Small sellers: What does $1 million in sales look like?

March 19, 2013

There has been a lot of talk lately about the “small seller exception” in the Marketplace Fairness Act, which was introduced last month. The bill says that small sellers don’t have to collect sales tax on online purchases, and it defines “small seller” as a merchant with less than $1 million in annual remote sales.

Some opponents say this threshold is still too low, though—that a seller with $1 million in annual remote sales is too small to handle sales tax.

So, what does a seller making $1 million in remote sales look like? Here a few examples.

Bottled Water

You wold have to sell 166,000 cases of water per yearLet’s say an online retailer is selling 0.5-liter bottles of water in cases of 24. At $6 per case, $1 million is equal to 166,667 cases of bottled water, enough to fill 125 fifty-three-foot tractor-trailer trucks.* That means that if you were selling $1 million worth of bottled water in a year to out-of-state buyers, then you would shipping out an entire truck of full of bottled water approximately every three days.

125 trucks

Shoes

ShoesAssuming the average price of shoes is $50 per pair, $1 million is equal to 20,000 pairs of shoes. To make $1 million selling shoes in one year to out-of-state buyers, you’d need to sell about 55 pairs of shoes per day, every day, for an entire year.55 Pairs of Shoes sold each day

Digital Goods

Angry Birds Star Wars AppMany apps go for about $1 each, so to earn $1 million selling apps, you need to sell at least 1 million apps. To sell 1 million apps in a single year, you’d have to sell 2,739 per day to out-of-state buyers, or slightly less than 2 per minute, every minute, for an entire year.

Conclusion

Any business selling at these volumes must be using some sort of e-commerce platform or order management system, and these systems can be easily updated to provide access to free sales tax management services.


truck*A 53-foot tractor-trailer has approximately 4,000 cubic feet of carrying capacity, with a maximum cargo weight of approximately 50,000 pounds.


Debunking 3 myths about internet sales tax

March 8, 2013

The reintroduction of the Marketplace Fairness Act has resulted in the reintroduction of myths and half truths about its impact on businesses. In this post, we counter the three main fears about collecting internet sales tax.

Fear: Collecting sales tax is too difficult.

Some point to the fact that, nationwide, there are over 9,600 tax jurisdictions, and they argue that online sales tax collection would be so difficult that online retailers would have to hire additional staff to handle it.

Fact: Fortunately, technology provides an easy answer. Sales tax rates are easily stored and maintained in a database—it doesn’t matter if there is 1 rate or 100,000. Databases easily handle tax exemptions, too, for every location. Everything needed to figure out the correct tax rate is already present during an online sale: the purchaser’s address, the sales price, and the type of item being purchased.

Sales tax management services, which offer retailers an easy way to manage sales tax, have already been integrated with most e-commerce platforms, so starting to collect sales tax can be as easy as checking a box.

The proposed legislation is doing its part, too, to make collecting sales tax easy. It requires that states simplify their sale tax laws before online retailers start collecting, lets retailers file one sales tax return per state, and centralizes the registration process. It also requires states to make available free sales tax software for retailers that can work with all states.

So much for the concern over difficulty; what about cost? Sales tax management services are available at every price point—including free. So collecting sales tax doesn’t need to cost an online retailer anything.

And it’s also worth noting that most online retailers won’t have to collect sales tax at all. Only retailers with over $1 million in annual out-of-state sales will be affected.

Fear: This will give local stores an advantage over online stores.

Fact: Actually, it will correct an artificial advantage that online stores currently have, creating a more level playing field for all retailers.

Right now local stores have to collect sales tax while online stores don’t, which gives online stores the appearance of a price advantage of up to 10%. Even when bricks-and-mortar retailers also sell online, it doesn’t change the basic fact that in their local stores, they have to collect sales tax, while online stores don’t.

If the law doesn’t change to keep up with the way people shop, the logical conclusion is that many businesses will elect to only sell online—which would mean no local shopping. Picture your community without a bookstore, clothing store, or electronics store. That’s not what anyone wants.

