Category Archives for sales tax exemption certificates

How do States Tax Cloud Computing including Application Service Providers (ASPs) and Software as a Service (SaaS)?

Sales tax on software and SaaS is complicated.

SaaS and ASP (AKA “Cloud Computing,”) are now a very, and perhaps the most, common model for software delivery. Cloud Computing means that customers access specific software applications over the internet through third-party providers rather than through a single purchase loaded on a single computer.

The sales and use tax implications of Cloud Computing are far reaching and prompt many questions including:

  • Does the ASP or SaaS provider have nexus in the jurisdiction in which it is providing its product or services? Quick answer: “probably, yes, especially in light of Wayfair.”
  • Is the ASP or SaaS involved in the sale or license of software or the performance of a service?
  • Is Cloud Computing considered the sale of a service, and if so, are those services taxable?
  • Is Cloud Computing considered the sale of software, and if so, is it canned or custom software?
  • If Cloud Computing considered the sale of software, is an exemption available?

The basic problem in taxing cloud computing is that it’s not clear what is being sold. Is it considered tangible personal property or a service? It is not always clear whether anything has been delivered, or where it has been delivered, or whether the concept of delivery even applies.

Adding to the confusion, the distinctions between software, digital goods, and SaaS have become blurred. As a consequence, some states, like Colorado, that do not tax software delivered electronically will tax digital goods. Other states, such as New Jersey, taxes personal use software delivered electronically and digital goods, but does not tax SaaS.

Not surprisingly, the answers states have taken varying and inconsistent positions on these questions. In some states, Cloud Computing may not be taxable because they do not tax the sale of software delivered electronically or because there is no sale of tangible personal property (such as California).

Other states may not tax Cloud Computing because they consider it to be a nontaxable service. Still other states tax Cloud Computing as an information or data processing service (like Texas).

Check out this chart from CCH that summarizes the taxation of Cloud Computing across the US.

About Peisner Johnson and Company

We Have a Chart for That — You might call it a Taxability Matrix or a Taxability Chart, the name is not important. We have various tax matrices already put together based on survey questions made to the states each year. But remember, this chart is the result of a survey performed by the states and is research provided to us by CCH. The charts are fantastic resources, but cannot substitute for professional advice based on your specific facts and circumstances. By all means, have a look at the charts we can provide but then do your own research and consult an expert.

What’s the Best Way to Get Answers to Your State Tax Questions?

CALL THE STATE? — This may not be the best thing to do. Clients frequently remark that when the call the state for guidance, they often get hazy and even conflicting answers. We usually say that it’s not that people at the state don’t know what they’re talking about. In fact, if you get a hold of the right people with expertise in your industry, and they understand your question correctly, then you can almost always trust the answer you get from them. Just try to get the answer in writing, so you’re protected in the event of a future audit.

But you have to get the right people and you have to phrase the question appropriately using correct terminology so that misunderstandings are avoided. Certain words carry meaning in the sales tax world that might not be immediately apparent to a non sales tax person. Sales tax is much more a “form over substance” type of tax than income tax and how things are worded in a contract or invoice can be crucial to the taxability. How a question is worded can also make a big difference. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there’s some sort of trick or code language that you must conform to or else, I’m just saying that you want to understand all the implications of the words you choose in asking for guidance so that you get the most accurate answer.

Plus, how do you know if you got the whole answer on your situation? You may have described your facts and circumstances accurately but left out something that you did not think was important. The answer you get would be dependent on the facts you presented. But in reality, the answer you get may not be appropriate when you consider all the relevant facts.

GOOGLE IT? — With so much information available on the Internet these days, you can Google your question and chances are, you’ll find something that seems to match your situation. The problem here, of course, is, does this answer really apply to your situation? Is there another contradicting ruling or law on this matter? Has this item you found been superseded?

GET A RULING? — What if there is no law, regulation, court case or state ruling that addresses your exact situation? Yes, this does happen and quite frequently. State revenue departments have not produced answers to every possible question. This is in stark contrast to the IRS, where it seems that no matter what situation you face, there is a regulation or revenue ruling or court case that addresses it on point — it’s just a matter of finding it. At the state level, we frequently run into situations where there is simply no documented answer to your question. In this case, we usually recommend obtaining private letter rulings from the revenue departments. Each state has their own procedure. We usually recommend only seeking a letter ruling where you have already discussed the question with a subject matter expert at the state, and gotten a pretty good idea of what you’re going to get in the ruling. It’s not always possible to do, but you don’t want bad precedent, if you can help it.

