Sales tax refund

Sales tax refund repayment case bounces around Minnesota courts

tax refund repayment

tax refund repayment

The only thing worse than owing sales tax is having to repay the same sales tax a second time. Several Minnesota electric cooperatives faced this scenario recently when the state’s Commissioner of Revenue said it “erroneously” provided a sales tax refund on taxes paid on their members’ monthly payments. The Minnesota Supreme Court ultimately sided with the commissioner’s re-interpretation of the law, although the justices said the change of heart may have come too late in some cases.

Connexus Energy v. Commissioner of Revenue

An electric cooperative is a membership association which purchases electricity from wholesale suppliers. Similar to a conventional utility, the cooperative bills each member monthly for their electric use. Where cooperatives differ is they distribute “capital credits” to members at the end of the year. These credits reflect any profits posted by the cooperative. The credits therefore represent the members’ equity in the cooperative.

Minnesota assesses sales tax on the purchase of electricity. The electric cooperatives in this case initially paid sales tax on the full amount billed to each member. But they later filed amended returns for the 2004, 2005 and 2006 tax years, claiming refunds for member payments later reclassified as capital credits.

At first, the commissioner agreed the cooperatives were entitled to refunds. But she later changed her mind and demanded the cooperatives return their refunds. The cooperatives appealed this action, first to Minnesota’s Tax Court and later the state’s supreme court. Both courts agreed the commissioner did not exceed her authority when she reassessed and rescinded the refunds.

Justice David Stras, writing for a unanimous Minnesota Supreme Court, said cooperative members’ monthly payments and their later receipt of any capital credits “were separate and distinct transactions.” In other words, when members paid their cooperative bill each month, that represented a single “retail sale of electricity” subject to sales tax. As Stras noted, the once-a-year allocation of capital credits “take place on different cycles and involve different subjects” than the monthly electricity usage bills.

That said, Stras added the commissioner waited too long before seeking repayment of some of the erroneous refunds. Under Minnesota law, “An assessment of a deficiency arising out of an erroneous refund may be made at any time within two years from the making of the refund.” Four of the cooperatives in this case said the commissioner waited until after this two-year period expired before making her assessment. In response, the commissioner noted state law also allows her to “assess additional taxes” within a 3 1/2-year period after a tax return is filed. Since she changed her mind within this time limit, she argued the four cooperatives still had to pay back the erroneous refunds.

On this point, the supreme court sided with the cooperatives. Stras explained while “either provision conceivably applies” here, the court must apply the “specific” rule over the “general” one. In this case, the 3 1/2-year limit is the general rule, as it applies to all tax assessments, while the two-year limit specifically applies to erroneous refunds.

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

Sales tax rates and use tax changes for July 2015

Sales tax rates – July 2015

Sales tax rates have changed in 20 states and Puerto Rico and there were 13 states with ZIP code changes in Zip2Tax products since June 2015. Sales and or use tax rates are changed in Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and West Virginia.

In Alabama, tax rates changed for Cedar Bluff and Fairview.

In Arkansas, tax rates changed for El Dorado, Manila, Moorefield and Ouichita County.

In Arizona, tax rates changed for Graham County and the city of Marana.

In California, tax rates changed for the city of Weed.

In Colorado, tax rates changed for Georgetown.

In Georgia, tax rates changed for the counties of Muscogee and Whitfield.

In Iowa, tax rates changed for Lone Tree, Solon, Hills, Swisher and West Branch.

In Illinois, tax rates changed for Carbon Cliff, Carbondale, Coulterville, Crestwood, Deland, Elkville, Glenwood, Highwood, La Grange, Lyons, Montgomery, Morrison, Oglesby, Rantoul, Rock Falls, Toledo, Wadsworth, Westmont, and the counties of Calhoun, Greene, Jefferson, Jersey, Jo Davies, Knox, McDonough, Morgan, Perry, Piatt, Scott, White and Whiteside.

In Kansas, the state rate changed and there were tax rates changes for Clifton, Hutchinson, Lyndon, Marquette, and the counties of Gove, Morton, and Nemaha.

In Louisiana, tax rates changed for Winn Parish, Claiborne Parish, and Calcasieu Parish.

In Minnesota, tax rates changed for Hubbard County.

In Missouri, tax rates changed for Cape Girardeau, Hold County, Lawrence County, Buffalo, California, Concordia, Hannibal and Saint Joseph.

In New Mexico, tax rates changed for the counties of Bernalillo, Chaves, Dona Ana, Luna, Roosevelt, San Miguel, Santa Fe, Sierra, Torrance, Valencia, and the cities of Artesia, Sliver City, and Kirtland.

In Ohio, tax rates changed for the county of Richland.

In Oklahoma, tax rates changed for Barnsdall, Castle, Clinton, Colbert, Commerce, Foster, Rattan, Vici and the counties of Custer and Cotton.

In Puerto Rico, the possession tax rate changed.

In South Dakota, tax rates changed for Columbia and Westport.

In Texas, tax rates changed for Garrett, Sandy Oaks and Kendleton.

In Utah, tax rates changed for Farmington.

In Washington, tax rates changed for Sequim TBD and Dayton TBD.

In West Virginia, tax rates changed for Bolivar, Charles Town, Charleston, Martinsburg, Milton, Nitro, Parkersburg, Ranson, Thomas, Vienna and Wheeling.

There were 13 states with ZIP code changes effective after June 2015 including Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah. A PDF document enumerating ZIP code additions and deletions can be made available upon request.