Fear: This is a new tax.

Fact: If you live in a state with sales tax, you already owe sales tax on your online purchases. If the retailer doesn’t collect sales tax, the purchaser is supposed to pay the tax due directly to the state. In other words, this isn’t a taxation issue, it’s a collection issue.

Most people don’t know that they owe sales tax when they buy online, and states find it almost impossible to enforce their own sales tax laws online. That’s why the Marketplace Fairness Act is needed: to allow states to enforce their own laws and end the sales tax loophole that favors online retailers over local retailers.


Congress shows states some love this Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2013

taxcloud_sweethearts

Congress sent states that have been losing billions of dollars in uncollected sales tax a valentine today with the introduction of the Marketplace Fairness Act, a bill that will give states the authority to require online retailers to collect sales tax.

Identical bills were introduced in both the House (HR.684) and the Senate (S.336). Similar legislation was introduced last year but expired when Congress ended its session in early January.

Momentum seems to be on the side of legislation. Let’s hope it passes quickly!


Update: States eager for online sales tax action

February 7, 2013

In early December, we posted about states taking action on online sales tax collection.

As we noted then, states can’t do much without federal legislation, and support is growing in Congress for a bill that would give states full authority to require online retailers to collect sales tax.

But in the meantime, more states have started looking at what they can do.

Hawaii, Florida, and Michigan are all considering bills that would require an out-of-state retailer to collect sales tax if the retailer has an affiliate in the state.

Hawaii is also looking at adopting the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement, a set of guidelines that make collecting sales tax easy for retailers.

And while Virginia isn’t considering state action, it is counting on congressional action. The state’s proposed plan for transportation funding assumes that Congress will pass online sales tax legislation, allowing Virginia to collect hundreds of millions of dollars in uncollected sales tax.

States have already said that online purchases are subject to sales tax—but most of that sales tax goes uncollected. What they need now is federal legislation, and with each state-level bill or resolution, they’re sending Congress the clear message that the time to act is now. Let’s hope Congress is listening.


Making it easy for online stores to collect sales tax

January 31, 2013

The final post in our series for Spree Commerce is up! We look at the different ways online stores can collect sales tax—and how to make collecting easy.


Online sales tax and your business

January 23, 2013

In our new guest post on Spree Commerce, we look at how online sales tax collection may affect your business. Take a look!


What to expect from a new online sales tax bill

January 16, 2013

The next guest post in our series for Spree Commerce is up! In it, we look at what we can expect from a new online sales tax bill and how it would change the current sales tax situation.


Why don’t online retailers collect sales tax?

January 9, 2013

We’ve tackled the perennial question of why online retailers don’t have to collect sales tax in a guest blog post for Spree Commerce. Check it out!


A return to state legislation for online sales tax

December 5, 2012

While the Marketplace Fairness Act continues to garner support in Congress, it remains in committee for the time being—which means that this holiday season, at least, the online sales tax loophole will stay open.

Without action from Congress on the issue of online sales tax, states are beginning to return to passing their own legislation. Two states, Michigan and Florida, have recently introduced bills that would require online retailers to collect sales tax.

Unfortunately, there’s not much states can do on their own—the Supreme Court said in 1967 and 1992 that states can’t require out-of-state retailers to collect sales tax. At the same time, though, the court said that Congress could and should decide the issue legislatively. That’s what the Marketplace Fairness Act is about.

We hope that all those state legislators, governors, local retailers, and others who are supporting state legislation will make their voices heard in DC, too. This is one instance where state action just isn’t enough. Congress needs to give states the right to decide for themselves whether they’ll require online retailers to collect sales tax.


Congratulations to Senator-elect Heitkamp!

