FAVR driving in the sunset

The Ultimate Guide to Understanding FAVR

How a customizable, tax-free vehicle reimbursement helps companies stay on mission in 2024

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Introducing the most accurate, transparent, and cost-effective way to reimburse your mobile workforce...
Most organizations pay mobile workers a set monthly car allowance or a mileage reimbursement. But another strategy has gained traction with employers: the fixed and variable rate reimbursement, or FAVR (pronounced "favor," or /ˈfāvər/).


Mileage logs

Chapter 1:
What is fixed and variable rate reimbursement (FAVR)?

Fixed and variable rate is an IRS revenue procedure designed for businesses to reimburse employees tax-free for the use of a personal vehicle.

A FAVR car allowance reimburses employees based on localized cost data. The name comes from separating out fixed costs (insurance, depreciation, registration) from variable costs (gas, oil, maintenance) when deriving rates. Neither a standard car allowance nor a mileage reimbursement distinguishes between expense types or uses localized cost data.

These flaws in standard car allowances and mileage rates lead to inaccurate, inequitable reimbursements and costly consequences.

A FAVR vehicle program bases rates on the projected expenses for a standard vehicle appropriate to the employee’s job, garaged in the employee's zip code. This promotes accurate and equitable payments. Each employee receives a fixed regular payment plus a cents-per-mile rate that rises and falls with variable expenses.


Why consider a fixed and variable rate car allowance?

1. Different employees face different costs.

Gas prices vary by locality, as do insurance rates, taxes, and fees. Different employees drive different amounts. Neither a standard car allowance nor a mileage reimbursement can address these variations equitably or cost-effectively.

2. Business vehicle expenses change over time.

Traditional plans do not reflect cost fluctuations. Most employers choose a standard car allowance or mileage rate for its simplicity. They set a monthly amount and leave it there for years. Or they use the IRS mileage rate, which changes annually but cannot respond to cost spikes or cost discrepancies between different parts of the country. 

3. IRS tax rules favor FAVR.

The 2018 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act rendered traditional vehicle reimbursement programs less effective. The reasons for this are complicated, so we'll explain them in chapter 2. The upshot is that FAVR plans have become the most cost-effective method to comply with current IRS tax rules.

4. Inflation in vehicle expenses requires a responsive plan.

In our inflationary economy it is vital for businesses to offer a vehicle reimbursement that automatically stays responsive to the changing needs of employees.

Chapter 2:
IRS tax rules and vehicle reimbursement

How tax laws affect car allowances and mileage reimbursements

Recent changes in the tax code have forced many businesses to address their car reimbursement policies. Three reasons why:


Failure to align reimbursement methods with current tax laws can result in

  • Labor code violations
  • Increased attrition rates
  • Uncontrollable costs

Let’s explore the most popular solutions to the tax reform challenges. We’ll see why each one is ineffective.


Standard car allowances vs. IRS tax rules

The IRS treats standard car allowances as taxable income. Without the ability to deduct business mileage, employees cannot offset this tax burden. 

If you increase your flat car allowance amount, you increase your costs as well as the amount of money going to taxes (30–40% for most employees, plus FICA/Medicare for the employer). Nor do you solve the problem of inaccurate and inequitable payments.

Fuel card / reimbursement vs. IRS tax rules

If you provide a gas card or fuel reimbursement on top of a car allowance, you increase overall costs while adding the challenges of program administration.

Unless employees log business mileage, that fuel card is treated as taxable income. So unless you want the headache of taxing the fuel card, you have to create a mileage tracking program – and charge back employees for personal use of gas (or tax personal use).

Mileage reimbursement vs. IRS tax rules

A popular choice is to reimburse at the IRS business mileage rate, which is non-taxable. This solves the taxation problem, but it creates other problems.

  • Cost control. The more employees drive or report, the more you pay.

  • Inequities. Low-mileage drivers are under-reimbursed, high-mileage drivers over-reimbursed. 


In summary, a car allowance works ok to pay fixed expenses, but it cannot address variable expenses or disparities between certain localities’ fixed costs. And it is taxed.

A mileage rate works for variable expenses but leaves employees shortchanged if their mileage can’t cover their fixed expenses, and may create cost control issues from high-mileage drivers.

If your company’s goal is to treat all employees fairly while remaining under budget, your best option is FAVR.

90-second FAVR crash course

FAVR reimbursement vs. IRS tax rules

Fixed and variable rate is the IRS-recommended way to reimburse vehicle expenses.

FAVR has been receiving quite a bit of attention in recent years as more businesses make the switch. Here’s why:


All of these advantages stem from the strategy of separating fixed costs from variable costs and addressing these differently. Why does that work? Let’s take a look.

Compare your vehicle program to a FAVR Plan

Chapter 3:
How FAVR works

How does a FAVR reimbursement program work?

The fixed and variable rate methodology mirrors how each person incurs vehicle costs.