For June’s changes click here.

Angel Downs, Zip2Tax's ead tax researcher

Angel Downs, Zip2Tax’s lead tax researcher

Feminine hygiene (tampon tax) sales tax exemption debated

“Tampon tax” on feminine hygiene necessities called unfair

tampon taxStarting July 1, Canada will exempt products “marketed exclusively for feminine hygiene purposes” from the federal government’s 5% goods and services tax (GST). Members of Canada’s Parliament had lobbied Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government for years to abolish what they deemed an unfair “tampon tax” that discriminated against women. On May 25, the government responded by presenting a motion to Parliament to formally exclude “sanitary napkins, tampons, sanitary belts, menstrual cups or other similar products” from the GST. Parliament unanimously approved the motion on June 1. Subsequently, at least one Canadian province, Newfoundland and Labrador, announced plans to exempt feminine hygiene products from its provincial sales tax, which is currently 8% and scheduled to rise to 10% next year.

Fighting tampon taxes in the United States and around the world

According to a June 3 article by Taryn Hillin for the website Fusion, only five U.S. states  – Maryland,Massachusetts>, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and New Jersey – specifically exempt feminine hygiene products from state sales tax. Although most states exempt “necessities” such as toiletry and health care items from sales tax, the majority do not classify tampons as such. But as Hillin observed, “feminine hygiene products are not a choice; they’re a required part of being a woman.”

Canada’s recent action may spur some U.S. states to reconsider their own “tampon taxes.” For instance, on May 21, >New York Assemblyman David I. Weprin introduced a bill to exempt all feminine hygiene products from sales tax, which is as high as 8.875% in some parts of the state. It is unlikely, however, the full legislature will act upon the bill before the scheduled end of its session later this month.

The movement to abolish the “tampon tax” has also spread outside of North America. Joe Hockey, the Treasurer for Australia’s federal government, said in a May 25 interview he would support exempting feminine hygiene products from the country’s 10% goods and services tax. But Hockey’s boss, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, later said his government had no plans to push for an exemption at this time, adding GST rules are largely determined by the individual Australian states.

Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, Prime Minister David Cameron said last April he would support exempting feminine hygiene products from the country’s goods and services tax, but his government could not do so unilaterally because of European Union regulations, which sets a minimum 5% tax on “sanitary products.”

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

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.

High taxes on prepared meals leaves a nasty aftertaste for RO

taxes on prepared meals

taxes on prepared meals

prepared foods

While meals tax, or prepared food tax, advocates call it a “luxury tax,” detractors point out that it applies equally to cheap takeout well as fine dining thereby affecting the poor more dramatically than the rich.

Sales taxes are not always uniformly applied to all goods. Some states impose a “meals tax”, which is a type of additional sales tax applied only to prepared foods served in restaurants and similar establishments. According to a 2012 survey by the nonprofit Tax Foundation, localities in 15 states and the District of Columbia charge some form of meals tax. Among the 50 largest U.S. cities, Virignia Beach, Virginia, had the highest taxes on prepared meals at 5.5%. This was in addition to Virginia’s then-statewide sales tax of 5%, for a combined rate of 10.5%. Only Minneapolis reported a higher combined rate at 10.775%. (Virginia Beach’s combined rate is actually higher now – 10.8% – as Virginia subsequently raised its base sales tax to 5.3%.)

Teachers and police v. small business owners

Virginia Beach is not the only Virginia city struggling with high taxes on prepared meals. In Charlottesville, a small city of about 45,000 residents and home to the University of Virginia, the combined sales-and-meals tax rate is currently 9.3%. Last month city officials proposed adding another 1% to the meals tax, bringing the rate to 10.3%.

50 cities with high taxes on prepared meals

Chart courtesy the Tax Foundation.
The top 50 cities ranked for high combined meals and general sales tax rates in 2012.

Charlottesville Mayor Satyendra Huja said the additional 1% would add $2.1 million to the city’s coffers, providing additional funds for the city’s schools and police without increasing property tax rates. City Council member Kristin Szakos added the meals tax “is not a tax on necessities, it’s a luxury tax.”

Several restaurant owners have circulated a petition in opposition to the proposed 1% increase, which the City Council is expected to vote on in mid-April. The owners argue their customers have been unfairly singled out and asked to pay nearly double the general sales tax rate. Restaurants must also pay a processing fee on each credit card transaction based on the entire amount of the sale, including any meals tax. This can have a significant impact on the already thin profit margins of smaller, independently owned restaurants.

Is that chicken a “meal”?

Although meals tax enthusiasts like Charlottesville’s Szakos claim it is a “luxury tax,” the Tax Foundation’s 2012 report argued otherwise. The tax applies just as much to cheap takeout as it does fine dining. As the Foundation noted, “One could say that it is a tax on individuals with less flexible schedules or who do not like to cook – rich or poor.”

The meals tax also creates some odd legal hair-splitting over what exactly constitutes a “meal.” Virginia law says the tax applies to any “prepared food (including, without limitation, sandwiches, salad bar items sold from a salad bar, and prepackaged single-serving salads consisting primarily of an assortment of vegetables) and beverages … offered or held out for sale by a restaurant or caterer for the purpose of being consumed by an individual or group of individuals at one time to satisfy the appetite.” This definition excludes most foods sold at grocery stores, although it does apply to certain types of prepared foods sold within such stores. For example, if you buy an already cooked rotisserie chicken from a grocery store deli counter, that item is subject to the meals tax. But frozen chicken you have to reheat is not.

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

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