November 26, 2012

Heidi Heitkamp

Congratulations to Heidi Heitkamp, who was just elected senator of North Dakota! Some of our readers may recognize her name: She was the North Dakota Tax Commissioner when the state brought suit against Quill Corp. in an attempt to require the catalog company to collect use tax on purchases made by North Dakota residents. The case famously went to the Supreme Court, which ruled that it would be too difficult for businesses to collect sales tax for states where they had no physical presence. But, equally important, the court also said that “the underlying issue here is one that Congress may be better qualified to resolve, and one that it has the ultimate power to resolve.”

Four bills currently before Congress attempt to do just that and close the online sales tax loophole. We look forward to Senator-elect Heitkamp’s support on the issue!


Local sales tax on Election Day

November 2, 2012

Vote!With Election Day fast approaching, we’re seeing more and more articles on local sales tax measures that will appear on the ballot.

Any changes in sales tax have to be approved by voters, and in many places this year’s ballot includes a new sales tax to fund local initiatives. No one like paying taxes, of course, but these measures often receive a lot of local support—those who pay the tax are the same ones who benefit from the services it provides.

So what kinds of sales tax measures are appearing on ballots?

In Creek County, Oklahoma, a one-third-cent sales tax would buy much-needed equipment for the volunteer fire department.

In Rifle, Colorado, a three-quarter-cent sales tax would help pay for a new water treatment plant to replace the existing one, “which is old and in danger of failure.”

In Augusta, Kansas, a one-percent sales tax would pay for a new water line that would triple the amount of water carried to the city, without raising water rates or property taxes.

In Deridder, Louisiana, a quarter-cent sales tax would pay for renovations to the 98-year-old courthouse, which has a broken wheelchair lift and no elevator.

In Saratoga, California, a one-eighth-cent sales tax would fund law enforcement programs, emergency room services, and health insurance for low-income children.

In Jackson, Missouri, a sixth-cent sales tax would fund renovations to the public library.

In El Paso County, Colorado, a quarter of one percent sales tax would provide deputies for the understaffed sheriff’s department.

In Little Rock, Arkansas, a half-cent sales tax would pay for a highway improvement program that will create 40,000 jobs.

In Marion, Ohio, a 0.25% sales tax would allow for the rehiring of laid-off police and fire department personnel and help maintain city streets.

In Baldwin County, Alabama, a one-cent sales tax would go to local schools, which currently operate with less per-pupil spending than the state average.

All of these sales tax measures will appear on the ballot in November, to be either approved or rejected by local communities.

But if online retailers collected sales tax—which is already due on online purchases—these measures might be unnecessary.

States are losing out on $23 billion in uncollected sales tax every year—sales tax that shoppers owe but that goes unpaid because online retailers don’t have to collect it. That $23 billion would be supporting these kinds of projects and services without the need
for any increase in local sales tax.

Keeping fire and police departments staffed, maintaining roads, and supporting local schools without any tax increases—just more reasons to support online sales tax.


Same everything, except tax treatment (2)

October 31, 2012

 

Sales tax shown is based on delivery to a Connecticut address. Connecticut sales tax rates are among the lowest in the nation.


TaxCloud in the news!

October 11, 2012

TaxCloudWe’re happy to report that TaxCloud and FedTax have been in the news quite a bit lately.

An end to the free online tax ride nears: In this ComputerWorld article, TaxCloud user Ken Knezek, owner of Bandals Southwest, talks about how his small company has handled online sales tax

What the end of tax-free online shopping means for small businesses: Our CEO, R. David L. Campbell, was interviewed for this Reuters article on how small businesses will be affected by online sales tax

How you can prepare to collect online sales tax: And in an article in Independent Retailer, David offers some tips for online retailers who are thinking about starting to collect sales tax

It’s great to see so much attention being paid to the practicalities of what online sales tax really means for online retailers. As we move closer to federal legislation on the issue, we hope to see more articles like these!


“Fair Is Fair”: A legal perspective on the Marketplace Acts

September 11, 2012

The latest issue of Shopping Center Legal Update, a “legal journal for the shopping center industry,” has an interesting article on the Marketplace Fairness Act, Marketplace Equity Act, and Main Street Fairness Act—the three bills currently before Congress that would each allow states to require online retailers to collect sales tax.