A FAVR plan takes a precise approach to reimbursing these two types of costs.

keys-icon-for-standard-vehicle-to-generate-reimbursement-rates A standard vehicle is selected to generate the reimbursements for each employee. (Employees may drive whatever vehicle they like within company parameters, though.)

drivers-license-icon-for-data-to-customize-reimbursement Driver data is applied to the standard vehicle. This means each employee is reimbursed for the standard vehicle based on where they live and drive.

dollar-icon-for-fixed-vehicle-allowance-portion-of-favr Each employee receives a fixed amount to cover the fixed ownership costs for their home zip code, regardless of the mileage they travel.

graph-data-points-for-variable-rate-portion-of-favr Each employee also receives a variable rate multiplied by their mileage. This cents-per-mile rate adjusts each month based on gas prices within the employee’s territory.

dollar-sign-above-hand-for-total-favr-reimbursement-to-employee The allowance and the mileage reimbursement are combined to deliver a geographically cost-sensitive payment that remains non-taxed.

The fixed and variable reimbursement rates are governed by IRS Revenue Procedure 2007-70. These rates are updated each year primarily based on the capital cost of the standard vehicles chosen by companies to generate their reimbursements.

Why does FAVR use a standard vehicle and not the employee’s vehicle?

Using a standard vehicle for business reimbursements promotes fairness by removing employee vehicle choices from the equation.

Your employees probably drive a vehicle that suits their lifestyle. Their preferred personal vehicle could be a gas-guzzler such as a pickup truck or a large SUV. Many employees expect your business to reimburse them based on what they drive.

FAVR levels the vehicle reimbursement playing field by using standard vehicles to generate payments. You either reimburse all employees based on one standard vehicle or different groups of employees using different vehicles appropriate to their roles.


Using a standard vehicle for reimbursements offers three advantages:

1. Equitable treatment of employees

Scenario: Two employees play the same role in the organization and drive the same number of miles per month, but one drives a Toyota Prius, while the other drives a GMC Yukon. If you pay a flat, taxable car allowance, the person driving the Yukon will say the allowance is too small. If you instead reimburse mileage or fuel, that same driver will get a much larger reimbursement than the Prius driver.

Using a standard vehicle to generate reimbursement rates will resolve both forms of unfairness.

2. Equitable treatment of the company

Scenario: A business employs sales reps to take small samples to prospects, necessitating only a midsize car to get the job done. Most of the employees instead drive Hummers, expecting to be reimbursed for the costs of this massive SUV.

A FAVR vehicle plan would treat each employee fairly without subsidizing the costs to own and operate these massive personal vehicles.

3. Ability to control company costs

If you have employees driving gas guzzlers, how do you control your costs? A company’s vehicle reimbursement costs should not be determined by the lifestyle choices of employees. Instead, it should be determined by the requirements of the job.

Basing reimbursements off of an appropriate vehicle keeps expenditures aligned with the goals of the company.

Why was FAVR established in the first place?

Developed as a non-taxable car allowance option, fixed and variable rate has a long history. FAVR plans have been administered for over 80 years with an approval letter by the IRS. In 1992 the IRS officially recognized FAVR reimbursement programs as an accountable plan (i.e. non-taxable reimbursement).

Even 30 years later, when people first hear about the fixed and variable rate reimbursement, they think it is some type of tax loophole, but FAVR is an IRS accountable plan. FAVR is non-taxable just like the IRS mileage rate, but was designed for businesses rather than individuals, making it more accurate, defensible, and equitable.

Chapter 4:
Why FAVR is non-taxable

What makes FAVR non-taxable, or an accountable plan?

Fundamentally, to be non-taxable, a payment must address a business expense. When it comes to payments to an employee for the use of a personal vehicle, it gets tricky because the company must prove that the payment is a reimbursement of a business expense. It’s way too complicated to keep track of receipts and break down business use vs. personal use.

Fortunately, the IRS has detailed the rules a business can follow in order to keep its vehicle reimbursement plan accountable. For a FAVR vehicle program, the key is using projected expense data specific to the standard vehicle garaged in an employee’s zip code.

There are 28 IRS guidelines that make FAVR non-taxable. Most of these rules involve data models to ensure you have a statistically defensible program. But there are four categories with flexible guidelines for company choices:

4 IRS FAVR requirements

These guidelines require employees to drive vehicles of certain age and value (MSRP when the vehicle was new). Similarly, there is a maximum FAVR cap for the standard vehicle used to generate the vehicle reimbursements. This means the vehicle used to calculate the reimbursements can’t exceed the maximum price. For 2024 the maximum standard automobile cost for computing a FAVR allowance has been increased to $62,000, an amount that provides quite a bit of flexibility with the business-class vehicles that can be used to generate reimbursement rates.

