Sales tax change frequency by state

Zip2Tax compares the sales tax change frequency of the states. Ever wonder how your state measures up?

It’s generally accepted that there are around 11,000 sales tax jurisdictions across this great and diverse country of ours. This fact alone would seem to be a fairly reasonable argument for the outsourcing of sales and use tax rates from a company such as Zip2Tax. As the head of marketing for Zip2Tax I am always trying to understand our customer’s needs better. I found myself wondering about the sales tax change frequency for all these jurisdictions. I mean, 11,000 rows in a document might be manageable if they only changed their rates every few years or so, right?

So I sat down and with my trusty Excel spread sheet and a large cup of strong coffee and started going back through our research documentation counting the number of months that there had been any sales tax changes in each state. I wanted to determine which states had the highest sales tax change frequency. I sampled a three-year period from December 2015 going back through January 2013.

… fully one-third of the time that these states CAN make sales or use tax rate changes, they DO.

When the numbers were crunched I had some surprises in store, to be sure. For one, the states that provide Zip2Tax with the most new customers have no obvious correlation with which states had the highest sales tax change frequency. In fact, California and New York were only slightly above average.

The standout in this sample was Alabama which turned out to be far and away the leader with changes in 30 out of the 36 months – that’s 83% of the time. This also helped to dash my hopes of discovering a hotbed of customer need for our product since Alabama has so far not proven to be a great source of new business.
sales tax change frequency

Arizona came in second with 14 changes over that same period. Georgia, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas all tie for third place with 13 sales tax rate changes over 36 months. That translates to mean that fully one-third of the time that these states CAN make sales or use tax rate changes, they DO. Not to overstate the obvious, but that is more frequently than quarterly updates.

… more than two-thirds, updated that tax a minimum of once a year, and by the end of 3 years, 86% of the states had made changes…

In fact, 68% of the states that collect a sales tax, that’s more than two-thirds, updated that tax a minimum of once a year, and by the end of 3 years, 86% of the states had made changes.

So as I drained the last of my cold coffee I felt some gratification in that even though sales tax will remain an extremely complex moving target in nearly all 50 states, at least it should mean a steady supply of customers for sales tax rate providers like Zip2Tax for the foreseeable future.

Fill in the sign up form below this blog to receive our monthly newsletter and get alerted when one of these states makes a sales or use tax change or other important tax-related information.

 

Incorrect sales tax charge leads to seemingly avaricious lawsuit

$3.10 in incorrect sales tax leads to $158k in attorney’s fees

Retailers need to be careful when implementing any automated system for calculating sales tax. Even minor errors can lead to a lawsuit if a customer is charged the incorrect sales taxincorrect sales tax amount. Indeed, there are a number of class action law firms and “professional plaintiffs” who prey upon such mistakes. And even when the amount sought is just a few dollars, any judgment may be accompanied by a substantial bill to pay the successful plaintiff’s attorney fees.

A recent Illinois case illustrates this problem perfectly. The retailer in this case was Sears, one of the country’s best known department stores. The plaintiff was a customer who claimed he paid $3.10 too much in sales tax when he purchased a digital television converter box from Sears.

Converter boxes are a device used to allow older televisions to receive digital broadcast signals. In 2008 and 2009, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a federal agency, distributed $40 “coupons” to subsidize individual purchases of converter boxes. In July 2008, the Illinois Department of Revenue advised retailers in that state they should deduct the coupon before assessing sales tax. In other words, the sales tax only applied on the net price paid by the customer.

In this case, the plaintiff presented a NTIA coupon when he purchased his converted box at Sears, which reduced the net price paid from $59.99 to $19.99. The sales associate, however, added the sales tax to the higher price before applying the coupon. As a result, the plaintiff paid an incorrect sales tax of $4.65 when he only should have paid $1.55, a difference of $3.10.

A law firm later sued Sears, purportedly on behalf of the plaintiff and anyone else who was similarly overcharged. While the law firm eventually abandoned its quest for class action status, a judge agreed the plaintiff was entitled to $3.10 in damages because Sears violated the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act. The court rejected Sears’ argument that this was a case of predatory lawyers “shopping for a lawsuit,” even though the same plaintiff had reportedly filed “23 class action complaints in the past eight years, using the same attorneys that represent him in this action.”

