Eliminating the costs associated with online sales tax

July 25, 2013
TaxCloud

TaxCloud: Sales Tax at the Speed of Commerce

One of the most frequent concerns we hear from online retailers about collecting sales tax is that it will simply be too costly. We’ve heard estimates that range up to $400,000 per year—which is insane. We don’t think that anyone should have to spend that kind of money simply to collect sales tax.

In fact, we don’t think that anyone should have to spend money to collect sales tax, full stop. That’s why we created TaxCloud, to give online retailers a free way to manage sales tax. Instead of charging to use TaxCloud, we receive a commission from states based on the amount of sales tax we help retailers collect.

That’s also why the Marketplace Fairness Act requires states to provide free sales tax software for retailers.

But even with the promise of free sales tax software and services, concerns about costs remain. Nothing is really free, the argument goes; there must be hidden costs somewhere.

So let’s look at the most common arguments we hear on why collecting sales tax online would be too expensive.

Keep in mind, we can only speak to how TaxCloud works, so all the information here pertains to TaxCloud and not to any other sales tax management software or service.

Training employees to use sales tax software is costly and time-consuming. TaxCloud was designed to be easy for anyone to use. From registration to going live takes as little twenty minutes. What’s more, once TaxCloud is activated for a store, there’s next to no upkeep. If we’re filing the store’s sales tax returns, we ask that they review their returns once a month. Other than that, retailers don’t need to think about it—they can just set it up and forget it. There’s no training involved, and anyone who can manage an online store won’t have any trouble using TaxCloud.

Necessary software upgrades cost money. Because TaxCloud is a real-time web service, not software that’s uploaded or downloaded, there are no upgrades. Tax rates are updated and new features are added behind the scenes, so retailers see those results automatically, without doing anything extra. And as always, there’s no charge for the service at all.

It’s too expensive to hire developers to set up software to work with existing systems. TaxCloud is integrated directly with the e-commerce platforms that most online retailers use to run their shops. That means that our developers work with the platform’s developers to make TaxCloud available to users. Retailers using e-commerce platforms that are integrated with TaxCloud don’t need to hire their own developers. If your e-commerce platform doesn’t support TaxCloud yet, then call them and ask when TaxCloud will be available—TaxCloud is free for platforms as well.

We’d have to hire an accounting staff just to keep track of everything. This is the beauty of sales tax management services: It’s all automated. There’s no need to calculate anything, or look up sales tax rates, or fill out sales tax returns, or even write a check to remit the sales tax that’s been collected. TaxCloud handles all of that.

We completely agree that there shouldn’t be any compliance costs associated with online sales tax, and we’ve worked hard to create a free service that handles every aspect of sales tax for retailers. Cost simply shouldn’t be a factor, and with TaxCloud, it isn’t.


“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.


Poll shows overwhelming support for online sales tax collection

August 16, 2012
US News and World Report

A US News and World Report poll shows overwhelming support for online sales tax collection.

As we blogged about a few days ago, U.S. News and World Report recently hosted an online debate featuring eight arguments for and against online sales tax collection. Readers had the chance to vote on whether they agreed or disagreed with each argument. Now, a week later, we can see what the public thinks of online sales tax collection based on how the votes went.

The result? More than 4 to 1 in favor of online retailers collecting sales tax just like local retailers.

At last check, each of the 3 supporters of online sales tax collection had close to 1,000 votes for and approximately 300 votes against, while the 5 opponents of online sales tax collection had between 750 and 900 votes against them.

See the current tally and vote yourself!


Small business owners quoted by Alliance for Main Street Fairness — including our CEO

August 1, 2012

We were excited to see FedTax’s CEO, David Campbell, quoted alongside two other business owners in a press release from the Alliance for Main Street Fairness.

The article includes quotes from Pete Sides, co-owner of Robert M. Sides Family Music Center in Williamsport, PA, and Steve Bercu, co-owner of BookPeople in Austin, TX, both of whom support online sales tax collection—and whose small businesses both collect and remit sales tax, proving just how easy it is. Said Steve Bercu, who also testified in today’s hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee:

Remitting sales tax from out-of-state customers is not that hard, and those perpetuating the myth that it’s wildly complicated and costly are simply trying to preserve the special treatment in the tax code they currently enjoy. Congress should level the playing field and let us all compete on price in a free market.

We’re proud to be making online sales tax collection easier and cheaper (free) for businesses big and small. Here’s what our CEO had to say to the Alliance for Main Street Fairness:

Today, keeping track of a few thousand local tax rates and filing requirements is not an insurmountable technical, administrative or financial burden. TaxCloud proves this point by calculating and collecting sales tax on any purchase for any tax jurisdiction in the United States in less than one second. The service is free to all retailers.

It’s great to see business owners speaking up for marketplace fairness and recognizing the role that TaxCloud and other sales tax management services play in making the playing field level for everyone.

We will post again on our report from the hearing floor.


Colorado’s online sales tax reporting requirements law finally killed

April 7, 2012

A federal judge has finally issued a permanent injunction on Colorado’s 2010 online sales tax reporting requirements law, which called for all online retailers to report purchases made by Colorado residents to the state’s Department of Revenue. A temporary injunction against the law was issued last year just before the reporting requirements would have gone into effect.

In his ruling, Judge Robert E. Blackburn looks at the precedent set by the 1992 Supreme Court case Quill v. North Dakota, which mandated that out-of-state retailers did not have to collect sales tax even as it recommended that Congress address the issue—which, of course, it has yet to do.

