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Highway infrastructure is critically important to our economy and an amazing feat of engineering. Once in place, regular inspection and maintenance keep our roads and bridges safe and reliable. While a little wear and tear is to be expected, when highways are chronically overused and under repaired, there’s cause for concern. In extreme cases, bridges can even collapse, which is exactly what happened to the Interstate 35W bridge over the Mississippi River in 2007. Its demise was largely blamed on a design failure, but the impact of heavy vehicles certainly played a role – the 1967 bridge simply wasn’t built to carry trucks that weigh as much as they do today. The Heavy Highway Use Tax (HVUT) is an important source of funding for the Highway Trust Fund and its proceeds help ensure proper maintenance, more efficient routing, and prevent disasters such as this from occurring. However, in order to file Form 2290 and pay the HVUT, you first need to make an accurate taxable weight calculation. 

Using A Taxable Weight Calculation To Determine Your Taxes

The most straightforward and common way to find the taxable gross vehicle weight is to look for the gross vehicle weight on your registration. (Think in terms of the maximum you can legally weigh on a scale). In the case of an apportioned plate with different registered weights in different states, you must use the greatest weight. 

If you aren’t able to find your vehicle’s taxable gross weight in your documentation, you can also calculate it manually. To make a taxable weight calculation, add these three numbers together:

  • The actual unloaded weight of the vehicle (when it’s fully equipped for service)
  • The actual unloaded weight of any trailers or semi-trailers typically used with the vehicle (that are fully equipped for service)
  • The weight of the maximum load typically carried by the truck and its trailers/semi-trailers

Once you’ve made a taxable weight calculation, you can use this number to determine your annual taxes. If the gross taxable weight is less than 55,000 lbs, your taxes will be $0. For vehicles that weigh between 55,000 and 75,000 pounds, the HVUT is $100 plus $22 for every 1,000 pounds over 55,000 pounds. And if your vehicle weighs over 75,000 lbs, the HVUT will max out at $550 per year. 

Why An Accurate Weight Calculation Matters

If you are the truck owner, what matters is getting paperwork done quickly so you can get back to operating and making money. Taking a number and waiting in line at a vehicle registration office for hours may be necessary, but it is unproductive time for the vehicle owner. Using the correct taxable weight calculation on your Form 2290 will help you avoid doing this twice.

It’s crucial that you register your vehicle with the correct weight and not the actual weight of the tractor (roughly 35,000 lbs) with no trailer or load. A common mistake is to choose the lowest weight category (55,000 lbs) thinking only about the power unit or tractor. Think more in terms of the maximum you can legally weigh on a scale. If you file with a weight that’s lower than what your vehicle registration authority (state DMV, IRP office, etc.) determines to be correct, that authority will typically decline your registration or renewal until your Form 2290 has been corrected. If you filed your HVUT return with a weight that is too low, it can be fixed by filing a weight increase amendment, but again, no one wants to go to the registration office more than once.

Who’s Exempt 

In general, most vehicles weighing over 55,000 pounds will have to pay the HVUT. However, there are a few exceptions. A handful of groups are automatically exempt from paying the HVUT, including: 

  • Federal, State, and local governments, including the District of Columbia
  • The American Red Cross
  • Nonprofit volunteer fire departments, ambulance associations, and rescue squads
  • Native American tribal governments (for vehicles used in essential tribal government functions)
  • Mass transportation authorities

In addition, several vehicles are exempt as well:

  • Commercial vehicles traveling fewer than 5,000 miles annually
  • Agriculture vehicles traveling fewer than 7,500 miles annually
  • Vehicles not considered highway motor vehicles (such as mobile machinery for non-transportation functions, vehicles specifically designed for off-highway transportation, and non-transportation trailers and semi-trailers)
  • Qualified blood collector vehicles used by qualified blood collector organizations

Why Does The HVUT Exist?

So, we know who has to pay the HVUT and how much they have to pay, but why do they have to pay? The answer is pretty straightforward. While a five-axle tractor-trailer with a taxable weight calculation at the federal limit of 80,000 pounds weighs the same as approximately 20 automobiles, the impact of that truck on the infrastructure is exponentially greater. A five-axle tractor-trailer weighing the maximum legal amount causes as much damage to the pavement as at least 9,600 automobiles. So, freight trucks have to contribute a little more in taxes compared to lighter vehicles since they cause more damage to highways. 

Where Does Revenue From The HVUT Go?

Revenue from the HVUT goes towards the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), which finances most federal spending for highways and mass transit through fuel, tire, and in our case, truck taxes. Some of the HTF is used by the federal government, but a great deal of the HTF is returned to the states for various state highway programs. But, regardless of whether the state or federal government ends up with the money, it’ll be used to fund an array of transportation investments, including:

  • Highway improvements (such as land acquisition and other right-of-way costs, preliminary and construction engineering, construction and reconstruction, resurfacing, and restoration costs of roadways and bridges)
  • Highway and bridge maintenance activities
  • Highway law enforcement
  • Safety programs (such as driver education and training, vehicle inspection programs, enforcement of vehicle size, and weight limits)
  • Congestion relief projects
  • Debt service
  • Administrative costs (such as research and engineering)

Importance 

The aim of HTF projects isn’t just to make our highways more attractive, these projects have a massive impact on our day-to-day lives; they improve our driving experience, protect the environment, and even prevent deadly disasters. To start, when roads and bridges begin to decline, traffic increases. This not only creates massive headaches for drivers, but causes the US economy to suffer productivity losses, increases fuel use, and consequently, increases pollution. Plus, failing highway infrastructure can raise the costs of vehicle maintenance, pose a safety risk to drivers, and perhaps scariest of all, increase emergency response times. 

While no one enjoys paying taxes, truckers’ contributions to the HTF are crucial. Vehicles with a taxable weight calculation of more than 55,000 lbs give billions of dollars to the HTF every year; they’re essential to these critical infrastructure improvements. 

E-File Your HVUT With i2290

While there’s no doubt that the HVUT is incredibly important, it isn’t the easiest tax to pay. The tax code is convoluted, the due dates are confusing, the lines at the IRS are never-ending, and it can end up taking hours just to submit a return. That’s why i2290 was formed – to improve IRS 2290 filing. With i2290, you can pay your HVUT in minutes. Our customers can file from anywhere in the world, access their tax documents online whenever they need, and even file VIN corrections and weight increase amendments for free. Plus, if you need help with any stage of the process, our world-class customer service team is always happy to help. Ready to simplify your Form 2290 filing with i2290? Create an account today!

Special note: This article is for general purposes, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, investment, or accounting advice. The best way to ensure you’re paying appropriate taxes is by following IRS regulations and consulting with a tax professional.

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