The judge also awarded the plaintiff’s law firm approximately $158,000 in attorney’s fees. Sears appealed the decision. In December 2015, an Illinois appeals courtupheld the $3.10 judgment in favor of the plaintiff but threw out the award of attorney’s fees. It turned out the law firm did not submit proper billing records to the trial court. As the appeals court explained, the attorneys prepared written time sheets detailing their work, entered that information into a computer system, then threw the time slips out and only gave the printouts from the computer system to the court. The appeals court said the trial judge erred in admitting these printouts as evidence in lieu of the original time sheets. While the attorneys are still entitled to compensation, the appeals court said, the trial judge must reconsider the matter using only admissible evidence.

S.M. Oliva is a writer living in Charlottesville, Virginia. He edits the international legal blog PrivyCouncil.info

New Year’s sales tax updates effective January 1, 2016

Sales tax updates: 19 states have sales and use tax rates which have changed in Zip2Tax products since December 2015. 

There are sales tax updates in Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Utah effective Jan. 1st.

In Alabama, tax rates changed for Rockford, Luverne and Waterloo.

In Arkansas, tax rates changed for Bald Knob, Brinkley, Gillham, Harrisburg, Viola and Crittenden County.

In Arizona, tax rates changed for Apache Junction, Phoenix and Prescott Valley.

In Colorado, tax rates changed for Bayfield, Bennett, Fraser, Lyons, Ouray, the Counties of Alamosa and Chaffee, Gunnison Valley RTA, Montezuma County Hospital District, Colorado Springs, Crested Butte and Greeley.

In Florida, tax rates changed for the Counties of Jackson, Walton, Hernando and Saint Johns.

In Georgia, tax rates changed for Hancock County.

In Illinois, tax rates changed for Morton Grove, Posen, Stickney, Bellwood, Bloomington, Herrin, Hopkins Park, Matteson, Shorewood and Cook County.

In Kansas, tax rates changed for Shawnee.

In Louisiana, tax rates changed for Folsom, Lake Charles and Merryville.

In Minnesota, tax rates changed for Rochester and the Counties of Otter Tail and Freeborn.

In Missouri, tax rates changed for Carthage, New Madrid County, Chillicothe, Holt County, Saline County and Aurora.

In North Dakota, tax rates changed for Alexander and Center.

In New Mexico, tax rates changed for Maxwell, Springer, De Baca County, Eddy County, Vaughn, Lincoln County, Mora County, Otero County, Jemez Springs, Farmington and Kirtland.

In Nevada, tax rates changed for Clark County.

In Ohio, tax rates changed for Portage County.

In Oklahoma, tax rates changed for Bartlesville, Gore, Hollis, Norman, Del City, Marshall County and Pittsburg County.

In South Dakota, tax rates changed for Astoria.

In Texas, tax rates changed for Corral City and Goliad.

In Utah, tax rates changed for Dutch John.

There were 13 states with ZIP code changes effective after December 2015 including California, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia. A PDF document enumerating ZIP code additions and deletions can be made available upon request.

Angel Downs, Zip2Tax's ead tax researcher

Angel Downs, Zip2Tax’s lead tax researcher

Exemption certificates need to be reviewed for validity

Do you know the validity period of your exemption certificates? Did you know that each state treats them differently and that you should review them periodically to make sure they are still good?

It is a good business practice to periodically review exemption certificates because quite a few states claim their exemption certificates are good until the business has a change, the business closes, or the certificate is revoked. You won’t know if these conditions are met unless you check with your customers and vendors regularly and request updated exemption certificates from them.

Some states have no stated expiration for their exemption certificates but they recommend regular or periodic updates. In these cases we listed the least amount of time between recommended updates. In cases where the state listed “good until the exemption no longer applies” we stated that there was no expiration date. Other states note that exemption certificates are good forever however “exempt status must be renewed”, or they “recommend” updates. In these cases we noted the recommended update or renewal timeframe.

