Assessors Frequently Asked Questions
What is motor vehicle excise?
Chapter 60 A of the Massachusetts General Laws imposes an excise for the privilege of registering a motor vehicle or a trailer in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The excise is levied annually in lieu of a tangible personal property tax. Non-registered vehicles, however, remain subject to taxation as personal property. The excise is levied by the municipality where the vehicle is principally garaged and the revenues become part of the local community treasury. The Registry of Motor vehicles prepares the data for excise bills according to the information on the motor vehicle registration and sends it to the Assessors. The Deputy Collector Kelley and Ryan then prepare bills based on the Registry's data in conformity with Department of Revenue requirements.
How is excise tax determined?
The amount of the excise is determined on the value of the motor vehicle that is based upon the manufacturer's list price. Various percentages of the manufacturer's list price are applied. The formula is as follows:
- In the year preceding the designated year of manufacture (brand new car released before model year), 50%
- In the designated year of manufacture, 90%
- In the second year, 60%
- In the third year, 40%
- In the fourth year, 25%
- In the fifth and succeeding years, 10%
Who collects the motor vehicle excise?
Local Tax Collectors are responsible for collecting the motor vehicle and trailer excise. Generally, tax collectors and deputy tax collectors do not accept partial payment of an excise bill. Taxpayers should be prepared to pay the full amount. There are no special considerations for financial hardship.
When is payment due?
Payment of the motor vehicle excise tax is due within 30 days from the date the excise bill is issued (in this case NOT mailed). A person who does not receive a bill is still liable for the excise plus any interest charges accrued. Therefore, it is important to keep the Registry and the US Post Office informed of a current name and address so that excise bills can be delivered promptly. All owners of motor vehicles must pay an excise tax; therefore, it is the responsibility of the owner to contact the Deputy Collectors Office at 978-620-3175 if they have not received a bill.
What if I've moved out of Massachusetts and/or Lawrence?
If the owner of a vehicle moves out of Massachusetts and registers his/her car with another state:
- File an application with the Assessors Office for abatement together with the following:
- Registration Form for the New State and County AND
- Plate return receipt from the Registry
PLEASE NOTE: that the Registry strongly encourages a person who has moved out of State to cancel the registration in Massachusetts in order to avoid problems with an excise tax abatement application or future registration in the new state.
If the owner moves within Massachusetts and had not paid an excise tax for the current year, he/she should:
File an application with the Assessors Excise Office for and abatement together with the following:
- Proof of garaging as of January 1 of the billing year AND
- A copy of the Insurance Policy (cover selection page) as of January 1 of the tax year
- Pay the motor vehicle excise to the municipality in which he/she resided on January 1
If the owner moved before the first of the year, he/she must pay the tax to the new community to which the owner moved. If the owner did not notify the Registry, the Assessors, and the Post Office that he/she moved before the first of the year, it may be necessary to file for abatement with the former municipality that sent the excise bill. Most municipalities will dismiss the bill and reroute it to the new community once the owner furnishes proof that he/she had moved before the first of the year.
What happens if my payment is late?
If an excise is not paid within thirty (30) days from the issue date, the Tax Collector sends a Demand Notice. The charge for the Demand Notice is $30.00. Interest accrues on the overdue bill from the day after the due date until the date of payment at an annual rate of 12 percent. If the demand is not answered within 14 days, the collector may issue a warrant to the Deputy Tax Collector. The taxpayer is then additionally liable for a warrant fee of $10.00. The warrant notice sent by the deputy collector to the taxpayer costs $12.00. If this notice is not answered then a final warrant will be delivered to the taxpayer at his/her residence or place of business at another fee of $17.00. If, after the Service of the $17 warrant, the bill is not paid, a Final Notice before Marking will be sent to the owner's last known address. If the bill is not paid within 5 business days, the license and registration of the owner of the vehicle will be marked for non-renewal at the Registry of Motor Vehicles. The fee for placing the non-renewal mark is $20.00. All bills clearly state the interest and charges.
Can I get an abatement on my motor vehicle excise?
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, and then contact the Assessor's Office at 978-620-3191 for an application for abatement.
NOTE: on unpaid excise tax bills, an owner risks incurring late fees and penalties if an abatement is not granted. The Excise Office must receive applications for abatement by December 31 of the year following the tax of the tax year. Application must be made on or before the 30th day from the date of issue or the date of mailing, whichever is later. 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 what circumstances might a motor vehicle excise abatement be warranted?
