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.


Exemption certificates need to be reviewed for validity

Exemption certificates

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

Should you charge sales tax on shipping?

Sales tax on shipping

Whether or not you should charge sales tax on shipping charges depends on several factors

Shipping charges may be exempt from sales tax if some or all of the following apply:

  1. Delivery by common carrier or USPS
  2. Charges stated separately and not bundled with other charges such as handling
  3. Shipping charges are not included in the price of the item
  4. Purchased items are tax exempt
  5. If shipment includes both exempt and taxable property the seller should allocate the delivery charge and tax the non-exempt portion.
  6. Charges paid by purchaser
  7. Delivery and billing by independent contractor who is not the seller and paid by the purchaser
  8. Delivery charges are optional
  9. Delivery is separately contracted
  10. Items delivered outside the state
  11. Retailer is engaged in a separate delivery business
  12. Shipment is made direct to the purchaser
  13. Shipment occurs after title passes to purchaser


Taxability of shipping rules by state

Some states apply sales tax on shipping based on the shipping agreement in relation to the item’s transfer of title to the purchaser while others treat shipping as a non-taxable service if contracted for independently. Some states try to merge these two approaches thereby creating a patchwork of regulations and opaque rules.

While not a fail-safe approach, here are a few best practices to improve your company’s chances of avoiding having to collect sales tax on shipping: Have the buyer pay the freight charges; bill the transportation charges separately following the sale; pass the title to the purchaser before shipping; and use a common carrier or the US mail.

Following is a list of the basic tax on shipping rules for each state and a few of their most general exceptions and caveats.

Refer to the numbered exemptions listed above

Alabama – Shipping is not taxable in Alabama (AL) if 1 and 2.

Arizona – Shipping is not taxable in Arizona (AZ) if 2.

Arkansas – Shipping is taxable in Arkansas (AR).

California – Shipping is not taxable in California (CA) if 1, 2, 7 or 13.

Colorado – Some shipping is taxable in Colorado (CO) except if 2, 3 and 8; certain localities may tax all shipping.

Connecticut – Shipping is taxable in Connecticut (CT) except 4.

District of Columbia – Some shipping is taxable in the District of Columbia (DC) except when 2 and 13.

Florida – Some shipping is taxable in Florida (FL) except when 2 and 8 or 2 and 13.

Georgia – Shipping is taxable in Georgia (GA) with certain exceptions.

Hawaii – Shipping is taxable in Hawaii (HI) except 10.

Idaho – Shipping is not taxable in Idaho (ID) if 2.

Illinois – Some shipping is not taxable in Illinois (IL) if 9.

Indiana – Shipping is taxable in Indiana (IN) but 5.

Iowa – Shipping is not taxable in Iowa (IA) if 2 or 9 but 5.

Kansas – Shipping is taxable in Kansas (KS) but 5.

Kentucky – Shipping is taxable in Kentucky (KY)

Louisiana – Shipping is not taxable in Louisiana (LA) if 2 and 13.

Maine – Some shipping is taxable in Maine (ME) except when 1 and 2 and 12 all apply.

Maryland – Shipping is not taxable in Maryland (MD) if 2.

Massachusetts – Some shipping is taxable in Massachusetts (MA) except when 2 and other exceptions.

Michigan – Shipping is taxable in Michigan (MI) except when 11 or 13 but 5.

Minnesota – Shipping is taxable in Minnesota (MN) but 5.

Mississippi – Shipping is taxable in Mississippi (MS)

Missouri – Some shipping is taxable in Missouri (MO) except when 2 and 8.

Nebraska – Shipping is taxable in Nebraska (NE) but 5.

Nevada – Some shipping is taxable in Nevada (NV) except 2 and 13.

New Jersey – Shipping is taxable in New Jersey (NJ) except when 4.

New Mexico – Shipping is taxable in New Mexico (NM)

New York – Shipping is taxable in New York (NY)

North Carolina – Shipping is taxable in North Carolina (NC) but 5.

North Dakota – Shipping is taxable in North Dakota (ND) but 5.

Ohio – Shipping is taxable in Ohio (OH) but 5 and except 6.

Oklahoma – Shipping is not taxable in Oklahoma (OK) if 2 and 3 but 5.

Pennsylvania – Shipping is taxable in Pennsylvania (PA) except when 4 or 7.

Rhode Island – Shipping is taxable Rhode Island (RI) except 7.

South Carolina – Shipping is taxable South Carolina (SC) except 13.

South Dakota – Shipping is taxable in South Dakota (SD) except 7 but 5.

Tennessee – Shipping is taxable in Tennessee (TN) except 7.

Texas – Shipping is taxable in Texas (TX) except 7.

Utah – Some shipping is taxable in Utah (UT) except when 1, 2 and 3 but 5.

Vermont – Shipping is taxable in Vermont (VT)

Virginia – Shipping is not taxable in Virginia (VA) if 2.

Washington – Shipping is taxable in Washington (WA) except 13.

West Virginia – Shipping is taxable in West Virginia (WV) except 1 , 2 and 7.

Wisconsin – Shipping is taxable in Wisconsin (WI) but 5.

Wyoming – Shipping is not taxable in Wyoming (WY) if 2.

As always, we recommend you consult with the department of revenue for any state in which your company has nexus and ask for a determination in writing whenever the rules are confusing or contradictory.

