that you purchase the car through a fleet company or a specific broker.
- You may also be able to salary sacrifice the cost of a car you already own, although there are rules around this, such as around the age of the vehicle.
- When you have made your decision, let the leasing organisation know. They typically handle the acquisition of the vehicle and scheduling of repayments. They will typically let you know how and when the car will be yours, and what date the lease agreement comes into effect. They will also provide you with a copy of that agreement, including the terms.
- You’ll have to also consider and choose car insurance for the vehicle, which may be included in the package or separate. Lease companies will typically have a requirement for a specific type and amount of insurance cover.
- Start driving your new car.
5. Have your payments deducted
- Once a novated lease is set up, your employer will deduct the repayments from your pre-tax salary and pay it to the finance company.
- The ATO says employees can renegotiate a novated least at any time, subject to the terms of their employment contract.
- The duration of the novated lease agreement can typically vary from one to five years. Unless set otherwise by your employer, you are usually free to choose the car you wish to lease, whether it’s new, used or, in some cases, even your existing car.
→ New car? Compare car insurance with Canstar
What happens at the end of a novated lease?
Once the novated lease period ends, there are several options you can consider, including:
1. Take out a new lease with a new car
If you want to upgrade to the latest model, you can do so by trading in your current leased vehicle and using the money from the trade to pay out the residual value of the car (which is what the car is worth at the end of the lease term). Once you have paid the residual amount, you can then enter into a new lease agreement for the new car.
2. Extend your current lease
You may be able to extend your current arrangement with the same car by refinancing the lease based on the vehicle’s residual value. However, it is important to consider the reliability of your current vehicle (as cars can experience mechanical issues as they age) before choosing this option.
3. Buy and keep the car
If you want to keep the car you have been leasing, you can usually purchase it by paying the residual value, often referred to as a balloon payment, to the finance company plus GST.
4. Sell the car
You also may be able to sell your leased car and use the money from the sale to pay the residual value. Your finance company or fleet provider may be able to assist with the sale of the vehicle.
How does a novated lease work with tax?
When you make repayments on a vehicle through your pre-tax salary, those repayments can reduce your taxable income and potentially lower the amount of tax you are required to pay each year, according to ASIC’s Moneysmart.
The ATO says goods and services tax (GST) does not apply to novated leases in the same way as it does to other types of car purchases. This means that the purchase price of the car, which your lease repayments are partly based on, could be lower with a novated lease than if you were buying the car outright. You need to factor in the overall cost of the lease, including fees and charges, before determining whether you might end up better off in the long run.
Fringe Benefits Tax (FBT)
There are tax implications for your employer when you receive a ‘fringe benefit’ – such as a car through salary sacrificing. The ATO says your employer must pay fringe benefits tax (FBT), which is calculated on the taxable value of the fringe benefits (e.g. the leased car). Your employer will need to calculate how much FBT they need to pay for the FBT year (1 April to 31 March) and lodge an FBT return.
Does FBT affect employees?
While it is your employer who is liable to pay FBT, they may choose to reduce your salary by the amount of FBT they pay, depending on your salary sacrifice agreement.
In addition, if the total taxable value of your fringe benefits (e.g. your vehicle purchase price and running costs) exceeds $2,000 in an FBT year, the ATO says your employer must report the total value of the benefits on your end-of-year payment summary at tax time.
Although you will not have to pay tax or a Medicare Levy Surcharge (MLS) on the total of your fringe benefits, the ATO says this amount will be included as assessable income for calculating your eligibility or liability for things such as the MLS, tax offsets, private health insurance rebates or child support payments.
To help reduce the impact FBT may have on your salary or assessable income, the ATO says you can reduce the total fringe benefits amount by making employee contributions out of your post-tax income. For example, you could use your post-tax income to pay for some of the running costs of the car (such as fuel), and these costs would then be excluded from the total fringe benefit amount your employer is required to report.
By using your own post-tax contributions to reduce your total fringe benefits amount, you can potentially lower the amount of FBT your employer is required to pay, or even eliminate it all together.
Should I take out a novated lease?
Whether or not a novated lease is suitable will depend on your circumstances. Before entering into a novated lease contract with your employer, it’s important to understand its contractual implications, and calculate if you can afford the repayments coming out of your pre-tax salary, plus the payment of the residual amount at the end of the lease.
Pros and cons of a novated lease
There are some pros and cons of a novated lease. While you may get tax benefits, be able to simplify your car payments and can consider upgrading your car, you don’t own the car with a novated lease. There can be a residual value to pay out after the lease term; plus, there may be administration costs and higher interest rates applied. If you are considering a novated lease for a car, keep in mind that you may also be liable for paying for the car if you lose or change your job.
1. Possible tax benefits
According to the ATO, novated lease repayments made through your pre-tax salary could reduce your taxable income. You can also avoid paying GST on the purchase price of the vehicle (which is factored into your lease repayments) when you’re not buying it.
2. Consolidated payments
With a fully maintained novated lease, all of your car expenses are simplified into a single regular deduction from your pre-tax salary, which is managed by your employer and the finance company. This means you don’t have to come up with a large upfront payment for the vehicle or juggle multiple car bills at different times throughout the year, which could make it easier to budget.
3. Opportunity to upgrade
You typically will have the option to trade in your vehicle at the end of the lease for a newer or different model, without having to go to the effort of selling your old car.