Understanding State Sales Tax, Nexus and Voluntary Disclosure Programs

In this video, Maria Gordon, Tax Supervisor of State and Local Taxation, delves into the intricacies of sales tax nexus, taxable items and customer exemptions. She also talks about the invaluable lifeline offered by the voluntary disclosure programs offered by some states.


My name is Maria Gordon. My title is Tax Supervisor of State and Local Taxation. Each of the states really wants to get a piece of their pie from taxpayers.

There’s lots of different types of taxes that businesses need to be concerned about. Income tax is an obvious one, but also requirements for sales taxes are continually changing with the states. And then we have local income taxes, we have personal property taxes and even gross receipts taxes based upon total receipts collected in a state and franchise taxes.

 So, a business needs to determine whether or not they’re required to collect sales tax in the various states where they ship product or they do services and determining whether that business has nexus for sales tax is different from determining nexus for income tax.

 In the past, if the business didn’t have any physical presence in the state, they really didn’t have to worry about sales tax, but that all changed in 2018 when the Supreme Court ruled on South Dakota versus Wayfair.

And now the states, all of the states, have enacted economic thresholds, whereby if you have sales into that state over a certain threshold, even if you don’t have any physical presence there, you are required to begin collecting sales tax from your customers in that state. And this has been an area over the past few years that businesses have really had to keep a close eye on. So, this is something that each year, you know, we’re taking a look at that to see where our clients have exceeded those nexus thresholds.

Once a business decides that they are subject to collecting sales tax in a state, then the next step is to really determine what of their products or services are taxable. And this varies again from state to state. So, in some states, services across the board, you know, pretty much are not taxable and other states only specific services might be taxable. And then in this day and age, we have additional considerations like computer software. You know, when is that software considered a taxable product? Or when is it considered a non-taxable service?

So, there’s a lot to consider there just in determining what items are taxable. Once that’s determined, you also need to take a look at your customers and find out who of your customers are taxable because you may have resellers who you don’t have to charge tax to because they’re taxing the end customer that they sell to and so another really big aspect of protecting your business is to collect those exemption certificates, make sure that you have those on hand, and also make sure that they’re current. You know, if it’s been a few years since you’ve collected one, it’s always a good idea to go back to your customers and request an updated certificate from them.

But a business discovers that they have nexus in a state for income tax or for sales tax and that that nexus has existed for the last several years. There is a way that they can go to the states and get some protection and this is called voluntary disclosure. So many of the states offer a voluntary disclosure program where the taxpayers are coming forward and saying, you know, we recognize that we should have been filing income tax or collecting sales tax in your state. We’d like to make it right and the states in response to that coming forward place a limit on the look back period, so they may only go back three or four years to collect tax and then also they often will waive penalties. So it is it’s a great program to protect the business from back audit exposure because it limits those years and the states are very willing to work with taxpayers to get them into compliance.

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