ASK THE EXPERTS? — Have you tried calling the state or just searching the Internet and came away wondering if you got the right answer? Have you considered asking an expert? You probably have, but hesitated, considering the cost. Well, this is what we do — We Solve State Tax Problems.

And, we don’t always charge for this service. How can that be, you ask? We subscribe to just about every service available and can find just about any law, regulation or court case that would bear on your facts and circumstances. And more than that, we use our many years of experience to evaluate your facts to form the correct questions. With that experience we can draw conclusions you can rely on. And we maintain contacts with key state personnel that we can confirm how the state will treat certain transactions that fall in gray areas.

Sometimes we just flat know the answer to a question you have. We always tell our clients: “If you have a question, just call us or email us. If we can answer you off the top of our heads, we’re not going to charge you. If we need to do some research, we’ll tell you before we do the work and seek your approval before we do it.” You can expect no surprise invoices from us.

So What Questions Do You Have?

Like we said earlier, we can deal with any state tax question you can think of. Of course, the answer to many questions we get is, “it depends!” And that may sound like a cop out, but it really does depend. The answer depends on which state we’re talking about number one and then on other possible variances in the facts. One of the helpful resources we subscribe to is provided by CCH. And one of the resources they give us access to are certain charts or tax matrices.

CAUTION ON CHARTS –A big word of caution is in order when it comes to charts. A chart is just a starting place when you want to do some research, and not the final answer by any means, but it’s still interesting and insightful. One particular chart they provide is unique in that it is based entirely on surveys of actual state tax departments and as such it is a good representation of state tax policy. But it is just state policy and this survey is not binding on them. Sometimes, a state’s own policy is at variance with the law, so take this with a grain of salt. But, it still makes for good state tax conversation. We’re here to help, give us a call.

How do States Tax Manufacturing Equipment?

Manufacturers are usually entitled to sales tax exemptions.

The first thing you need to think about in determining if certain manufacturing equipment can be purchased tax free is what is manufacturing? I’m sure that it comes as no surprise that the definition of the term “manufacturing” varies from state to state. For example, all manufacturing probably includes some processing and/or fabrication, but not all fabrication or processing is manufacturing. Similar questions arise over refining, assembly, and construction. This is where the confusion arises: trying to distinguish between what is fabrication, processing, refining, assembly, etc.

Not only are there disputes over the definition of manufacturing,there is also usually a question of when the “manufacturing process” begins or ends. Machinery used either before or after the manufacturing process begins or ends usually does not qualify for a state’s sales tax exemption for machinery used in manufacturing.  In general, the manufacturing process begins when the raw materials are removed from their first point of storage and ends when the completed product is taken off the line and placed in storage. Some of the more typical areas not qualifying for the manufacturing exemption include receiving, inspection, shipping, intraplant transportation, and finished goods warehousing equipment. The key is usually whether the activity or equipment contributes to a change in the product being produced or is an essential step in the manufacturing process.

Then comes the question of whether a state’s manufacturing exemption applies strictly to “manufacturers” as that term is defined by the state (usually by reference to an SIC code) or if the exemption is for equipment used in “manufacturing”. Equipment that is only exempt if it is used by a “manufacturer” in the “manufacturing process” is less broad than if the exemption is for equipment that is simply used in the “manufacturing process”.

Check out this chart from CCH that summarizes the taxation of manufacturing machinery across the US.

About Peisner Johnson and Company, LLP

We Have a Chart for That — You might call it a Taxability Matrix or a Taxability Chart, the name is not important. We have various tax matrices already put together based on survey questions made to the states each year. But remember, this chart is the result of a survey performed by the states and is research provided to us by CCH. The charts are fantastic resources, but cannot substitute for professional advice based on your specific facts and circumstances. By all means, have a look at the charts we can provide but then do your own research and consult an expert.