The IRS FAVR guidelines also require employees to maintain insurance coverage at or above certain liability limits. This ensures that employees are paying the same amount as the projected insurance premiums for the standard vehicle garaged in their zip code. This practice also protects the company in the event of an employee car accident.


Are you prepared for an employee car accident?


Chapter 5:
Who is FAVR for?

Fixed and variable rate reimbursements were designed for mobile employees who drive 5,000 or more miles annually.

FAVR programs can also be designed for hybrid employees who are considered middle or upper management and also travel 5,000+ miles per year. This reimbursement approach is designed to be a business tool but can be customized to provide additional perks.

However, you can only offer a FAVR vehicle plan to employees based in the United States. Because the tax laws in Canada and Mexico are different, these plans can’t be provided for employees in these countries.

FAVR is designed for organizations that have at least five drivers on the plan within the year. This means both small and large organizations can take advantage of this tax-free reimbursement approach. However, in both cases, the complex IRS rules can make the administration of the plan a challenge.

FAVR is for companies of all sizes

The key question is whether the company is equipped to develop and manage the program itself, or whether it's better to outsource FAVR plan administration.

Mobile employee entering mileage into laptop

Can FAVR be self-administered?

A fixed and variable rate program can be self-administered, but this is not recommended. The complexity of the 28 rules for IRS compliance keeps most organizations from doing so. Ensuring you have the proper methodology and statistically defensible data makes administering the program a huge challenge. Many organizations struggle just to manage a fuel card program, let alone a FAVR vehicle plan.

If an organization decides to go through the process of self-administration, they need to make sure they have accurate data, a GREAT training program, GREAT support, and a system to manage the compliance. Without these elements in place, the program will fail.

Most organizations instead contract with a FAVR plan administrator who is versed in compliance guidelines. This third-party administrator supplies the data, implementation, and management necessary to ensure the reimbursement remains IRS-compliant and tax-free to the organization and its employees.

employees administering a FAVR car allowance plan

Chapter 6:
How should FAVR be administered?

What to look for in a FAVR plan administrator

To find the right partner to administer your non-taxable reimbursement plan, you need to know what to look for. You want to find a partner who offers:


Learn more about mBurse FAVR programs and alternatives

How long does it take to implement a FAVR reimbursement plan?

There are three phases to building a professional vehicle reimbursement policy. On average, the process takes 30 days. The three phases are:



Your new policy is designed based on your company goals. Reimbursement rates are then generated based on the standard vehicle(s).



Your new policy is implemented and communicated to your employees.



Your new policy is managed with excellent support and a variety of training/support options.

Implementation can be challenging because changes often bring anxiety. However, an experienced plan administrator will coach both management and drivers through the process, helping them see the benefits of the new plan.

Typical plan benefits

  • Employees who received a taxable car allowance often see a significant benefit boost because they are no longer losing 30–40% of their monthly payment to taxes.

  • The company tends to save money as well because this eliminated tax waste will be more than sufficient to fund the new FAVR allowance.

Anatomy of a Professional Car Reimbursement

A professional reimbursement plan does more than just reimburse employees for the use of a personal vehicle. A professional plan is comprehensive and scalable, balancing company expense, company risk, and equitable reimbursement.

Diagram of the anatomy of a professional reimbursement

Committing to a professional vehicle reimbursement plan

When it comes to car reimbursements, few companies take the time to develop a robust, professional plan. This is a mistake. Taking into account company risk, long-term scalability, and fairness to employees is crucial.

If an organization's leadership is not willing to look at vehicle reimbursements through that lens, they are missing a huge opportunity. They also increase the chances that their car allowance or mileage reimbursement will eventually cause harm to the organization and its employees.

This is why, as you re-evaluate your current car allowance or mileage rate, you need to think about everything from tax codes and labor codes to attrition rates and employee car insurance.

Now is the time to re-evaluate your car allowance or mileage reimbursement

Let’s recap

Recent tax code changes eliminated a popular business expense deduction. Employees who drive on behalf of their employer often relied on that deduction. A number of states have passed laws to require companies to fully reimburse their employees for expenses, including vehicle costs.

If you fail to act on this information, employees may leave the company or take other measures to recoup the loss of income.

On top of this, your taxable car allowance or your mileage reimbursement cannot equitably address the variety of expense needs within your organization. Raising the car allowance will increase costs while continuing this inequity. Paying the IRS mileage rate will compromise cost control while over-reimbursing high mileage drivers and under-reimbursing low-mileage drivers. Adding a fuel card or fuel reimbursement to an existing plan only adds more expense and administrative headaches.

Implementing a tax-free FAVR reimbursement program, however, will pay for itself quickly and treat employees equitably. Using a third-party administrator will allow both management and drivers to focus fully on their jobs fulfilling the company’s mission.

That’s what a good vehicle reimbursement policy does – it facilitates the company’s mission.

Re-evaluate your current plan, and consider what both the organization and your employees stand to gain by switching to FAVR.

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