Are you confused about which electric vehicles (EVs) qualify for federal tax credits? You’re not alone. To clarify the rules, here’s a guide to EV and plug-in electric vehicle tax credits. It answers some crucial questions you might have about these incentives.
How much is the credit?
You’ll often hear that a credit is worth “up to” a certain amount. “Up to” is the critical modifier. The federal incentive is usually referred to as a flat $7,500 credit, but it’s only worth $7,500 to someone whose tax bill at the end of the year is $7,500 or more. Let’s say you buy a Nissan Leaf or other eligible EV and you owe $5,000 in income tax for a particular year. That’s all the tax credit will be. Uncle Sam’s not writing a refund check for the other $2,500. And an unused portion of the credit can’t be applied against the following year’s taxes.
If you are leasing the EV, the tax credit goes to the manufacturer that’s offering the lease, not you. The carmaker will likely factor the credit into the cost of the lease to lower your monthly payment, but it isn’t mandatory.
The credits also are based on the electric vehicle’s battery size. For some models, the credit amount can fall well below $7,500. For example, the Toyota Prius Prime, a plug-in hybrid hatchback, only qualifies for a $4,502 tax credit.
What vehicles currently qualify for the federal credit? (as of April 2021)
Here are some popular models:
|Electric vehicles||Federal tax credit|
|Audi e-tron SUV||$7,500|
|Audi e-tron Sportback||$7,500|
|Ford Mustang Mach-E||$7,500|
|Hyundai Ioniq Electric||$7,500|
|Hyundai Kona Electric||$7,500|
|Kia Niro EV||$7,500|
|Mini Hardtop Electric||$7,500|
|All new Tesla models||No longer eligible for federal EV tax credits|
|Volvo XC40 Recharge||$7,500|
|Plug-in hybrids||Federal tax credit|
|Audi A8L 60 TFSI e||$6,712|
|Audi Q5 55 TFSI e||$6,712|
|Bentley Bentayga Hybrid||$7,500|
|BMW i3 with range extender||$7,500|
|BMW X3 xDrive30e||$5,836|
|BMW X5 xDrive45e||$7,500|
|BMW 3 Series 330e||$5,836|
|BMW 5 Series 530e||$5,836|
|BMW 7 Series 745e xDrive||$5,836|
|Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid||$7,500|
|Ford Escape Plug-In Hybrid||$6,843|
|Ford Fusion Plug-In Hybrid||$6,843|
|Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid||$7,500|
|Hyundai Ioniq Plug-In Hybrid||$4,543|
|Jeep Wrangler 4xe||$7,500|
|Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid||$4,543|
|Land Rover Range Rover Hybrid||$6,295|
|Land Rover Range Rover Sport Hybrid||$6,295|
|Lincoln Aviator Hybrid||$6,534|
|Lincoln Corsair Hybrid||$6,843|
|Mini Countryman Hybrid||$5,002|
|Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV||$6,587|
|Porsche Cayenne Hybrid||$6,712|
|Porsche Panamera Hybrid||$6,712|
|Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid||$4,502|
|Toyota Prius Prime||$4,502|
|Toyota RAV4 Prime||$7,500|
|Volvo S60 Hybrid||$5,419|
|Volvo S90 Hybrid||$5,419|
|Volvo XC60 Hybrid||$5,419|
|Volvo XC90 Hybrid||$5,419|
The U.S. Department of Energy maintains the entire list. You can sort by vehicle type or manufacturer.
Is there any fine print for EV incentives?
Of course, there is. There’s the rule that limits the federal tax credit to the original buyer of a qualified EV or plug-in hybrid vehicle. You should also know about a few other conditions:
- As noted earlier, if you’re leasing a vehicle, the credit stays with the manufacturer that’s offering the lease since it is the actual owner of the car. In most cases, however, the tax credit has been factored into the cost of the lease, so the customer benefits.
- The federal tax credit isn’t applicable to an electric vehicle being purchased for the purpose of reselling it. That’s a gray area, though, and would be tough for authorities to prove.
- The vehicle must primarily be used in the United States.
- Plug-in and battery electric vehicles must be built by qualified manufacturers to be eligible for the full $7,500 credit.
- Plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles also must have battery packs that are rated for at least 4 kWh of energy storage and are capable of being recharged from an external source.
- The IRS says that manufacturers are not required to certify to the agency that vehicles meet the requirements to qualify for the various credits. For vehicles not listed on the Department of Energy site or on the IRS list of qualified vehicles, a buyer can generally rely on the manufacturer’s representation that the vehicle is eligible. That statement can either be in writing or on the company’s website. The same thing goes for electric motorcycles, plug-in and EV conversions, three-wheel EVs and low-speed EVs.
- The IRS, of course, always reserves the right to reject a claim for a tax credit.