What’s the Best Way to Get Answers to Your State Tax Questions?

CALL THE STATE? — This may not be the best thing to do. Clients frequently remark that when the call the state for guidance, they often get hazy and even conflicting answers. We usually say that it’s not that people at the state don’t know what they’re talking about. In fact, if you get a hold of the right people with expertise in your industry, and they understand your question correctly, then you can almost always trust the answer you get from them. Just try to get the answer in writing, so you’re protected in the event of a future audit.

But you have to get the right people and you have to phrase the question appropriately using correct terminology so that misunderstandings are avoided. Certain words carry meaning in the sales tax world that might not be immediately apparent to a non sales tax person. Sales tax is much more a “form over substance” type of tax than income tax and how things are worded in a contract or invoice can be crucial to the taxability. How a question is worded can also make a big difference. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there’s some sort of trick or code language that you must conform to or else, I’m just saying that you want to understand all the implications of the words you choose in asking for guidance so that you get the most accurate answer.

Plus, how do you know if you got the whole answer on your situation? You may have described your facts and circumstances accurately but left out something that you did not think was important. The answer you get would be dependent on the facts you presented. But in reality, the answer you get may not be appropriate when you consider all the relevant facts.

GOOGLE IT? — With so much information available on the Internet these days, you can Google your question and chances are, you’ll find something that seems to match your situation. The problem here, of course, is, does this answer really apply to your situation? Is there another contradicting ruling or law on this matter? Has this item you found been superseded?

GET A RULING? — What if there is no law, regulation, court case or state ruling that addresses your exact situation? Yes, this does happen and quite frequently. State revenue departments have not produced answers to every possible question. This is in stark contrast to the IRS, where it seems that no matter what situation you face, there is a regulation or revenue ruling or court case that addresses it on point — it’s just a matter of finding it. At the state level, we frequently run into situations where there is simply no documented answer to your question. In this case, we usually recommend obtaining private letter rulings from the revenue departments. Each state has their own procedure. We usually recommend only seeking a letter ruling where you have already discussed the question with a subject matter expert at the state, and gotten a pretty good idea of what you’re going to get in the ruling. It’s not always possible to do, but you don’t want bad precedent, if you can help it.

ASK THE EXPERTS? — Have you tried calling the state or just searching the Internet and came away wondering if you got the right answer? Have you considered asking an expert? You probably have, but hesitated, considering the cost. Well, this is what we do — We Solve State Tax Problems.

And, we don’t always charge for this service. How can that be, you ask? We subscribe to just about every service available and can find just about any law, regulation or court case that would bear on your facts and circumstances. And more than that, we use our many years of experience to evaluate your facts to form the correct questions. With that experience we can draw conclusions you can rely on. And we maintain contacts with key state personnel that we can confirm how the state will treat certain transactions that fall in gray areas.

Sometimes we just flat know the answer to a question you have. We always tell our clients: “If you have a question, just call us or email us. If we can answer you off the top of our heads, we’re not going to charge you. If we need to do some research, we’ll tell you before we do the work and seek your approval before we do it.” You can expect no surprise invoices from us.

So What Questions Do You Have?

Like we said earlier, we can deal with any state tax question you can think of. Of course, the answer to many questions we get is, “it depends!” And that may sound like a cop out, but it really does depend. The answer depends on which state we’re talking about number one and then on other possible variances in the facts. One of the helpful resources we subscribe to is provided by CCH. And one of the resources they give us access to are certain charts or tax matrices.

CAUTION ON CHARTS –A big word of caution is in order when it comes to charts. A chart is just a starting place when you want to do some research, and not the final answer by any means, but it’s still interesting and insightful. One particular chart they provide is unique in that it is based entirely on surveys of actual state tax departments and as such it is a good representation of state tax policy. But it is just state policy and this survey is not binding on them. Sometimes, a state’s own policy is at variance with the law, so take this with a grain of salt. But, it still makes for good state tax conversation. We’re here to help, give us a call.

Certificates of Authority to Transact Business: Do I Really Need to Ask for “Permission” To Do Business?