Exemption Certificate Validity

State Abbrev. Validity Period
Alabama AL Till Changed Or Revoked
Alaska AK NA – No Certificates
Arizona AZ Date On Certificate
Arkansas AR NA – No Certificates
California CA Till Changed Or Revoked
Colorado CO No Expiration
Connecticut CT 3 Years
Delaware DE NA – No Certificates
District Of Columbia DC Till Changed Or Revoked
>Florida FL 5 Years
Georgia GA Till Changed Or Revoked
Hawaii HI Till Changed Or Revoked
Idaho ID No Expiration
Illinois IL 5 Years
Indiana IN No Expiration
Iowa IA 5 Years
Kansas KS Till Changed Or Revoked
Kentucky KY Till Changed Or Revoked
Louisiana LA 3 Years
Maine ME Till Changed Or Revoked
Maryland MD 5 Years
Massachusetts MA No Expiration
Michigan MI 4 Years
Minnesota MN 3 Years
Mississippi MS NA – No Certificates
Missouri MO 5 Years
Montana MT NA – No Certificates
Nebraska NE No Expiration
Nevada NV 5 Years
New Hampshire NH NA – No Certificates
New Jersey NJ 5 Years
New Mexico NM No Expiration
New York NY Till Changed Or Revoked
North Carolina NC No Expiration
North Dakota ND No Expiration
Ohio OH No Expiration
Oklahoma OK 3 Years
Oregon OR NA – No Certificates
Pennsylvania PA 3 Years
Rhode Island RI No Expiration
South Carolina SC Till Changed Or Revoked
South Dakota SD 1 Year
Tennessee TN Till Changed Or Revoked
Texas TX No Expiration
Utah UT 1 Year
Vermont VT No Expiration
Virginia VA Till Changed Or Revoked
Washington WA 1 Year
West Virginia WV 1 Year
Wisconsin WI 5 Years
Wyoming WY No Expiration
Illinois sales tax

Illinois sales tax on advertising proposal hits resistance

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner won election last year on a platform of reducing the tax and regulatory burden on business. Yet he has also proposed what would be the nation’s only sales tax on business advertising. In an effort to “modernize” the Illinois sales tax system – and address a $4 billion budget deficit – Rauner has proposed eliminating exemptions for a variety of previously untaxed services, including billboards and radio and television advertising. In his budget blueprint, Rauner argued, “Illinois lags behind all of its neighboring states when it comes to the tax treatment of goods compared to services.”

Illinois sales tax

Groups like No Ad Tax Illinois have mobilized in opposition of Gov. Rauner’s proposed Illinois sales tax on business advertising and other formerly exempt services.

Yet no state currently collects a sales tax on business advertising. Florida attempted to do so in 1987, but abandoned the effort after only six months when national advertisers boycotted the state, according to an editorial in the Quincy Herald-Whig arguing against Rauner’s proposed tax. The editorial further noted, “The advertising industry alone accounted for $267 billion in revenue in 2014, or 17.3 percent of Illinois’ economic activity.”

Not surprisingly, the advertising industry – which includes the state’s newspapers and television stations – have quickly mobilized against the governor’s proposal. A group called No Ad Tax Illinois has published a website and video decrying the impact an advertising tax would have on small businesses. “From the family owned and operated car dealership in Joliet to the real-estate agent in Chicago, small businesses rely on advertising to drive sales,” the group argued, adding less advertising “will mean less sales and people will lose their jobs and their businesses.”

An advertising tax also raises constitutional issues. The Northwest Herald noted advertising revenue “makes it possible to finance our journalistic work to keep the community informed.” A tax might therefore run afoul of the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of the press.

Rauner has already modified his proposal in the face of criticism. Originally, he proposed a 10% advertising tax, which he claimed would provide the state with approximately $10 million per year in additional revenue. According to the Herald, the governor has since lowered the proposed tax to 6.25%, which would match the Illinois sales tax rate statewide.

Ultimately, the proposed advertising tax is just one part of a much larger political dispute. Illinois has operated without a budget since the start of its fiscal year on July 1. Rauner, a Republican, has been unable to negotiate a new budget with the Democratic-controlled state legislature.

S.M. Oliva is a writer living in Charlottesville, Virginia. He edits the international legal blog PrivyCouncil.info

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