Motor Vehicle Excise
In Massachusetts, all motor vehicles that are registered for operation are subject to excise tax for the privilege of using the roadways in the community in which the vehicle is principally garaged. You should expect to receive excise tax bills for any motor vehicles or trailers garaged in Orleans on January 1st sometime in mid-to-late February. If you register a vehicle anytime after January 1st, you will be billed for excise tax in one of the subsequent commitments the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) sends to us every other month or so. These bills are prorated on a monthly basis, so if you register a vehicle in April, you should expect an excise tax bill for 9 months of excise. If you move your vehicle from Orleans to another community in Massachusetts after January 1st, that community will add you to their excise tax roll for the following year, provided that you change your place of garaging with the RMV.
Excise tax is computed by multiplying a decreasing percentage of your vehicle's original manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) by the tax rate of $25 per $1,000 of retail value. The percentage of the MSRP on which you are taxed decreases as your vehicle ages as follows:
- Year prior to manufacture: 50% of MSRP (if you buy a 2020 model car in 2019, for instance).
- Year of manufacture: 90% of MSRP
- 2nd after manufacture: 60% of MSRP
- 3rd year after manufacture: 40% of MSRP
- 4th year after manufacture: 25% of MSRP
- 5th year after manufacture and the rest of the vehicle's life: 10% of MSRP
Your vehicle's MSRP is not determined by the town of Orleans; these prices are set by the vehicle manufacturers themselves and indexed by the MA RMV. Whether your vehicle was made in 1969, 1999 or 2019, its MSRP will be the same for as long as it's on the road. Your vehicle's current resale value or the price you paid for it doesn't factor into the calculation at all. If you'd like to see your vehicle's original MSRP, the NADA guide is a good resource to check. If you find that your vehicle's MSRP is incorrect, you should notify the RMV immediately so the price index can be corrected, as the Assessing office is unable to do this.
Download a Motor Vehicle Excise Abatement Application (PDF).
There are several instances where you may be entitled to a full or partial abatement on your motor vehicle excise. If you haven't paid the excise yet, the abatement will lower the amount that is due. If you have paid the excise, the abated amount will be refunded to you.
In all cases, Massachusetts law requires that you do 2 things to receive an abatement on motor vehicle excise tax:
- Transfer ownership of the vehicle
- Cancel your registration or transfer it to another vehicle
Without documented proof that you've done both of these things, we can not abate your motor vehicle excise tax bill. As far as documents go, we accept the following:
Proving Cancellation/Transfer of Registration
- If you canceled the registration, we need copy of the plate cancellation receipt.
- If you transferred the registration to another vehicle, we need a copy of the new vehicle's registration.
Proving Transfer of Ownership
- If you sold your vehicle or gave it away, we need a copy of the bill of sale or a signed copy of both sides of the vehicle's title.
- If your car was totaled in an accident, we need a copy of the letter from your insurance company stating that the vehicle is a total loss.
- If you donated your vehicle, we need a copy of a donation receipt from the organization you donated the vehicle to.
- If you junked or scrapped your vehicle, we need a receipt from the junkyard or a signed copy of both sides of the vehicle's title.
- If you moved your vehicle to another state, we need a copy of the registration in the state you've moved to.
- If ownership of a vehicle changed to a surviving spouse, we need a copy of your paid excise tax bill to Orleans for that vehicle for the current year.
Abatements are prorated on a monthly basis down to a minimum of $5.
If You Lease Your Vehicle
If you lease the vehicle you're driving, the abatement process gets a bit more involved, and can even be a bit frustrating. Simply turning in the vehicle and ending your lease is not grounds for us to issue you a motor vehicle excise abatement. Because the vehicle is owned by the finance company that you leased through, they are the party that was billed for the excise tax and paid it to the town, at which point they billed you for it in turn. The finance company are the party with the legal standing to apply for the abatement, not you as the leasee.
To receive an abatement, your finance company must send us proof that they've transferred ownership of the vehicle and canceled the registration. Once that's been done, any refund on excise tax will be issued to the finance company. If you leased a vehicle and want to get the money you paid to your finance company for excise reimbursed, you should contact the finance company you dealt with and get them working on the abatement as soon as possible. Helpful Hint: keep the vehicle's license plate number written somewhere so that we can check on the status of the abatement for you.
Various organizations are exempted from motor vehicle excise tax, including federal, state and local governments and charitable/religious organizations using the vehicle in the conduct of charitable or religious business. Charitable organizations may also get exemptions for vehicles they lease for a full calendar year.
Servicemembers who are domiciled out-of-state but stationed in Massachusetts are exempt from Massachusetts excise tax on any vehicles they register in Massachusetts, provided they can provide military orders signed by their commanding officer.
Veterans who suffer from service-connected disabilities or blindness are eligible for an exemption on 1 vehicle. The veteran must either have lost or permanently lost use of 1 or both hands, feet or eyes as a result of their service-connected disability or have been certified by the RMV's Medical Advisory Board as qualifying for exempt status.
Persons certified as blind by the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind or disabled due to the loss of or permanent loss of use of both legs or arms are eligible for exemption on 1 vehicle.
Important - There are many consequences for not paying your motor vehicle excise tax that can follow you for years! The longer a bill goes unpaid, the more fines and interest it will collect. In addition, you may be prevented from purchasing town beach and transfer station stickers. Finally, your registration will be flagged at the MA RMV for non-renewal, which will prevent you from registering a vehicle anywhere in the United States for as long as the flag remains. If you receive a bill in the mail that you don't think you owe, do not ignore it! Call the Assessing office and we'll figure out why the bill was issued to you.