What is a novated lease?
A novated lease is a form of vehicle finance and a three-way agreement between an employer, employee, and a financier. It allows an employee to finance a vehicle as part of their salary - known as salary packaging - and benefits both the employee and employer, even where the vehicle is entirely for personal use.
Even on a modest income, an employee can use a novated lease to not only acquire a vehicle at ex-GST pricing, but salary package the car and its related operating expenditure.
In this guide, you will learn:
- How a novated lease works
- What you need to qualify and how to apply
- How novated lease GST and Fringe Benefit Tax work
- Benefits for employees and employers
- How to choose between a fully maintained or self-managed lease
- Available options at the end of your term
- How to manage your lease if you change employers
- Rates, fees, and terms
Novated Lease explained
A novated lease works in a similar way to a finance lease. There are typically a number of payments over a fixed term, with a residual (i.e. balloon) payment due at the end of the lease. In the lease agreement, the leasing company will include the cost to finance the vehicle and an estimated running cost for the vehicle.
Each party to the agreement - employer, employee, and financier - will play a specific role:
- The employer agrees to make regular, automated payroll deductions from the employee’s salary.
- The employee agrees to have those salary deductions in exchange for the use of the vehicle. The vehicle can be used for business purposes, though unlike a chattel mortgage, it can also be solely for personal use.
- The financier procures the vehicle, establishes the lease and manages the administrative, contractual and compliance aspects of the transaction.
Payments are made directly to the leasing company by automatic payroll deduction. As a substantial portion of the salary deduction is pre-tax, this reduces the employee’s gross taxable income, which saves them income tax. The cost of the vehicle (minus the balloon payment) plus the associated running costs will be spread over fixed payments across the agreed lease term.
Many lease companies pass their bulk-buying discounts on, meaning you will also get a discount off the regular car price and can save more money on your vehicle purchase.
How Novated Lease repayments work
Novated lease repayments are made from the employee’s pre-tax (gross) and post-tax (net) salary. The post-tax portion offsets the Fringe Benefit Tax (FBT). This is known as the Employee Contribution Method (ECM) and ensures no tax liability for the employee and employer at the end of the year.
Additionally, the employee will see sizeable ongoing GST savings. As much of the GST is claimed by the employer as a tax credit, this is then passed on as savings to the employee.
When you salary package a vehicle through a novated leasing company, the total cost of your lease will include:
- Any fees charged by the leasing company
- Vehicle finance payments
- An estimate of your running costs for the vehicle
As with other types of lease, the finance payment will be fixed for the agreed length of the novated lease term. The budgeted running costs in your lease can be easily adjusted if required, however any unused - i.e. surplus - funds are returned to the employee via payroll at the end of the lease.
The immediate benefit of making vehicle repayments this way is enabling employees to use a portion of their income tax to make finance repayments - rather than relying entirely on their post-tax income - and see a substantial income-tax saving throughout the lease term.
With a novated lease, there are typically a number of payments over a fixed term, with a residual payment due at the end of the lease.
Where to get a Novated Lease
You can acquire a novated lease from specific novated lease finance companies. However, as an employee, your employer will first need to agree to salary package a vehicle. The easiest way to begin this process is to speak to the human resources team at your workplace and ask if they permit novated leasing.
As novated leasing benefits both an employee and employer, many workplaces allow salary packaging - if your workplace agrees, you can then ask if they have a preferred financier to supply the vehicle.
While it is possible to apply through some banks, doing so will only provide finance for the purchase price of the vehicle. A novated lease acquired through a bank is always self-managed (non-maintained) and will not include the running costs of the vehicle as part of the finance package.
In Australia, there are upwards of 40 to 50 novated lease companies to choose from.
How to qualify
You can qualify if you are:
- Employed on a full-time or permanent part-time basis
- Employed in a situation where the employer supports a novated leasing agreement
- Capable of meeting repayments for the duration of the lease
- Over 21 years of age. On rare occasions, lenders may approve applicants between 18 - 21 years old
You may not qualify if you:
- Are self-employed
- Have poor credit history
- Cannot demonstrate your ability to make repayments for the full term
The budgeted running costs in your lease can be easily adjusted if required during the lease term and all unused lease funds are reconciled fairly at the end of the lease term.
Novated Lease GST Benefits
By using a novated lease, an employee can acquire a vehicle without paying GST (Goods and Services Tax) on it. This can save a considerable amount of money, and is one of the only ways an employee can acquire a new vehicle without being obliged to pay the GST.
- An employee wishes to purchase a vehicle valued at $55,000
- GST is calculated at 10% of the ex-GST purchase price (1/11th of the GST-inclusive price)
- The vehicle can be acquired for $50,000
- The employee saves $5,000 when purchasing the new vehicle
It is possible to purchase a vehicle through private sale with a novated lease. However, as there is no GST attached to a private sale, it does not offer the benefits afforded by purchasing a vehicle through a registered seller.
