What Is Personal Property Tax? Definition and How Funds Are Used

What Is Personal Property Tax?

Personal property tax is a tax imposed by state or local governments on certain assets that can be touched and moved, such as cars, livestock, or equipment. Generally, personal property means assets other than land or permanent structures, such as houses, which are considered real property.

Each locality can apply different personal property tax rules and those who collect it typically use the proceeds to fund public works projects, such as road maintenance or the construction of schools.

Key Takeaways

  • Personal property tax is a type of tax that's imposed by many state and general governments.
  • Personal property generally refers to valuable items like cars and boats, as opposed to real estate, which is considered real property.
  • States and localities with personal property taxes typically use the money to fund public works, such as schools and roads. 
  • The kinds of property that are taxed and the rates at which they're taxed will vary from place to place.

How Personal Property Taxes Work

States and local governments with personal property taxes can apply them differently, in terms of:

  • Which types of property are subject to tax
  • How the tax is calculated
  • What the funds raised from personal property taxes are used for

In North Carolina, for example, property tax is assessed locally and collected by individual counties. The North Carolina Department of Revenue, which collects sales and income tax, plays no part in the collection or management of personal property taxes.

North Carolina residents are subject to taxes on both real property and tangible personal property, divided into three categories:

  • Real property
  • Personal property
  • Motor vehicles

Personal property tax isn't uniform across the United States. Some states don't tax personal property and those that do can impose different criteria and rates.

Other states, such as New York, only tax real property, like land and buildings, although they and their local governments may collect sales tax on personal property at the time it is purchased. In the case of personal property like automobiles and motorcycles, states also collect revenue in the form of registration and licensing fees.

Examples of Taxable Personal Property

Because state and local governments define personal property differently, what's considered personal property in one state may not fall under that same umbrella in another. As mentioned, not every state taxes personal property at all. And many that do tax it provide exemptions for personal property that is worth less than a certain amount.

Personal property basically covers anything you own other than real property. The distinguishing factor between personal property and real property is that the former is movable and isn't fixed permanently to one particular location. Examples include clothes, jewelry, furniture, and automobiles.

Personal property can also include assets owned by a business. Some typical examples are:

  • Machinery
  • Equipment
  • Furniture
  • Photocopiers
  • Computers
  • Telephones
  • Supplies

If you disagree with a personal property tax assessment, you should be able to appeal it with your local tax office. Look for details on their website.

How Personal Property Taxes Are Calculated

Broadly speaking, personal property tax is calculated based on the value of the property in question and generally assessed as a percentage of that value. Taxes based on the value of the property are sometimes referred to as ad valorem taxes.

Tax assessors determine the value of personal property in different ways. In Missouri, for example, the City of St. Louis sets car values based on the average trade-in value for that make, model, and year, as established by the National Automobile Dealers Association.

The tax rate and how it's applied will also vary by state and locality. Some states, for example, impose a flat tax rate across all property types, including real property, personal property, and vehicles. Others have different rates for different kinds of property. Many allow counties or other local governments to determine what rate to impose, although the state may set limits.

Personal property tax rates are periodically updated and property values are reassessed, which could result in your tax bill increasing or decreasing from one year to the next.

In California, for example, the basic property tax rate is 1%. This applies to personal property owned by individuals or businesses, as well as to real property. But California counties can also add fees or other charges to their personal property tax assessments.

Your local tax assessor's office (or its website) should be able to supply information on the personal property tax rate (if any) that you're subject to and what types of property are included.

How to File and Pay Personal Property Tax

Typically, personal property tax is due annually and assessed on January 1 of each year. Bills are then mailed out to individuals or businesses that owe the tax.

When you purchase certain types of personal property, you may need to register them with your local tax office. This generally means completing a form either online or in-person at the tax assessor's office, listing the details of the property.

Those who itemize deductions can claim a deduction for personal property taxes on their federal income tax.

Whether you need to file this sort of form can depend on where you live and the value of the property. In Orange County, California, for example, filing a business property statement form listing business personal property is only required when the aggregate value of the property is $100,000 or more. So if you run a business but your equipment is valued at less than $100,000 in total, it wouldn't be necessary to file.

There may be a set deadline for filing this form each year. Using Orange County as an example once again, the deadline is April 1. Businesses can, however, file for an extension if they need more time.

What's the Best Definition of Personal Property?

Personal property is any property that’s not land and all things permanently attached to it, such as real estate. Examples include cars, livestock, and equipment.

What Are the Types of Personal Property?

There are generally three types of personal property. Tangible personal property, such as vehicles and household goods, intangible personal property, such as stocks and bonds, and listed personal property, which refers to property used for either business or personal purposes.

What Is Personal Property Tax Used for?

States and localities that collect personal property taxes typically use the money to improve public infrastructure and services.

The Bottom Line

Depending on where you live, you may be taxed on the property you own that’s not attached to land, such as vehicles and household items. Personal property, which refers to assets that are movable, is taxed in several states and localities in the United States and can be quite complicated as each jurisdiction has its own rules on what constitutes personal property and how it’s taxed and collected.

It's not all bad, though. Places that impose this tax typically use the money to improve public infrastructure and services. And it’s possible to subtract these expenses from your federal tax return, reducing the amount of taxable income you owe.

Article Sources
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  1. North Carolina Department of Revenue. "About North Carolina's Property Tax System."

  2. North Carolina Department of Revenue. "Types of Property to Be Taxed."

  3. New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. "Property Taxes."

  4. City of St. Louis. "About Personal Property."

  5. Tax Foundation. "States Should Continue to Reform Taxes on Tangible Personal Property."

  6. Amador County California. "Information Concerning Property Tax Assessment."

  7. Internal Revenue Service. "Topic No. 503 Deductible Taxes."

  8. Internal Revenue Service. "2022 Instructions for Schedule A," Page 7.

  9. Orange County Assessor. "Business Personal Property."