Do electric vehicle tax credits run out?
Yes. The government is phasing out the electric vehicle tax credits as sales increase, on the theory that the high initial cost of adding new technology to a vehicle will come down as economies of scale improve with more sales. That’s supposed to eliminate the need for subsidies. The expiration date is separate for each manufacturer and only comes after an automaker sells 200,000 qualified vehicles. Tesla hit the milestone first in July 2018. As a result, there are no federal tax credits for Tesla now.
In the last quarter of 2018, GM became the second carmaker to sell 200,000 qualified plug-in vehicles. And like Tesla, all new electric vehicles from GM no longer have the federal tax incentive.
Nissan is next in line for a credit phaseout, but Edmunds analysts say that unless sales for the Leaf pick up significantly, it’s unlikely Nissan will reach the threshold in 2021. All other makers are trailing far behind in plug-in car sales.
Can electric vehicle tax credits be passed on?
This question occasionally pops up: Who gets to claim the tax credit in the case of low-mileage cars that dealerships sell after having used them as demonstrators or loaner cars?
The answer is pretty simple: EV tax credits cannot be passed on. Only the original registered owner of an eligible vehicle can claim the federal tax credit. Even if the original registered owner didn’t apply for the credit for some reason, it cannot be passed along to a subsequent buyer.
This information is useful to know because it can be a bargaining point in a used-car purchase negotiation. It might turn out that a new model with the tax credit is a better deal than a used one if the federal tax credit program means the list price for the new model is reduced by up to $7,500.
Are there tax credits from states or other sources?
Yes. While the federal tax credits for plug-in and natural gas vehicles get the most mention, there also are dozens of state and regional incentives on plug-in vehicles and those that use alternative fuels. Many states have a dozen or more programs. Many, however, apply only to businesses. Some credits come in the form of exemptions from fees and inspections. Others are nonmonetary incentives such as carpool lane access and free parking.
Retail buyers in a number of states can get some cost relief in the form of tax credits, rebates, or reduced vehicle taxes or registration fees for buying a qualified alternative-fuel or electric-drive vehicle.
In California, for example, people who buy or lease a new electric car can get a $2,000 cash rebate. That’s in addition to the federal tax credit, and it reduces the effective out-of-pocket cost of the car by close to $10,000. Plug-in hybrids are a little different. Because they have smaller batteries and burn gasoline part of the time, such cars are eligible for only $1,000 rebates under California’s clean vehicle rebate program.
Plug In America, an advocacy group, has an interactive U.S. map that shows current plug-in car incentives in each state. The U.S. Department of Energy also has an interactive chart of state incentives.
It’s a good idea to be sure about available state and local incentives before you shop. Just because a state has a program doesn’t mean it will continue indefinitely. California has changed its rebate program by taking income levels into consideration.
How about fuel cell cars?
Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles do qualify for incentives in some states. In California, for example, there is a $4,500 state rebate available, so check with your state’s incentive website to be certain.
Is the electric vehicle tax credit still available?
Yes, the electric vehicle tax credit is available for some but not all automakers. According to the EPA, the credit begins to phase out for vehicles the second quarter after the manufacturer has sold 200,000 eligible plug-in electric vehicles. The tax credits for General Motors and Tesla, for example, have been completely phased out and EVs made by them no longer qualify for the federal tax credit.
How does an electric vehicle tax credit work?
The federal incentive is only worth $7,500 to someone whose tax bill at the end of the year is $7,500 or more. Let’s say you buy a Hyundai Kona EV or other eligible vehicle and you owe $5,000 in income tax for that year. That’s all the tax credit will be. The IRS will not issue you a refund check for the other $2,500. And an unused portion of the credit can’t be applied against the following year’s taxes. If you are leasing, the tax credit will go to the finance company, not you. The carmaker will likely factor the credit into the cost of the lease to lower your monthly payment, but it isn’t mandatory.
Will there be a federal tax credit for electric cars in 2021?
There is a federal tax credit available for most electric cars in 2021, for up to $7,500. The exceptions are Tesla and General Motors, whose tax credits have been phased out. The tax credit is also available on fuel cell electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, but the amount can vary based on battery size.
Does California have a tax credit for electric cars?
California offers rebates, as opposed to tax credits, for eligible vehicles. The rebates are for up to $4,500 for fuel cell electric vehicles, $2,000 for battery electric vehicles and $1,000 for plug-in electric vehicles. There are income limitations that can either increase the rebate or eliminate it, depending on how much your household makes. Make sure to research this before submitting the rebate forms.
Is there a tax credit for buying a Tesla in 2021?
No. Tesla has sold over 200,000 eligible electric vehicles, and all of its federal tax credits have been phased out. There are still state incentives available for buying a Tesla, however, so check with your state government’s department of transportation.