Fringe Benefit Tax (FBT) and Employee Contribution Method (ECM)
Fringe Benefit Tax (FBT) is applied to any fringe benefit received by an employee or their associates - i.e. family members - from their employer. Novated leasing a vehicle is a fringe benefit, as are any non-wage compensation or benefits you may receive, such as:
- Company vehicles for personal use
- Medical insurance
- Accommodation allowance
- Entertainment allowance
- Discounted loans
FBT is charged at 47% (the highest tax bracket rate of 45%, plus Medicare levy of 2%) and the taxable value amount is calculated on motor vehicles under a novated lease one of two ways:
- Statutory formula - a flat 20 per cent rate on the cost of the vehicle (excluding state charges such as stamp duty, registration and CBT)
- Operating cost - generally only applied to vehicles with a high percentage of business use where a log book will be be maintained
While the employer is liable for the FBT amount, the employee will reduce this liability to a nil balance through post-tax contributions to the vehicle’s running costs. Let’s look at a very simple example of how FBT might be calculated:
- The cost of the car is $55,000
- Using the statutory formula, FBT is calculated at 20 per cent
- The taxable value amount is $11,000
- This amount is taxed at 47%
The income tax savings using a novated lease are greater than the FBT payable on the car.
How the Employee Contribution Method (ECM) works
The main method to reduce FBT on a novated lease is through the Employee Contribution Method (ECM), and will be agreed upon between the employer and the employee when creating the salary packaging agreement.
Using the ECM, contributions made from your after-tax salary will reduce FBT obligations when used to pay for running costs on the car. Running costs can include:
- New Tyres
In many cases, you can eliminate FBT liability completely. This is possible because every dollar paid from your after-tax salary reduces the FBT liability by the same amount, which means the employee is paying the amount using their marginal tax rate, instead of the FBT rate of 47%.
Let’s look at the same basic example from earlier, this time incorporating the ECM:
- The cost of the car is $55,000
- Using the statutory formula, FBT is calculated at 20 per cent
- The taxable value amount is $11,000
- This amount is included in the employee's lease payments and deducted from their after-tax salary throughout each year of the lease.
- The FBT amount is reduced to $0
Note: This is a basic example of how the FBT base may be calculated on a lease. You will need to speak to your leasing company to determine your exact post-tax deductions.
Fully maintained versus self-managed Novated Lease
|Fully Maintained||Self-Managed (Non-Maintained)|
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What happens at the end of a Novated Lease?
You have a few options available at the end of your novated lease term:
- Pay any residual amount and gain full ownership of the vehicle
- Sell the vehicle and any claim any profit from the vehicle (above the residual) tax-free
- Refinance the vehicle into another term
- In some cases, you may be able to return the vehicle to the novated leasing company without paying any residual amount
The residual amount will vary, and shorter terms will have higher residuals attached. If you are using the car to travel extensively (35,000 km or more per year) you can usually opt for a lower residual. Speak to your leasing company about this.
|Novated Lease Term||Estimated Balloon Amount|
A great benefit of a novated lease is any equity realised by you at sale time of the vehicle remains tax-free.
Leaving your job with a Novated Lease
If you leave your job during the term of your novated lease, you will still be responsible for finance payments on the vehicle. The lease will be de-novated, where the running costs are removed from the agreement and repayments work much the same way as a standard car loan.
The employer is required to notify the leasing company with details of the end-date of your employment. A reconciliation statement of the account will be provided to the employee by the leasing company, which will outline all incoming and outgoing payments throughout the lease to that point:
- If there is a deficit in the lease account (due to overspend on the budgeted running costs) the employer will advise final deductions from the employee’s pay to cover the amount.
- If there is a surplus, these are returned to the employer and passed on to the employee via payroll.
When you are employed again - provided your new employer agrees to salary packaging the vehicle - the lease will be re-novated, and revert back to its initial state including running costs.
Novated Lease if you work for your own company
A novated lease can be suitable for a business owner who is also an employee of their own company. This can be particularly useful if the business owner is planning to change the structure of their business, as the lease can be re-novated under the new company.
However, this is only an applicable option if the business owner is receiving a salary from the company they own. Personal income tax returns will typically need to be supplied to the leasing company, and the company is required to have a minimum operating time of two years.
If you are planning to leave your current employment to start your own business, you can transfer your novated lease provided you are paying yourself a salary.
What type of car can you finance with a Novated Lease?
If your employer agrees to a novated leasing programme, you can choose the kind of vehicle that suits you and your lifestyle - from SUVs to 4WDs and sports cars. You are not restricted in vehicle choice in the manner of the limitations applied to a typical company car or fleet policy.