In the article, Brian D. Huben, a partner at the LA law firm Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP, provides a legal perspective on online sales tax collection. We were particularly interested in his analysis of the Supreme Court case Quill Corp. v. North Dakota (1992). That case is responsible for the current rules about sales tax that govern online shopping, and this is the first place we’ve seen its details explained by a legal expert.

We found this part of the article, which quotes the dissenting opinion in Quill, particularly enlightening:

Some say that the past is prologue. Justice Byron Raymond “Whizzer” White, who dissented in Quill, presciently noted that “an out-of-state seller in a neighboring State could be the dominant business in the putative taxing State, creating the greatest infrastructure burdens and undercutting the State’s home companies by its comparative price advantage in selling products free of use taxes, and yet not have to collect such taxes if it lacks a physical presence in the taxing State.” Quill Corp., 504 U.S. at 328 – 329. While the stakes in Quill were decidedly smaller, the $23 billion in uncollected sales and use tax revenue cannot be ignored.

While fairly brief, this article is a great source for those interested in today’s online sales tax rules, how they came to be, and why some are arguing for change.


States increase online sales tax enforcement–which is why retailers should support federal legislation

August 31, 2012
Forbes

FedTax CEO David Campbell has a guest post on Forbes’ TaxGirl blog

Our CEO, David Campbell, has written a guest post for Forbes’ TaxGirl blog. The post tackles the provided topic “Is it fair to require online retailers to collect and remit state sales tax?” and focuses on the concerns of states without sales tax and why they should support federal online sales tax legislation. Take a look—we may be biased, but we think it’s a great read.

The post is particularly timely because of the recent sales tax news from California and Pennsylvania.

Both states are beginning to require online retailers, no matter where they’re located, to collect sales tax—even though no federal legislation granting them that power has been passed. States are no longer content to wait for federal legislation; they’ve begun taking online sales tax into their own hands.

As Mr. Campbell says in the post, this has particular importance for online retailers in non-sales-tax states because it means that even without federal legislation, it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to avoid collecting sales tax for long.

The LA Times has a great article on California’s move toward online sales tax. It includes this quote about increasing enforcement:

On Thursday, the tax agency announced new efforts that include spending $10 million over the next three fiscal years to hire nearly 100 tax specialists, auditors, lawyers and call-center operators. An additional 35 people will be needed in the fourth year, the board said recently.

These new workers are hired to identify and contact what the board estimates are “upwards of 2,000” out-of-state businesses that should be collecting sales tax under the new law and take action against any suspected scofflaws.

Pennsylvania, too, is increasing its enforcement of online sales tax collection, as this Internet Retailer article explains. Existing law says that any retailer with a physical location in the state must collect Pennsylvania sales tax. The state has said that this includes third-party retailers who use eBay or Amazon warehouses for order fulfillment, and beginning in September, it’s going to be requiring all online retailers to abide by this law.

With states already starting to require online sales tax collection, why the need for federal legislation?

Aside from legal issues regarding state authority over out-of-state businesses (which will have to be resolved either by Congress or in the courts), there’s a very good reason for all retailers to support federal online sales tax legislation: It would make states simplify their sales tax laws.

As Mr. Campbell says in his post:

While it isn’t possible to turn back the clock on online sales tax collection, it is possible to make it easy for sellers to collect sales tax. The Marketplace Fairness Act requires states to simplify and standardize their sales tax laws before they can require any out-of-state seller to collect sales tax. Online retailers in non-sales-tax states should be supporting this legislation: It’s the only way they can make sure that collecting sales tax won’t be too complicated.

Sales tax has always been due on online purchases. Online retailers haven’t had to collect sales tax in the past, but that loophole is about to end, one way or another.

Let’s end it the right way, by making sure states simplify and standardize their sales tax laws.