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 s/he pay the bill in full, then contact the local Board of Assessors for an application for abatement. Although payment of a bill is not a precondition for an abatement, an owner risks incurring late fees and penalties if an abatement is not granted. 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 M.G.L. c.60A:2 as amended by Chapter 262, sections 10 to 11, of the Acts of 2004, abatement applications must be received by the assessors within three years after the excise bill was due, or one year after it was paid, whichever was later. An owner needs to apply on time to avoid losing his/her appeal rights. The assessors have some discretion to act on late applications, but the excise must still be outstanding and the owner cannot appeal. If the assessors decline to grant a discretionary abatement, however, the owner can then pay the excise, apply for an abatement within one year of the payment date and appeal the assessor's decision on that application if s/he disagrees.
When to File
Abatements can be filed if the owner believes the assessment is incorrect, 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 moved, registered the vehicle in another state, and cancelled the registration in Massachusetts, or did not renew the registration in Massachusetts. No abatement is entitled if the registration is canceled but ownership is retained or if moving to another Massachusetts city/town within the same year. If the registration is cancelled, it is most important to return the plate(s) to the Registry of Motor Vehicles and to 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.
If the assessors decline to take action within three months from the application date (unless you agree in writing to an extension), the abatement is deemed denied. The taxpayer then has no appeal rights to any state or local agency or official. However, the taxpayer can still pay the excise and file for an abatement within one year of the payment date.
If the application for abatement is denied at the local level, the denial can be appealed to the State Appellate Tax Board. Any abatement granted by the State Appellate Tax Board because of overpayment shall be refunded by the city or town treasurer accompanied by six percent interest, calculated from the date of payment of the excise to the date the refund is paid. No interest is due the taxpayer if the abatement is granted by the Board of Assessors. No abatement can reduce a tax to less than $5, and no abatement of less than $5 will be granted.
Another provision of Chapter 262 of 2004 adds section 8 to M.G.L. c. 60A. By its terms, assessors have discretionary authority to abate all or a portion of excise taxes, interest and charges beyond the deadline period. However, the excise tax must still be outstanding to give assessors jurisdiction. Assessors no longer have to obtain authority to abate from the Commissioner of Revenue, under M.G.L. c. 58:8.
For further information, please download the Motor Vehicle and Trailer Excise Manual (PDF), or call your local Assessor's office.