Post-Wayfair Sales Tax Issues for foreign companies selling in U.S.

You may have seen a headline or heard a discussion about “Wayfair”. What is this? “Wayfair” refers to the most significant state tax case to come before the U.S. Supreme Court in decades.
For more than 50 years, state sales and use tax laws have held that a seller’s requirements are based on a “physical presence” test. In other words, a company generally must collect sales tax in a given state only if that company had a physical presence (branch office, warehouse, etc.) in that state.
In 2016, South Dakota contested this law, pointing out that the physical presence test was obsolete in the Internet era. The physical presence test gave remote sellers an unfair advantage, as they could sell into the state without collecting sales tax, while in-state competitors were forced to collect sales tax.
On June 21, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision, stating that the physical presence test was invalid. The Court explained that a company has nexus (or connection) with a jurisdiction when that company “avails itself of the substantial privilege of carrying on business” in a jurisdiction.
In practical terms, this is means that when a company makes sales into a state over a certain threshold of sales or transactions, that company is required to collect sales tax in that state. For example, South Dakota law states that any company that has at least $100,000 in sales or 200 transactions in the state must begin to collect and remit South Dakota sales tax.
Since this decision in June, more than 30 states have (or will soon have) sales and transaction thresholds. Retailers of all types should examine their obligations and be prepared to collect sales tax in additional jurisdictions.
Each state can create its own standards and guidelines for nexus standards. Twenty-four states have adopted the same $100,000 annual sales or 200 transactions test as South Dakota. Eight other states have differing thresholds. Also, some of the states have required marketplaces (such as Amazon) to collect sales tax on behalf of vendors.
Another important issue to remember that the states are not party to the income tax treaty signed by the Federal government and they may or may not conform the treaty articles. This creates an added burden for the foreign sellers.
Retailers/ Amazon sellers should review the requirements state by state. Although the thresholds may be the same, the measuring periods and basis for measuring sales may vary. The beginning date of enforcement also varies. Penalties for non-compliance can be quite severe.
Tax Planning & Compliance
– Do not simply register in states once you determine you have nexus without considering several additional steps.

  • Determine nexus
  • Review the wording of your contracts and invoices. A change in wording could reduce the risk of sales tax requirements.
  • Decide whether the risk is material. It may be that the cost of registration and compliance is greater than your risk of exposure.
  • Implement a sales tax compliance software. Several commercial systems are available.
  • Consider a system to store and track certificates.

CPA Global tax can help you with all questions you may have in complying with the state tax issues.

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