Is Salary Sacrificing A Car Really Worth It?


While salary sacrificing a portion of your pre-tax income can be worth it if you are in the highest tax bracket, but is it worth it if you are in the other lower tax brackets?

As the answer involves doing math it does depend upon your own financial circumstances.

We’ll analyse whether you are financially better off by entering into a salary packaging arrangement where you can salary sacrifice a portion of your pre-tax income to pay for the lease and running costs of the car. Feel free to take this information to your own qualified financial adviser and/or accountant to confirm.

To provide a fair comparison we’ll look at three possible scenarios:

  1. Buying a car outright with cash.
  2. Salary sacrificing using novated lease.
  3. Salary sacrificing using associate lease.

Further assumptions we will use will be:

DetailsAmount
Annual Salary$80,000
FBT Rate47%
Purchase price of the car$30,000
Holding period5 years
Number of kilometres travelled per year10,000 km
Fuel Cost + Car Wash per Year$2,000 / year
Maintenance/Servicing costs$600 / year
Tyre replacement$1,000 / 50,000 km
Rego, CTP & Comprehensive Insurance$2,500 / year
Total running costs per year$5,300
Approximate running costs

To conclude the comparison we’ll assume the car will be sold at the end of the five years for $10,000 and that there will be a balloon payment of $8,439 for any lease arrangements, resulting in a final cash flow upon disposal of the car of +$1,561.

Let’s look at the numbers for each scenario:

Buy Car Outright With Cash

When buying a new car outright there are several options available, you can purchase the vehicle by:

  • Using savings.
  • Getting a bank loan.
  • Getting a loan from car manufacturer (can be a cheaper rate than the bank loan, but be wary of the rate after any “interest free period”).

It’s becoming more common for the manufacturer of the car to offer loans, and they generally offer better interest rates and terms than the bank would.

For the sake of a pure comparison we’ll assume there was no trade in and that this car purchase is the first car purchase of the employee. Further we’ll assume the employee redrew from their home loan to purchase the car and we’ll use 4% as the interest rate paid.

Novated Leasing

You would need to speak to your payroll or HR department to confirm if novated leasing is an option for you.

We’ll look at all three different FBT employer types, being full FBT payable employers, rebatable and FBT exempt employers. The Fringe Benefits Tax paid by your employer is the tax that is charged by the ATO to the employer for personal use of company assets.

The way the novated leasing arrangement works is you novate the lease payments of the car to your employer, making the employer responsible for the lease payments. In turn, the employer takes a portion of your pre-tax salary and uses that to pay the financier of the car in the leasing arrangement.

Financiers love novated leasing arrangements as they tend to charge a higher interest rate than what you’d otherwise be able to get by going directly to the manufacturer or from your home loan. However, as they are lending money on a highly depreciating asset they need to cover their risk by charging the higher rate.

While interest rates in the high teens is not uncommon with novated lease interest rates, we’ll go quite conservative and assume in our example an interest rate of 10% per annum.

Associate Leases

An associate lease arrangement works in the same way as the novated lease, however, instead of making lease payments to a third-party external financier, you are making payments to an associate (could be your spouse for instance).

This means your spouse will need to declare the lease payments as income on their personal income tax return and can subsequently use the running costs of the car as tax deductions depending on if the arrangement is a fully maintained operating lease, or just a fully maintained lease.

Both associate lease arrangements have their nuances, but preference should be for the fully maintained operating lease as the operating costs paid by the associate can reduce the fringe benefits tax incurred by the employer.

To make the comparison somewhat the same we’ll assume the associate redraws from the home loan to help purchase the car. We’ll further assume that the associate receiving the lease payments does not earn any other income.

Is salary sacrifice a good idea?

With those facts, let’s do the numbers to determine how each scenario pans out throughout the next 5 years:

Buying car outright example

DetailBuy Outright (Year 1)
Gross Annual Salary80,000
Tax Payable18,097
Net Income After Tax61,903
Running Costs5,300
Loan Repayments6,332
Take Home Pay50,271
All running costs are paid after tax

Therefore, over the course of 5 years, if everything stays constant the buying outright (using redraw facility from the home loan) will provide a total net income after running costs and payments of $260,107.

Novated leasing example

DetailFull FBT Employer
(Year 1)
Gross Annual Salary80,000
FBT Payable (Full FBT Employer)5,866 (1)
Total Salary Sacrifice (incl FBT)15,222
Gross Pay Before Tax64,788
Tax Payable12,840
Take Home Pay51,938
(1) In the fourth year this amount will drop to 3,911 due to the one-time allowable deduction of one-third of the base value of the car.

Therefore, over the course of the 5 years the total net income received would be $264,719 plus the little tax-free bonus upon selling the car which increases this to $266,280.

As we can see when comparing this against the buying outright scenario above, we’re actually better off with an employer that is paying full FBT.

Would the scenario be different if employer were rebatable?

A rebatable employer receives a deduction of the FBT liability and therefore, using our metrics above would have a lower amount of FBT payable each year (3,109 compared to 5,866).

DetailFBT Rebatable Employer
(Year 1)
Gross Annual Salary80,000
FBT Payable
(FBT Rebatable Employer)
3,109
Total Salary Sacrifice (incl FBT)12,464
Gross Pay Before Tax67,536
Tax Payable13,797
Take Home Pay53,739
FBT Exempt employers do not need to withhold and FBT payable

The total net income received over the 5 years would be $273,467 plus the little tax-free bonus at the end when selling the car which increases this total to $275,028.

