Online selling of products and services triggers sales tax obligations today like never before – and has ever since the Supreme Court’s 2018 Wayfair decision unleashed economic nexus on e-commerce merchants nationwide.

Since, every state with a statewide sales tax (and countless localities, especially in places like California and Alaska) has enacted economic nexus laws, meaning e-commerce vendors of products and, increasingly, services must collect and remit sales tax and file sales tax returns with individual states. The thresholds can be a dollar amount in sales, a set number of sales or a combination.

What goes into calculating this sales tax to be collected and remitted and what other factors can influence these calculations?

Calculating tax 

Determining the most effective sales tax calculation process comes with many variables, such as where you have nexus, the complexity of the taxability of your products/services, whether your invoices are recurring to the same customers each month and the capabilities and limitations of your invoicing system (all of this is where consulting comes in).

Some businesses can manage the calculation of sales tax without separate sales tax software systems. Other businesses will benefit from a tax-rate only solution, while other more complex businesses will absolutely need a sales tax software.  

If you decide that sales tax calculation software is the better option, there are numerous companies to consider. Today, most sales tax calculation software is delivered in the cloud via a Software-as-a-Service model. These tools automate the sales tax calculation process by integrating with the invoicing or ERP system typically via an API (Application Programming Interface).

When it comes time to create a customer quote or invoice, the ERP system will pass certain data elements (customer location, product, sales amount and so on) to the sales tax calculation system which will then calculate the sales tax and pass back to the ERP system the applicable sales tax. This is generally done in real time in sub-second intervals.

Marketplace facilitators

A marketplace facilitator is a business or organization that contracts with third-party businesses to sell goods and services on its platform and facilitates retail sales. Well-known examples include Amazon, eBay and Etsy.

Laws governing marketplace facilitators popped up when states saw that the platforms were charging sales tax on the sale of their own or certain third-party sales but not on all sales. This produced a gap in tax collection. Marketplace facilitator laws also sprang from the idea that a state could collect all the required sales tax from one entity rather than from thousands of smaller companies.

If the facilitator meets the economic nexus threshold – in many states, these thresholds are the same as for sellers who aren’t marketplace facilitators – the facilitator must calculate and charge tax on those sales that it processes and facilitates. Marketplace facilitators do sometimes have their own nexus concerns over gross receipts.

From your perspective, marketplace facilitators handle collecting and remitting sales taxes on behalf of your sales in states where your marketplace is compliant. If you sell products or services off your own site as well, you may need to consider the total sales through both the marketplace facilitator and your own site to determine if you have crossed any economic nexus thresholds.

Ship-to locations

“Sourcing” is important when you determine your sales tax obligations. Sourcing refers to the location where a sale is taxed. Most states follow “destination-based sourcing” rules meaning you must apply the sales tax rules and rates based on the customer’s location. Additionally, for interstate commerce, when a seller ships into any state from a location outside that state, the sale is sourced to the destination point and the sales tax rate applies at the destination point.

There are some states that go against the grain and are considered origin-based states. If you are based in one of these states or you ship from within one of these states to a destination within the same origin-based state, you collect and remit sales tax according to the rules and rates applicable at the business, not final customer, location, which means “origin-based.”

One good rule to help cut through the confusion: Determine if your home state and where you ship from is destination or origin-based. If your home state and where you ship from are destination based, then you can be safe in applying destination-based sourcing to all of your transactions.

TaxConnex has assisted companies in many industries alleviate the burden of sales tax. Contact us to learn more about how we can take sales tax off your plate.

Robert Dumas

Written by Robert Dumas

Accountant, consultant and entrepreneur, Robert Dumas began his public accounting career on the tax staff at Arthur Young & Co., followed by a brief stint at Grant Thornton. In 1998, Robert founded Tax Partners, which became the largest sales tax compliance service bureau in the country, and later sold it to Thomson Corporation. Robert founded TaxConnex in 2006 on the principle that the sales tax industry needed more than automation to truly help clients, thus building within TaxConnex a proprietary platform and network of sales tax experts to truly take sales tax off client’s plates.