There are two restrictions to choosing a vehicle for a novated lease:
- It needs to be a passenger vehicle (including utes)
- The vehicle’s maximum payload cannot exceed 1,000 kg
Accessories fitted to the vehicle prior to delivery - such as heavier wheels, towbars, or trays for utility vehicles - can be included in the lease agreement, and these will typically reduce the payload of the vehicle beyond the maximum payload amount. This means a ute which may be ineligible for a lease can be made eligible with the inclusion of accessories.
You can use a novated lease to finance new cars or good-quality used cars (including buying a car privately), provided the vehicle is not older than 15 years at the end of your lease term. For example:
- You choose a vehicle which is seven years old
- Your lease has a term of five years
- Your car will be 12 years old at the end of the term
In the option above, while the vehicle is a viable option for your initial lease, you will be unable to refinance that vehicle beyond three years under a new arrangement.
Top 10 Salary Packaging Vehicles for Employees
|Top 10 Novated Lease Cars 2017||Top 10 Novated Lease Cars 2018|
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Novated lease terms are generally between 12 and 60 months, with the most common being between three to five years. In rare cases, 6-month terms are possible.
What are the interest rates?
Interest rates on a novated lease can reach 10%, and are generally applied between 5% and 7.50%. The interest rate will be influenced by:
- The price of the vehicle
- The age of the vehicle
- Purchasing from a private seller or dealership
How much can you borrow?
The amount you can borrow to salary package a vehicle will vary depending on the lender. In general, the minimum novated lease amount is between $5,000 and $10,000, while higher amounts are subject entirely to the repayment capacity of the applicant.
Some lease agreements exceed $100,000, however they very rarely exceed $150,000.
Minimum and Maximum Amounts
|Minimum Amount||Maximum Amount|
|$5,000 - $10,000||$150,000|
What is the term?
The term of the lease agreement is flexible, to suit the employee Generally, terms of one to five years are available under a novated lease, although 6-month terms are also possible. The shorter the term of the salary packaging agreement, the higher the residual payment amount will be.
Minimum and Maximum Terms
|Minimum Term||Maximum Term|
|6 months||5 years|
What fees are included?
A novated lease may include management fees for a Fully Maintained lease, generally between $20 and $50 per month, and a one-time establishment fee of between $200 and $500 which is bundled into the total finance amount.
When compared to other forms of vehicle finance, the tax savings through salary packaging a vehicle far outweigh any fees included in the agreement.
Novated Lease Fees
|Establishment Fees||Management Fees|
|$200 - $500||$20 - $50 per month|
Novated leases are a ‘win-win’ for both employees and employers. Employees benefit from ex-GST pricing on a car for personal use, and can reduce their income tax liabilities. Employers wishing to reward and incentivise their employees by salary packaging a vehicle offer their employees a significant saving on a car, at no cost to the business.
In summary, the benefits of a novated lease in Australia include:
- No GST payable on the car
- No GST payable on running costs
- GST can be claimed by the employer as a tax credit
- Reduce payroll tax for employers
- No obligation on the part of the employer to either the vehicle or the lease
- A cost-effective way of acquiring a vehicle
- Employee income tax savings
- Fully maintained personal vehicle - including fuel, insurance, servicing, repairs, roadside assist and registration
- 100% personal use of the vehicle
- Option to de-novate and re-novate if changing employers
Novated Lease Benefits Summary
|Employee Benefits||Employer Benefits|
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Novated Lease FAQ
Can I use a novated lease if I am self-employed?
If you are self-employed - i.e. are not paid a salary by an employee or receiving a salary through your own company - you will need to look at alternative forms of vehicle finance, such as a Chattel Mortgage for business vehicles, or Low-Doc Car Loan.
Can I use a novated lease to finance heavy vehicles?
Novated leasing allows for a maximum vehicle payload of 1,000 kg - if you are wishing to finance heavy machinery, a non-passenger vehicle, or vehicles with a heavier payload than the maximum limit, you may wish to consider a Chattel Mortgage or Equipment Finance as alternatives.
What is FBT and ECM for a novated lease?
In salary packaging a vehicle, Fringe Benefit Tax (FBT) is a tax paid by an employer for certain benefits received by employees. The Employee Contribution Method (ECM) is a way to reduce the FBT liability to a nil balance by having the employee make post-tax contributions to maintaining the vehicle.
What is the lowest salary I need to get approval for a novated lease?
Novated leasing approval is dependent on your capacity as a borrower. This means you need to illustrate your ability to meet regular repayments over the term of the lease. For example, as it is entirely dependent on your personal living situation, expenses and dependents, you may be approvedl for a $30,000 vehicle on a yearly salary of $45,000.