An extra $8,748 just for being with a rebatable employer!

What if my employer were FBT exempt?

An FBT exempt employer does not incur the FBT liability if the grossed up value of benefits provided is less than the grossed up limit for FBT exempt employers. The current capping thresholds for FBT exempt employers are as follows:

OrganisationCap
Registered public benevolent and health promotion charities$30,000 per employee
Public and not-for-profit hospitals and public ambulance services$17,000 per employee
(source)

As the taxable value of the car in the first year is $30,000 times 20% = $6,000 the grossed up value of the car will be $6,000 times 2.0802 = $12,481, therefore, as this grossed up amount is less than both capping thresholds this will mean no FBT needs to be withheld from the employee.

The result?

DetailFBT Exempt Employer
Year 1
Gross Annual Salary80,000
FBT Payable (FBT Exempt Employer)0
Total Salary Sacrifice (incl FBT)9,355
Gross Pay Before Tax70,645
Tax Payable14,869
Take Home Pay55,775
FBT Exempt employers do not need to withhold and FBT payable

Over the same 5 year period the total take home pay for an employee with an FBT exempt employer will be $283,346, and upon paying the balloon and selling their car they would end up with $284,907.

Associate lease example

Our final example involves the lesser known associate lease arrangement. The benefit of the associate lease is that it enables you to use your car as an investment by leasing it to your employer. Instead of the car being a liability it is now helping to earn an income (we’ve turned it back into an asset – Robert Kiyosaki would be happy!).

As explained before there are two different types of associate leases: fully maintained and fully maintained operating lease. The fully maintained lease is the same as the fully maintained novated lease example above except the lease payments are going to your associate.

We’ll compare both in our example here and assume the associate is NOT registered for GST:

DetailFM Associate LeaseFM Operating Lease
Gross Annual Salary (Employee)80,00080,000
FBT Payable (Full FBT Employer)4,78989
Total Salary Sacrifice (incl FBT)15,78711,087
Gross Pay Before Tax64,21368,913
Income Tax Payable (Employee)12,64414,272
Take Home Pay Employee51,56954,641
Associate Gross Income (1)6,33211,632
Allowable Deductions (2)7,55212,852
Associate Tax Payable00
Net Taxable Income-1,220-1,220
Combined Taxable Income50,34953,421
(1) The difference here with the gross income received by the associate is that with a Fully Maintained Lease they do not receive the running costs, whereas with a Fully Maintained Operating Lease the associate receives the running costs.
(2) The allowable deductions for the associate with a Fully Maintained Lease is depreciation and interest costs, whereas with the Fully Maintained Operating Lease the associate also is allowed to include the running costs as an allowable deduction. The depreciation used is just the first year depreciation – using diminishing method, and therefore reduces throughout the 5 years.

While the combined taxable income of both the employee and their associate (spouse) if we were looking at the combined taxable income over the 5 year term, we would get a total of $280,876 for the fully maintained associate lease and the fully maintained operating lease $296,480.

The obvious benefit of the fully maintained operating lease over the fully maintained associate lease is the reduction in FBT liability due to the costs of running the car incurred by the associate being allowable recipient payments. These would need to be declared and copied to the employer at the end of each FBT year.

The only other difference between this arrangement and the other novated leasing arrangements is that when the associate comes to dispose of the vehicle if the sale price of the car is higher than the depreciated value of the car they would need to declare the profit made on the sale of the car as taxable income. This has been taken into consideration with the calculations above, but as the car is sold for $10,000 and the car’s diminishing value at the end of the 5 year period is $7,262 – therefore the difference of $2,738 is declared as taxable income on the associate’s tax return.

As we have also seen previously, if the employer is rebatable or exempt then the FBT to remit is lower than that of the employee with an employer that pays full FBT. We’ll insert the totals for rebatable and exempt FBT employers for this associate lease arrangement in the summary table below.

Summary

From all the above we can summarise the data as follows:

Detail5 Years
No arrangement$260,107
Novated Lease (FULL)$266,280
Novated Lease (Rebatable)$275,028
Novated Lease (Exempt)$284,907
Fully Maintained Associate Lease (FULL)
Combined Income of Employee + Associate (not GST registered)
$280,876
Fully Maintained Operating Lease (FULL)
Combined Income of Employee + Associate
$296,480
Fully Maintained Associate Lease (Rebatable)
Combined Income of Employee + Associate
$288,011
Fully Maintained Operating Lease (Rebatable)
Combined Income of Employee + Associate
$296,570
Fully Maintained Associate Lease (Exempt)
Combined Income of Employee + Associate
$296,075
Fully Maintained Operating Lease (Exempt)
Combined Income of Employee + Associate
$296,672
Depending upon the employer type for FBT the total combined income will differ.

So, does salary sacrificing a car actually provide any benefit? Hopefully the table above has helped to illustrate indeed it does. If the car is bought and then sold after 5 years and a salary packaging arrangement was entered into you can see from the above table, for an employee on $80,000 (and associate on no income) the difference in income over the 5 years from somebody who doesn’t salary package is as much as $36,565 ($292,672 – $260,107) – if the employer is FBT exempt.

Hopefully this article has helped show the benefits of salary sacrificing a car, and has spurred you to check out the details with your employer’s salary packaging provider.

Ryan

Author of recurrent.com.au, an Australian blog dedicated to help you in your personal finance journey, Ryan has been budgeting professionally since 2015, and budgeting personally since 2009. He enjoys a good bush walk with the family during the cooler months and going to the beach during the warmer months.

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