Change is a constant with sales tax. Thousands of sales tax changes occur annually, affecting rates, rules, and regulations: Exemptions expire and are imposed on new products; rates increase and decrease; jurisdictions expand, contract, or even cease to exist; and so forth. Such changes affect any retailer making sales in the affected jurisdiction. But many of the changes coming in 2018 target online sellers in general, and specifically Amazon’s marketplace vendors.
States target online marketplace sellers
Online marketplace sales topped $1 trillion in 2016, according to an Internet Retailer research report. Yet state sales tax revenue isn’t sharing the meteoric rise of the internet marketplace. In fact, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reports that states missed out on up to $13 billion in tax revenue from untaxed remote sales in 2017 alone, roughly $6 billion of which was from online marketplace sales.
Therefore, states are redoubling their efforts to let no online sale go untaxed. Now that Amazon is collecting tax on sales of its own products in all states that have a sales tax, states are targeting marketplace sellers that, until recently, largely escaped the attention of state tax authorities.
New remote seller requirements took effect in Maine and Rhode Island in late 2017. Washington state is taxing marketplace sales as of Jan. 1, 2018. Under a new law in Pennsylvania, referrers, remote sellers, and marketplace facilitators must collect tax on their sales by March 1 of this year. A similar law in Minnesota, the first to be enacted, is scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2019.
Yet these aren’t the only laws targeting non-collecting remote sellers. In Virginia, out-of-state vendors that store property in an in-state warehouse or shipping facility, even one owned by another party, are considered to have a physical presence in the state and an obligation to collect and remit tax on their Virginia sales. And as of Dec. 1, 2017, certain remote vendors who “purposefully or systematically exploit the Mississippi market” are considered liable for tax on their sales in Mississippi.
Furthermore, a handful of states may have found an effective way to work around the physical presence precedent that has long prevented states from taxing remote retailers. Connecticut, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Rhode Island now maintain that the presence of software or web cookies on an in-state device establishes a physical presence and an obligation to collect and remit tax. Legal action is pending over at least two of these policies; if the states emerge victorious, others may follow their lead.
All’s fair in love and sales tax
That’s what’s happened with Colorado’s use tax notification and reporting requirement, which the Supreme Court of the United States let stand. Vermont, Washington, and several other states have enacted similarly onerous reporting requirements on non-collecting retailers.
The full impact of these requirements has yet to hit. In the coming months, residents of states with use tax reporting laws will start receiving reports of their purchase activity from non-collecting vendors. They’ll be informed that the vendors are required to send similar information to the state tax authorities. How would you react to such news? Would you rather pay tax at checkout, or have your personal information turned over to the state?
The trend is clear: States will not stop until they can collect tax revenue from most, if not all, remote sellers. If that happens, retailers that don’t currently collect will need to deal with rate changes, new and expiring exemptions, and other state and local sales tax changes.
See more 2018 sales tax changes at the Avalara blog.