A number of states ask about Certificates of Authority on their sales and use tax registration forms and/or during their voluntary disclosure agreement (VDA) programs. While the potential need for a Certificate of Authority is certainly not new, it appears that some states have taken a more aggressive stance in ascertaining who should be registered and then holding firm on compliance in their efforts to identify additional revenues. As a result, we are seeing an increased number of questions about the topic. A frequent question that arises in one form or another is, “Do I really need to ask for ‘permission’ to do business?” The short answer, at least according to the states, is yes. However, the short answer may not be the right answer for you. Before addressing how you get to the “right” answer, let’s review some of the basic concepts underlying a Certificate of Authority. What is it? What is the process to procure it? What is the basic theory behind it? What are the potential ramifications of electing not to secure it? And, what are the costs associated with obtaining and maintaining a certificate? Then, with a better understanding of certificates, we’ll return to our central question.

What is a Certificate of Authority?
A Certificate of Authority to Transact Business is the proof that a state has granted you the authority to transact business within its borders. The process of asking for permission is usually called “foreign corporation qualification” or “foreign corporation registration.” It is called foreign corporation qualification because you are considered a domestic corporation in the state in which you are incorporated, and a foreign corporation everywhere else. Contrary to the somewhat common misconception, it has nothing to do with being from another country. The governmental agency that regulates the process is usually the Secretary of State. It is important to note that while we are mainly addressing corporations in this article, most states have the same requirements for the other types of business entities as well.

The process to obtain a certificate.
The process to obtain a Certificate of Authority is slightly different in every state. The majority of states require that you get a Certificate of Good Standing (COGS) or its equivalent from your state of incorporation. The certificates may or may not have to be certified depending on the state. Some states require certified copies of the Articles of Incorporation instead of the COGS.

Another requirement is checking for name availability. In other words, you need to find out if the name of your corporation as registered in your home state is available in the target state. If your name is not available, you will have to use an assumed name that is available. You will also need to find a registered agent. Each state has different rules on the guidelines for registered agents. A registered agent is your official representative in a state for purposes of receiving service of process and any official Secretary of State correspondence.

Once you have designated a registered agent, you will need to fill out your application and submit it to the state with the COGS and the application fee. State fees vary, but usually average around $100. There are companies that can assist with this process including Peisner Johnson & Company.

The theory behind Certificates of Authority.
The rationale the states have put forth for the requirement to obtain authority to do business is the need to protect domestic organizations from unfair competition. They also want to place domestic and foreign organizations on equal footing. The states’ ability to do so is apparently well settled and dates back to the 1869 U.S. Supreme Court Case of Paul v. Virginia, 75 U.S. 7 Wall. 168. In this case, the court found that “corporations are not citizens … They are creatures of local law, and have not even an absolute right of recognition in other States, but depend for that and for the enforcement of their contracts upon the assent of those States, which may be given accordingly on such terms as they please.” It is specifically important to take notice of the language of the statement that refers to the enforcement of contracts.

The potential ramifications of electing not to obtain the Certificate of Authority.
The potential ramifications of electing not to obtain the Certificate of Authority vary by state, and each state usually has multiple ramifications. Perhaps the most serious ramification relates to a company’s ability to use the courts in that state to enforce their contracts, and the other ramification relates to potential assessments of fines and penalties. Many states will say that without their particular Certificate of Authority, you are prohibited from using the state court system. Some states go a step further and say that contracts you have entered into are invalid and unenforceable. Most states also have civil fines and or penalties, and a few have criminal fines and penalties. Some states cap the dollar amounts of these, but a large number do not. We have seen some fines and penalties add up to the $50,000 – $75,000 range. This can be a serious issue.

The downside of obtaining a Certificate of Authority.
After hearing the negatives of not getting a certificate, you may ask if there are any downsides of compliance, and the answer is yes. The most obvious downside of obtaining certificates is the costs associated with doing so and their maintenance. Once you have your Certificate of Authority, you will need to renew it annually in most cases. The renewal process usually consists of filing an annual report and paying a fee.

Also, the holding of a certificate in and of itself could be a nexus creating event in some states and could subject you to other taxes; most notably income and franchise taxes.

