If an owner of a motor vehicle thinks that he/she is entitled to an adjustment of his/her excise bill, it is strongly recommended that he/she pay the bill in full, then contact the Board of Assessors for an application for abatement. Although payment of a bill is not a precondition for an abatement, an owner risks incurring late fees and penalties if an abatement is not granted. Abatements can be handled through the mail; however, the bill should be paid as assessed and a refund will follow if the abatement is granted.
Under M.G.L. c.60A:2 as amended by Chapter 262, sections 10-11, of the Acts of 2004, abatement applications must be received by the assessors within three years after the excise bill was due, or one year after it was paid, whichever was later. An owner needs to apply on time to avoid losing his/her appeal rights. The assessors have some discretion to act on late applications, but the excise must still be outstanding and the owner cannot appeal. If the assessors decline to grant a discretionary abatement, however, the owner can then pay the excise, apply for an abatement within one year of the payment date and appeal the assessor’s decision on that application if s/he disagrees.
Abatements can be filed if the owner believes the assessment is incorrect, or if the vehicle was stolen, or if the vehicle was sold during the year in which it is being taxed and the registration was properly cancelled, or if the owner moved, registered the vehicle in another state, and cancelled the registration in Massachusetts, or did not renew the registration in Massachusetts. No abatement is entitled if the registration is canceled but ownership is retained or if moving to another MA city/town within the same year. If the registration is cancelled, it is most important to return the plate(s) to the Registry of Motor Vehicles and to obtain a return plate receipt. When an abatement is granted, excise bills are prorated by the month, thus the owner is responsible for the excise accrued through the month in which the car was last registered to him/her.
If the assessors decline to take action within three months from the application date (unless you agree in writing to an extension), the abatement is deemed denied. The taxpayer then has no appeal rights to any state or local agency or official. However, the taxpayer can still pay the excise and file for an abatement within one year of the payment date.
If the application for abatement is denied at the local level, the denial can be appealed to the State Appellate Tax Board. Any abatement granted by the State Appellate Tax Board because of overpayment shall be refunded by the city or town treasurer accompanied by six percent interest, calculated from the date of payment of the excise to the date the refund is paid. No interest is due the taxpayer if the abatement is granted by the Board of Assessors. No abatement can reduce a tax to less than $5, and no abatement of less than $5 will be granted.
Another provision of Chapter 262 of 2004 adds section 8 to M.G.L. c. 60A. By its terms, assessors have discretionary authority to abate all or a portion of excise taxes, interest and charges beyond the deadline period. However, the excise tax must still be outstanding to give assessors jurisdiction. Assessors no longer have to obtain authority to abate from the Commissioner of Revenue, under M.G.L. c. 58:8.
For further information, please download the following guidlines from the Department of Revenue’s website, www.dls.state.ma.us/publ/igr/2004/igr04_210.pdf (PDF, 90k), or call the Assessor’s office.
Excise Tax Exemptions
Chapter 60A, Section 1 of the Massachusetts General Laws provides excise tax exemptions for vehicles owned by non-resident military*, certain disabled individuals and veterans, ex-prisoners of war and their surviving spouses** and certain charitable organizations. Please contact your local assessor for further details on eligibility.
*Under the Soldier and Sailors Relief Act, 50 USCA S.574 App., this exemption is available to those in the service whose domicile is not in MA but who are in residence in this state pursuant to military orders and who register their autos (either individually or jointly with a spouse) in this state for personal (non-business) use. The serviceperson need not be stationed in MA but may be stationed in a border state. For eligibility, the serviceperson must present a letter from the commanding officer to the local assessor stating non-residence, military stationed status. A MA resident who is sent to another state pursuant to military orders but does not cancel his/her registration is not eligible for this exemption. Leased vehicles are also not eligible for this exemption; however, the serviceperson should check the leasing contract or inquire of the leasing company if it will pay on his/her behalf. Also, there is no obligation for a non-resident military serviceperson to register a car in MA if it was purchased, titled, and registered in the home state. The home state registration may be retained indefinitely, regardless of where stationed in the country. The only requirement is that insurance coverage at least equal to MA minimum levels be carried.
**For ex-prisoners of war and their surviving spouses, the law allowing the exemption for the motor vehicle excise must be accepted by the city or town to be applicable.