Vehicle excise tax, service member exemptions

  • Published
  • By Capt. Nicole Provo
  • 66th Air Base Group Judge Advocate Office

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – All residents of Massachusetts who register a motor vehicle or trailer in the Commonwealth must pay an annual motor vehicle excise tax, levied by the city or town in which the vehicle is principally garaged.

What counts as a “motor vehicle” for the tax? Vehicles not powered by muscle (don’t worry Minute Man Trail commuters—your bike is exempt), and vehicles towed by other vehicles are covered under the law and subject to the tax.

Under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, or SCRA, and as incorporated into Massachusetts law, the excise tax exemption is also available to military members who live outside of Massachusetts, but who reside and register personal (non-business) vehicles in Massachusetts pursuant to military orders.

The member’s spouse may also claim this exemption, if the spouse is also living in Massachusetts pursuant to the service member’s military orders. If a service member or spouse owns multiple vehicles, the exemption may apply to all vehicles that are registered for personal non-business use.

Additionally, active duty service members who are domiciled residents of Massachusetts may still qualify for the exemption if they have been deployed, or stationed overseas, for a period of at least 45 days. In this circumstance, the exemption is limited to one vehicle, owned by the member, or jointly with the spouse, in the calendar year during which the deployment took place.

Leased vehicles are not eligible for this exemption; however, in some cases, the company from which the vehicle is leased will pay the tax on behalf of the lessor.

For eligibility, the service member must submit a form letter from their military commander to the local assessor stating the member’s non-resident status and military stationed status. The member should contact his or her first sergeant, who will refer them to the 66th Comptroller Squadron for the appropriate form. After approval by the town or city assessor, no further action is required to maintain the exemption in any subsequent year.

Finally, good news for those who recently permanently changed station to the Commonwealth on orders—there is no obligation for a non-resident military service member to register a car in Massachusetts if it was purchased, titled and registered in the home state. The home state registration may be retained indefinitely as long as it remains up-to-date.

Drivers must nonetheless maintain adequate insurance coverage that is at least equal to Massachusetts minimum levels.

There is some relief for vehicle owners in Massachusetts who are disabled veterans and former prisoners of war, as well as their surviving spouses, until that spouse remarries. However, this relief from tax is not automatic. Qualifying individuals must submit an abatement application form to apply for the exemption within three years after the date the excise tax was due, or within one year of actually paying the tax, whichever is later.

For further information on motor vehicle excise tax, contact the Base Legal Office at 781-225-1410.