Do I really need to ask for “permission” to do business?
Again, the short answer to the permission to do business question, at least according to the states, is yes. The long answer, however, takes into consideration that each state defines “doing business” — or as some call it, “transacting business” — differently. The problem is that those definitions sound more like, “I’ll know it when I see it,” rather than a true definition. To the best of my knowledge, no state publishes a list of activities that are considered doing business for purposes of requiring a Certificate of Authority. Some states have a very limited list of activities that are not considered doing business. Most often, the only guidance that most states will give you is that you should consult with your attorney about your activities and whether they constitute doing business in the state.

In summation, the answer to the question is: it depends. If a state determines that your activities fit their interpretation of doing business, then their answer would be yes. We do not intend to take on the role of your attorney, nor can we state whether or not your activities definitely cross the threshold. But we do believe, given the downsides of failing to obtain a Certificate of Authority when when one was required, that a conservative approach may be desirable. Many clients of ours after considering the possible downsides, decided to err on the side of caution and tend to get registered in their larger states. But, by all means, do feel free to check with your attorney.

Good Sales Tax News for Manufacturers

These days, when it comes to sales/use taxes, good news is hard to come by. So many states are increasing taxes and rolling back exemptions and stepping up audit enforcement. A quick perusal of the headlines provides all the proof. New York, North Carolina, California and others are taking the position that merely having otherwise unrelated people sign up as affiliates in those states means that Amazon.com (and other similarly situated companies) have nexus in those states. That’s what you call aggressive.

Meanwhile, New Jersey, Illinois, California and many other states are increasing taxes and letting exemptions expire.

News is pretty bad no matter where you look. And if we polled our subscribers on which state would be the worst for bad news, then Louisiana would surely rank high up on that list. But Louisiana, has come out with some great news for manufacturers.

Louisiana had been phasing in an exemption for certain manufacturing machinery and equipment. The exemption was to have been fully phased in by July 1, 2010. The good news is that by virtue of Act 12 of the 2nd Extraordinary Legislative Session of 2008, the last segment of the phase-in made the exclusion fully effective on July 1, 2009. The exclusions are from the state sales, use, lease, and rental tax for machinery and equipment used by eligible manufacturers in plant facilities predominantly and directly in the actual manufacturing for agricultural purposes or in the actual manufacturing of tangible personal property that is for sale to another.

The LA Department of Revenue has published an Information Bulletin (No. 09-016) with some answers to questions that might arise.

Is this Exemption Good in the Parishes as well?

The legislation authorizes political subdivisions of the state to provide these exclusions from local sales, use, lease, and rental taxes but does not require that they do so. If you have a specific parish question, ask us and we’ll do the research for you.

What is Manufacturing “Machinery and Equipment”?

“Machinery and equipment” is defined by R.S. 47:301(3)(i)(ii)(aa) as tangible personal property or other property that is eligible for depreciation for federal income tax purposes and that is used as an integral part in the manufacturing of tangible personal property for sale. “Machinery and equipment” also includes tangible personal property or other property that is eligible for depreciation for federal income tax purposes and that is used as an integral part of the production, processing, and storing of food and fiber or of timber.

Specific examples of tangible personal property that this statute categorizes as eligible “machinery and equipment” are computers and software that are an integral part of the machinery and equipment used directly in the manufacturing process; machinery and equipment necessary to control pollution at a plant facility where pollution is produced by the manufacturing operation; machinery or equipment used to test or measure raw materials, the property undergoing manufacturing, or the finished product, when such test or measurement is a necessary part of the manufacturing process; machinery and equipment used by an industrial manufacturing plant to generate electric power for self consumption or co generation; and machinery and equipment used to produce news publications whether the news publications are ultimately sold at retail, for resale, or distributed at no cost.

Buildings (usually) Don’t Count — Categorized by the statute act as ineligible for the manufacturing “machinery and equipment” exclusions are a building and its structural components, unless the building or structural component is so closely related to the machinery and equipment that it houses or supports that the building or structural component can be expected to be replaced when the machinery and equipment are replaced; heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems, unless their installation is necessary to meet the requirements of the manufacturing process, even though the system may provide incidental comfort to employees or serve, to an insubstantial degree, non-production activities; tangible personal property used to transport raw materials or manufactured goods prior to the beginning of the manufacturing process or after the manufacturing process is complete; and tangible personal property used to store raw materials or manufactured goods prior to the beginning of the manufacturing process or after the manufacturing process is complete.