Abatements can be filed if:
- The owner believes the assessment is incorrect, or
- If the vehicle was traded, 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 moves from Lawrence to another community on or before January 1 or
- If the owner moved to another state and registered the vehicle and cancelled the registration in Massachusetts or
- If the registration is cancelled, it is most important to return the plate(s) to the Registry of Motor Vehicles and 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.
How does non-payment of motor vehicle excise affect license and registration?
If the service warrant demanding final payment is ignored, the collector or deputy collector may then notify the Registrar of Motor Vehicles of such non-payment, including all accrued interest and penalty fees. The Registrar may then "MARK" the individual's registration preventing the renewal of the motor vehicle registration and the owner's driver's license until such time as the Registrar is notified that full and final payment had been made to the municipality. This payment shall include a $20.00 release fee as final settlement of the delinquent excise. Once the bill had been paid, the municipality will give the owner a receipt so he/she can return to the Registry to register their vehicle.
Under the excise tax law, tax collectors have six (6) years from the issue date of a bill to notify the Registry of non-payment by a driver (M.G.L. c60A s2A), unless the tax record shows a history of non-payment. However, under the Registry's own policy, this notification time has been reduced to just two (2) years. If the record does show a history of delinquency, the tax collector or his deputy can electronically mark the driver's record and institute proceedings to collect for as many years back (beyond the six years, in other words) as necessary and notify the Registry. The Registry, in turn, reviews each notification beyond two years individually. If a taxpayer has a good history of payment and suddenly receives a bill dating back more than six years, the assessors will assign a tax collector to collect the bill; the tax collector or deputy, in turn, will attempt to collect and assess late fees and penalties, as is required by law, if applicable. However, the collector can no longer mark the driver's record for non-payment since the Registry only allows two years for notification from the issuance of the bill. Thus, the taxpayer's ability to renew the license, in this instance, is not hampered; but the bill must still be resolved with the local tax collector.
What if I sold my car?
If an excise bill is received for a vehicle or trailer that has been sold, the seller must:
- Return the plate(s) to the Registry of Motor Vehicles, obtain a plate return receipt AND
- File an application with the Assessors Office for an abatement together with the following:
- Return plate receipt and the bill of sale OR
- New registration form
The bill will be adjusted to reflect the portion of the year when the recipient of the bill owned the vehicle. It is important, however, to remember that the bill for a vehicle you no longer own should not be ignored.
What if I traded my car?
If an excise bill is received for a vehicle, which was traded, and which was not owned in the calendar year stated on the bill, it is recommended that you:
- Pay the bill, and file and application for abatement with the Assessors Excise Office
- Provide a copy of the New Registration Form OR
- Provide a plate return receipt AND purchase agreement citing vehicle as a trade-in.
The bill will be adjusted to reflect the portion of the year when the recipient of the bill owned the vehicle. The bill is prorated back to the last day of the month in which the vehicle was owned and the excise bill on the new vehicle will be prorated as of the date the new vehicle was registered. It is important, however, to remember that the bill for a vehicle you no longer own should not be ignored.
What if my car stolen?
If the vehicle is stolen and not recovered within 30 days, the owner will be entitled to an abatement if he/she:
- Reports the theft of the vehicle to the local police within 48 hours of discovery of the theft.
- After 30 days, the owner must surrender the certificate of registration and obtain a certificate from the Registry of Motor Vehicles indicating that he/she has done so.
- Notify the Assessors office at 978-620-3191.
- Provide the Assessors Office with a copy of the following documents:
- Insurance Company Settlement Letter AND C-19 form (Affidavit of Lost or Stolen Plate) from the Registry of Motor Vehicles OR
- New Registration if plate is transferred.
The certificate and local police report should be presented to the Assessors Office with an application for abatement. The excise office will adjust the bill and grant an abatement for the remaining portion of the year. If the motor vehicle or trailer is subsequently recovered and registered, another excise bill will be issued for the remainder of the year.
Falsely reporting the theft of a motor vehicle or trailer will result in severe penalties and a person may be charged up to three times the excise due on the vehicle for an entire year.
Am I eligible for exemptions?
The City of Lawrence has accepted Chapter 6GA, Section 1 of the Massachusetts General Laws that provides excise tax exemptions for vehicles owned by certain disabled individuals and veterans, ex-prisoners of war and their surviving spouses and certain charitable organizations. Please contact the Assessors Office at 978-620-3191 for further details and eligibility.
Where can I get more information about motor vehicle excise?
Questions about your motor vehicle excise should be directed to the Assessors Office located in room # 103 at City Hall- 200 Common Street.