Michigan voters to consider a statewide sales tax increase

Michigan sales tax increase

Michigan sales tax increase

Michigan voters will head to the polls on May 5 to approve (or reject) a proposed 1% increase in the statewide sales tax. Last December, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and the state’s legislature agreed to the referendum as part of a package to fund transportation and educational programs. If approved, Michigan would have a statewide sales tax of 7%, which would tie it with several states for second-highest in the country.

1% Michigan sales tax hike proposed

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and the state’s legislature have proposed a 1% statewide sales tax increase as part of a package to fund transportation and educational programs.

The referendum is necessary because the sales tax is written into the Michigan Constitution. Voters must approve any constitutional amendments proposed by the legislature. Michigan’s 1963 Constitution originally set the sales tax at 4%. In 1994, an amendment imposed an additional 2% tax, with the proceeds directed to the state’s public schools. The Constitution also exempts prescription drugs and groceries from the sales tax. If the referendum passes, sales of gasoline and diesel fuel will also be exempt from sales tax (although other gas taxes would increase).

A report commissioned by the Michigan legislature estimated raising the sales tax from 6% to 7% will generate about $1.6 billion in additional annual revenues. Most of this new revenue will go to roads and mass transit. Michigan schools are expected to receive an additional $300 million.

Who will win the campaign?

The referendum has sparked a spirited campaign among both supporters and opponents. A group called Protect MI Taxpayers emerged last December to rally opponents under the slogan “Stop Government Pickpocketing!” Since then, at least three other opposition groups have formed, according to the Detroit News, including Citizens Against Middle Class Tax Increases, the Coalition Against Higher Taxes and Special Interest Deals, and Concerned Taxpayers of Michigan.

On the flip side, a group called Safe Roads Yes is leading supporters of the referendum, officially known as Proposal 1. Established groups backing Proposal 1 include the Small Business Association of Michigan and the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association, the trade association that represents the state’s road construction companies.

Political analysts estimate the total cost of the referendum campaign may exceed $15 million. EPIC-MRA, a Michigan-based polling firm, conducted a survey of 600 Michigan voters in late January on Proposal 1. In response to a question offering basic details of the sales tax increase, a slim plurality—46% to 41%—said they would vote for Proposal 1. However, when the pollsters provided more detailed information about Proposal 1, the “No” vote overtook the “Yes” side by a margin of 47% to 38%. EPIC-MRA noted its survey had a 4% margin of error. (It is unclear how much information voters will officially receive, as the Michigan Bureau of Elections has yet to approve final ballot language for Proposal 1.)

Ultimately, the success or failure of the referendum depends on who gets more of their supporters to the polls on May 5. Only 43% of Michigan voters turned out for last November’s statewide elections. And besides Proposal 1, the May 5 election only features contests for city and local offices, which are typically low-turnout affairs.

S.M. Oliva is a writer living in Charlottesville, Virginia. He edits the international legal blog Bonham’s Cases.

Michigan rules telecommunications signals are not sales tax exempt

sales tax exempt

sales tax exempt

telecommunication signals ruled not sales tax exemptSavvy businesses often look for loopholes they can exploit to (legally) avoid paying sales taxes. But state revenue departments and courts tend to frown on creative interpretations of the law. A group of telecommunications companies in Michigan recently learned this lesson.

Like many states, Michigan tries to avoid double taxation by clearly distinguishing wholesale and manufacturing operations from retail sales. Michigan exempts from sales tax any purchase of tangible goods used in the manufacturing of other tangible goods intended for sale. This industrial processing exemption means, for example, a company that produces the proverbial widget does not have to pay sales tax on the machinery necessary to produce the widget.

In this case, a group of telecommunications companies claimed the industrial processing exemption applied to their purchases of electricity. Normally, Michigan imposes a sales tax on electricity. The companies argued since they converted that electricity into telecommunications signals – which is really just another form of electricity – they were engaged in manufacturing.

Not surprisingly, the Michigan Department of Treasury did not see it that way. And in a decision issued on Dec. 4, neither did the Michigan Court of Appeals. Judge Henry William Saad, writing for the court, agreed with the Department and a lower court that the industrial process exemption did not apply here, therefore it is not sales tax exempt.

The basic flaw in the telecommunications companies’ arguments, Saad said, was that while electricity is a form of “tangible personal property” under Michigan sales tax law, telecommunications signals are not legally considered a form of electricity. Indeed, Saad concluded telecommunications signals are not even “tangible personal property,” a basic requirement for invoking the industrial process exemption in the first place.

As written, Michigan law defines tangible personal property to include “electricity, water, gas, [and] steam.” Saad pointed to the Michigan legislature’s specific enumeration of water and steam, which are both forms of water. In contrast, the legislature did not specifically enumerate “telecommunications signals,” and it would therefore be improper for the courts to construe the term “electricity” to include such signals.

Furthermore, Saad noted, telecommunications signals do not fall within the broader definition of tangible personal property, which includes anything that “can be seen, weighed, measured, felt, or touched, or that is in any other manner perceptible to the senses.” Obviously, a wireless telephone or Internet signal cannot be seen or perceived by human senses. Nor can they be weighed or measured in any conventional sense.

S.M. Oliva is a writer living in Charlottesville, Virginia. He edits the international legal blog Bonham’s Cases.

« Older Entries