Used by a “Manufacturer”

Here’s one of the sticking points. To take advantage of this exemption, your company must be a “manufacturer”. The term “manufacturer” is defined in the statute as a person whose principal activity is manufacturing, and who is assigned by the Louisiana Workforce Commission a North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code within the agricultural, forestry, fishing, and hunting Sector 11; the manufacturing Sectors 31-33; the information sector 511110, all as they existed in 2002, or under industry code 423930 as a recyclable material merchant wholesaler who is engaged in manufacturing activities, which must include shredding facilities. R.S. 47:301(16)(o) additionally defines the term manufacturer to include a person regulated by the Louisiana Public Service Commission or the Council of the City of New Orleans who is assigned a NAICS code 22111. This 22111 NAICS code applies to electric power generation businesses.

Persons whose principal activity is manufacturing, but who are not required to register with the Louisiana Workforce Commission for purposes of unemployment insurance, can apply to the Louisiana Department of Revenue to be classified as a “manufacturers” under NAICS sectors 11, 31-33, or 511110 for purposes of this sales tax exclusion. The department will determine from income tax data whether applicant would have been so classified had the applicant been required to register with the Louisiana Workforce Commission.

What is a “Plant Facility” and What is Meant by “Predominantly and Directly” in the Actual “Manufacturing Process”?

The term “plant facility” is defined as “a facility, at one or more locations, in which manufacturing referred to in sectors 11 and 31-33 of the North American Industry Classification System of 2002, of a product of tangible personal property takes place.” “Used directly” means used in the actual process of manufacturing or manufacturing for agricultural purposes.

“Manufacturing for agricultural purposes,” means the production, processing, and storing of food and fiber and the production, processing, and storing of timber.

“Manufacturing”, the statute provides, means putting raw materials through a series of steps that brings about a change in their composition or physical nature in order to make a new and different item of tangible personal property that will be sold to another. The statute provides that manufacturing begins at the point at which raw materials reach the first machine or piece of equipment involved in changing the form of the material and ends at the point at which manufacturing has altered the material to its completed form. Placing materials into containers, packages, or wrapping in which they are sold to the ultimate consumer is part of this manufacturing process.

For purposes of the sales tax exclusions, manufacturing does not include repackaging or redistributing; the cooking or preparing of food products by a retailer in the regular course of retail trade; the storage of tangible personal property; the delivery of tangible personal property to or from the plant; the delivery of tangible personal property to or from storage within the plant; and actions such as sorting, packing, or shrink wrapping the final material for ease or transporting and shipping.

What About Other States?

We put together a chart using our resources with CCH to show you the current status of the manufacturing exemptions in some of the top states. That chart is reproduced below. If you’d like more detail about those states, or in other states, just let us know and we can help you with that.

Big Changes with Texas Certificates

Are You A Rancher/Farmer in Texas or Do You Have A Rancher/Farmer Customer?  If so, the Texas Sales Tax Law Has Changed for You.

Do you sell to farmers or ranchers in Texas? Then a new law in Texas applies to you. Starting in January, 2012, you’ll have to collect a new certificate from them with their new Comptroller-issued exemption number.

The Comptroller is currently working on the application for a registration number. A farmer/rancher in Texas enjoys a very broad-ranging exemption and until now, there was no need to register. You just buy an exempt item at Home Depot or Lowes or Tractor Supply and sign a statement that you’re a rancher and no tax is charged. Now, any store who sells to a rancher will need to collect and manage a new certificate.

Certificate Management Just Got Harder

Many of our clients are experiencing increased sales tax audit liabilities because of missing resale and other exemption certificates. This is an area that states are targeting with laser-like focus. Exemption certificates have always been a problem in most sales tax audits, but as long as you had something on file that you “accepted in good faith”, or if you came up with the missing certificate, the auditors would usually give you a pass. If the item was clearly exempt, they were pretty lenient about the certificates. But states are getting very aggressive; focusing on the technicalities to the extreme. The item may clearly be for resale or exempt like these agricultural items, but it you don’t have the right form completely filled out and signed with a valid id number and the right date, they will tax you all day long til the cows come home. It’s easy, low-hanging fruit.

