Inventory - Automotive Tax Tips
An inventory is necessary to clearly show income when the production, purchase, or sale of merchandise
is an income-producing factor. If you must account for an inventory in your business, you must use an
accrual method of accounting for your purchases and sales.
Automobile dealerships have a great deal of discretion in what accounting methods they will employ for
various classes of their inventoried items. Whatever method the taxpayer chooses, it must clearly reflect
income. Dealerships typically maintain distinct inventories and tend to account for them differently. Among
the types of inventoried items are:
- New vehicles
- Used vehicles
- Parts and Accessories
The methods used for valuing and accounting for these classes of items do differ from dealership to dealership,
but once a method is chosen, it must be adhered to.
Lower of Cost or Market (LCM)
Most taxpayers use the Lower of Cost or Market Method (LCM). The LCM method is the same as the cost method
(which simply requires inventory to be valued at its acquisition cost), except when the fair market value of
the merchandise drops below cost. If the dealer is unable to recover its cost on the merchandise because the
"market" has fallen below cost, the dealer is allowed to recognize the difference even though the loss
has not been realized.
With the LCM method, the "market" generally refers to replacement cost for the same goods in the same
quantities that the taxpayer would normally acquire. For auto dealers, the "market" will often be the
retail sales price after markdowns and discounts. It is important to remember that the market value cannot be
estimated. The taxpayer must actually offer (or be offered) those goods for sale at that price in order to call
When you offer merchandise for sale at a price lower than market, you can value the inventory at the lower price,
less the direct cost of disposition. These prices are figured from the actual sales for a reasonable period before
and after the date of your inventory. Prices significantly different from the actual prices are not acceptable.
If no market exists, or if quotations are given without reference to actual conditions because of an inactive
market, you must use the available evidence of fair market price on the dates nearest your inventory date. This
evidence could include specific purchases or sales you or others made in reasonable volume and in good faith or
compensation amounts paid for cancellation of contracts for purchase commitments.
You MUST use the FIFO or LIFO methods, explained below, if:
- You cannot specifically identify items with their costs
- The same type of goods are intermingled in your inventory and they cannot be identified with specific
First In, First Out (FIFO)
The First In, First Out method assumes the items you have purchased or produced first are the first items
you sold, consumed, or otherwise disposed of. The items in inventory at the end of the tax year are matched
with the costs of items of the same type that you most recently purchased or produced.
Last In, First Out (LIFO)
The Last In, First Out method assumes the items of inventory you purchased or produced last are sold or removed
from inventory first. Items included in closing inventory are considered to be from the opening inventory in the
order of acquisition and acquired in that tax year.
The rules for using the LIFO method are very complex. Two common methods are used to price LIFO inventories,
the Dollar-value method and the Simplified dollar-value method. To adopt the LIFO method file
Form 970, Application To Use LIFO Inventory Method (PDF).
Dollar-value method - Under the dollar-value method of pricing LIFO inventories, goods and products must be
grouped into one or more pools (classes of items), depending on the kinds of goods or products in the inventories.
Simplified dollar-value method - Under this method, you establish multiple inventory pools in general categories
from appropriate government price indexes. You then use changes in the price index to estimate the annual change
in price for inventory items in the pools. An eligible small business (average annual gross receipts of $5 million
dollars or less for the 3 preceding tax years) can elect this method.
Replacement Costs / Loss of Inventory
Regardless of which inventory method you use, you must take a physical inventory at reasonable intervals and
the book figure for inventory must be adjusted to agree with the actual inventory. Precise inventory records will
assist you if you were ever to incur a loss. There are several ways to claim a casualty or theft loss of inventory.
You can claim a casualty or theft loss of inventory, including items you hold for sale to customers, through the
increase in the cost of goods sold by properly reporting your opening and closing inventories. If you choose to
report the loss this way, you cannot claim the loss again as a casualty or theft loss. Any insurance or other
reimbursement you receive for the loss is taxable.
You can also choose to take the loss separately as a casualty or theft loss. If you take the loss separately,
adjust opening inventory or purchases to eliminate the loss items and avoid counting the loss twice. Also, reduce
the loss by the reimbursement you receive or expect to receive. If you do not receive the reimbursement by the end
of the year, you cannot claim a loss for any amounts you reasonably expect to recover.
If your inventory loss is due to a disaster in an area determined by the President of the United States to be
eligible for federal assistance, you can choose to deduct the loss on your return for the immediately preceding
year. However, you must also decrease your opening inventory for the year of the loss so the loss will not show
up again in the inventory.
If your creditors forgive part of what you owe them because of your inventory loss, this amount is treated as
income and is taxable.
Source: Internal Revenue Service