Blackburn writes:

Quill puts states like Colorado in a difficult position. The state cannot require out-of-state retailers, retailers with no physical presence in the state, to collect and remit sales tax on sales those retailers make to residents of Colorado. Residents who make purchases from those retailers are obligated to pay use tax on those purchases, but enforcing the use tax is significantly more difficult than enforcing the sales tax. Seeking to enhance enforcement of the use tax on those who make purchases from out-of-state retailers, a state understandably looks to the out-of-state retailers for key information that can enhance enforcement. However, if the state has a mandatory sales tax system, as does Colorado, enforcing a reporting requirement on out-of-state retailers will, by definition, discriminate against the out-of-state retailers by imposing unique burdens on those retailers. Such a system imposes a differential burden on out-of-state retailers because the different burden is imposed precisely because the retailer is an out-of-state retailer entitled to the protection of Quill. Quill creates the in-state versus out-of-state distinction, and the dormant Commerce Clause prohibits differential treatment based on that distinction. Only a change in the law by the Supreme Court or action by Congress can change this situation. Quill, 504 U.S. at 318 (“Congress is now free to decide whether, when, and to what extent the States may burden interstate mail-order concerns with a duty to collect use taxes.”) (emphasis ours)

It’s worth repeating: “Only a change in the law by the Supreme Court or action by Congress can change this situation.”

Our readers may be surprised, given our support of states’ efforts for online sales tax collection in general, that we agree with Judge Blackburn—on his overall ruling, the fact that Quill makes the current situation difficult for states, and his assertion that only federal action, not state, can remedy the situation.

State after state has tried to increase the collection of sales tax on online purchases, but only a federal law, like the Marketplace Fairness Act, can overcome the limits set by Quill—or, more precisely, can exercise the interstate commerce authority reserved for Congress via the (dormant) Commerce Clause.

One other interesting point: Colorado doesn’t include a line on its income tax return form for reporting and remitting sales tax on online purchases. The reason given? That “the amount of tax collected did not justify the printing expense.” We have to think that, while that may have been true in 1974, it wouldn’t be true anymore, and it does seem like a reasonable measure to impose until Congress acts on online sales tax collection.

But the inclusion of this fact in the ruling leads us to another question. The ruling says that “there are at least three reasonable nondiscriminatory alternatives” to reporting requirements that could also increase the collection of sales tax on online purchases: the line on income tax returns, increased auditing of businesses, and consumer education and notification programs aimed at increasing compliance.

What about the other states that have already implemented these, that include the line on income tax returns, have increased business audits, and created consumer education programs—and still have not seen satisfactory compliance with its sales tax laws? Would these states be permitted to implement reporting requirements?

Other ideas in the ruling make us think not, but better legal minds than ours may be tempted to try. We still oppose reporting requirements, primarily because they are an invasion of consumer privacy, but we wouldn’t be surprised if another state, fed up with lack of action by Congress, decides to try this approach.

The best course of action, as we have been arguing for a long time, is for Congress to pass federal legislation allowing states to require online retailers to collect sales tax, for many good reasons.


House Judiciary Committee to hold hearing on online sales tax collection

November 30, 2011
House Judiciary Committee

House Judiciary Committee hearing

Tomorrow, November 30, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on “constitutional limitations on states’ authority to collect sales tax in e-commerce”—in other words, on whether states can or should be able to require online retailers to collect sales tax.

With three online sales tax collection bills before Congress and the holiday retail season heating up, it’s no surprise that Congress is moving to act on the issue.

The witness list includes one small business owner; senior executives from eBay, Overstock.com, and Amazon; Texas State Representative John Otto; and Indiana State Senator Luke Kenley, who is also president of the Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board.

We’re pleased to see Congress moving ahead on the issue!


UT small business owners urge Congress to pass online sales tax legislation

October 26, 2011
Utah

Utah's small business owners want online sales tax collection

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, small business owners from Utah traveled to Washington, DC, to “meet with members of Utah’s congressional delegation and Congressman Steve Womack, R-Ark., who introduced states’ rights ‘e-fairness’ legislation last week.” Although the article doesn’t specifically say so, it certainly sounds like the reason for the visit was to persuade Utah’s congressional delegation to support online sales tax legislation.

The article quotes small business owners making some good points about online sales tax collection:

“Small businesses across the state of Utah are struggling,” said Jared Hurst, owner of Rebel Sports, “and the unfair advantage given to online retailers hurts Utah businesses and local communities.” . . .

Betsy Burton, owner of the King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, also supports Womack’s legislation. Her bookstore now draws cutthroat competition from online retailers such as Amazon.com.

“This is a huge economic issue,” said Burton. “Internet sales are getting bigger and bigger and if we can’t compete on this unlevel playing field, it will drive bricks-and-mortar businesses out of business. And we are the backbone of the economy.”

She’s not kidding. For every $1 million in new sales, Amazon creates 0.88 jobs. For the same $1 million in new sales, Best Buy creates 3.47 jobs.

The chair of the Utah Tax Commission, Bruce Johnson, also made a good point, one that we’ve heard many times from local retailers:

“People will go in and shop at a bricks-and-mortar retailer in Utah to get specifics,” Johnson said, “and then go buy the product on the Web to save sales tax.”

An executive at O.co (formerly Overstock.com), which is also based in Utah, repeated his company’s concern that it’s too difficult to collect sales tax for all states.

We know that’s not the case. We know that because we designed TaxCloud specifically to eliminate all the complexity and confusion of online sales tax collection.

We recommend that O.co executives take a look at TaxCloud. It’s comprehensive, easy to use, and FREE.