These days you must have a system in place for collecting the right certificate, making sure it’s valid and that it’s renewed on the right cycle. It also needs to be readily available when the auditors come in. It’s amazing how one missing or invalid certificate can have such a large impact on a sample. You can have a manual system or an automated system. Fortunately, automated systems are very economical these days. An automated system will pay for itself many times over if you have, say more than 1000 exempt customers. PJCo can help you with this automated solution.

But Wait, It Gets More Complicated

Ranchers and farmers can still buy certain items tax exempt even without the id number. So it’s not as easy as getting a new certificate from every customer.  Why make it easy on retailers, right? How do you decide what you need and when?

For this particular Texas issue you can read on below. As you do so keep in mind that this is just one of many types of certificates in just one state. Many other states are implementing changes relating to all types of certificates. The question to ask is, what steps are you taking to prevent the auditors from taking your low hanging fruit?

The Comptroller has a release on its website that explains the new Exemption Requirements for Commercial Agriculture. The release is available below or in its entirety on the Texas Comptroller’s website.

Notice: New Exemption Requirement for Commercial Agriculture and Timber Operations, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, August 19, 2011. 

Items That Do Not Require Registration Number

A registration number will not be required for purchases of the following agricultural items: (1) horses, mules, and work animals commonly used in agricultural production; (2) animal life, the products of which ordinarily constitute food for human consumption; (3) feed for farm and ranch animals and wildlife; (4) feed for animals held for sale; (5) seeds and annual plants, the products of which are recognized as food for humans or animals or are usually only raised to be sold in the regular course of business; and (6) ice used exclusively by commercial fishing boats in storing aquatic species.

Items That Require Registration Number

A registration number will be required when claiming an exemption for the following goods and services: (1) fertilizers, fungicides, insecticides, herbicides, defoliants, and desiccants used exclusively in the production of timber or on a commercial farm or ranch in the production of food or other agricultural products; (2) machinery and equipment used exclusively in the production of timber or on a commercial farm or ranch in the production of food or other agricultural products or the building or maintaining of roads and water supplies; (3) machinery and equipment used by an original producer for packing and processing agricultural or timber products; (4) machinery and equipment used exclusively in an agricultural aircraft operation (crop dusting); (5) tangible personal property incorporated into a structure used for poultry carcass disposal; (6) components of irrigation systems used in the production of food and other agricultural and timber products; (7) seedlings used in the production of timber; (8) electricity used in agriculture or timber operations; (9) services performed on exempt tangible personal property identified above; and (10) farm, timber, and off-road motor vehicles.

Persons Eligible for Registration Number

Persons, including non-Texas residents, in the following groups are eligible for a registration number: (1) farmers and ranchers who raise agricultural products to sell to others; (2) persons engaged in aquaculture and apiculture; (3) custom harvesters; (4) persons engaged in agricultural aircraft operations (crop dusting); (5) commercial nurseries engaged in fostering growth of plants for sale; and, (6) timber producers, including contract lumberjacks.

Persons not engaged in producing agricultural or timber products for sale are not eligible for a registration number. The release includes a list of activities that do not qualify for exemption, such as home gardening, horse racing, dog breeding, and commercial fishing. 

Registration Number for Use by Multiple Personnel 

The primary owner or operator of a farm, ranch, or timber operation may obtain one registration number that can then be used by any person authorized by the registrant. For example, a large corporate operation that employs multiple personnel may obtain one number that can be used by all authorized employees when making qualifying purchases. The person to whom the registration number is issued is responsible for ensuring that exempt purchases will be used in a qualifying, exempt manner.

Don’t Mess With Texas – When it Comes to Sales Tax Exemption Certificates

Don’t make this same mistake — they missed one critical detail and it cost them $25,000!

The Texas Department of Transportation actually coined the “Don’t Mess With Texas” phrase as a way to discourage littering. It’s not the state motto, even though many think it is.  It looks like the Texas Comptroller’s Office is considering adopting it as their motto though — you might think they have after you read this.

A client came to us recently and told us a tragic story. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything we could do to help. They told us they had recently completed a Texas sales tax audit. The total audit assessment was $25,000. The only items scheduled in the audit were a few non-taxed sales. The fact is those customers really were exempt, but our client wasn’t able to produce the certificates during the audit.

Not a problem, yet.

If you protest an audit deficiency using the correct format and in a timely fashion, you get a reprieve on missing certificates. The Comptroller’s Office will issue you a “60-day letter” once you file the formal protest. This letter gives you 60 days (you guessed it) to produce any missing certificates or the tax becomes your problem. The important thing to remember about Texas and the 60-day letter is this: the deadline is ABSOLUTE!

You have to furnish those certificates by 5PM on the last day or else.

This is particularly distressing because it was all so needless. These sales really were exempt. Sometimes sales are exempt but the customer has gone out of business and you just can’t get the certificate. This happens occasionally to sellers in Texas, and many other states. In this case, however, our client was actually able to secure ALL of the missing certificates and actually got them submitted in what they thought was a timely fashion.

The $25,000 should have been erased. Except …

Tragically, this company failed to file the formal protest within 30 days of the final audit notice. By missing the deadline, they forfeited the right to the 60-day extension and the supervisor denied the certificates and allowed the assessment to stand.

Every once in a while we are reminded that when it comes to state tax procedures, the state is in charge.

By the way, do you know what the real Texas motto is? … Friendship. That’s becoming as ironic as Philadelphia’s motto of Brotherly Love.

Big Changes in Washington — Resale Certificate No Longer Valid. “Reseller’s Permit” Now Required

Businesses Must Have a “Reseller’s Permit” if They Hope to Buy Items for Resale.

Effective Jan. 1, 2010, only businesses with a Department of Revenue-issued Reseller Permit can purchase items for resale without paying sales tax.

The Old System in Washington
Before this change, any business or individual can obtain a resale certificate from the Department’s website, present that certificate at the point of sale, and avoid paying retail sales tax on the value of the goods purchased. Apparently, this very loose system has been costly for the State. According to the news release announcing the change, all kinds of abuses have been happening.

“Examples of misuse of the self-issued resale certificates include a dentist buying a big screen TV for office or home use, a nonprofit corporation purchasing office equipment for its own use, and a janitorial firm buying cleaning supplies used in its business. Sales tax is due on all of these purchases because the materials aren’t being resold.”

This change is the result of legislation passed in September of 2009 and effective January, 2010. The legislature is trying to curb these abuses. The switch from the current resale certificate program is projected to recover up to $100 million annually in state and local sales tax revenue that is now lost when businesses buy items for their own use but don’t pay sales tax when due.

You May Have to Register for this New Permit

Or, you may be one of those businesses that automatically qualifies for the permit and will have it sent to you with no further action necessary on your part. The Department estimates that 30 percent of registered businesses in this state qualify for and will receive the new reseller permit.

Businesses that do not report retail or wholesale sales generally will not be eligible for permits.
According to the news release, more than 155,000 businesses were mailed permits automatically back in October, 2009. Another 330,000 were advised that they would not be sent a permit but could apply for one if they could demonstrate a legitimate business need.

Contractors Targeted
It’s obvious that the Department feels like contractors are the biggest abusers of the old resale certificate system. As a result, they are making it difficult for contractors to obtain these new Reseller Permits. They certainly don’t get any automatic permits although they may have been notified that they might qualify for permits depending on the nature of their work and to apply if they want one. Even if contractors get a Reseller Permit, it’s only valid for 12 months. They have to reapply every other year. Other types of businesses generally only have to reapply every 4 years.
According to Department estimates, about 326,000 registered non-reporters, who don’t file tax returns and don’t collect sales tax, will not qualify for permits.

What Now?

After Dec. 31, 2009, businesses that do not have a reseller permit will need to pay sales tax on products they purchase to resell, but can claim a deduction for sales tax paid at source on their state excise tax returns or seek a refund if you do resell them.

More Information Available

Follow this link to the State’s website for much more information on this new permit. And of course, if you have any questions on this matter, do feel free to call and discuss it with us.

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