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.

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Taxability matrix: Are pumpkins tax exempt?

Are pumpkins considered tax exempt food or non-exempt decorative items?

taxability matrix

If sales tax applies to jack-o’-lanterns, but not to edible pie pumpkins, what do you do in this case?

Pumpkins are one of those items where it isn’t clear whether the buyer is going to eat them or play with them. Only six states — Alabama, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma and South Dakota — do not exempt or at least reduce the sales tax rate on food and grocery items. This leaves pumpkin sellers with a conundrum. How is the determination to be made as to whether they are tax exempt food?

Back in 2007, Iowa briefly enacted and that same year repealed a law forcing retailers to attempt to determine whether the purchaser’s intended to eat or carve the bright orange squash. They were then supposed to charge sales tax on the carving jack-o’-lantern but exempt the sales tax for the delicious little soon-to-be treat.

The Iowa tax department sent a bulletin to retailers reminding them that where once all pumpkins were tax exempt food, now they were to be taxable if they were 1) advertised to be used as jack-o’-lanterns; and 2) they were understood to be jack-o’lanterns. How exactly one is supposed to “understand” the intended usage of a buyer and later prove that to the department of taxation is left to your imagination.

To complicate the matter even further, Iowa’s pumpkins could still be sales tax exempt if 1) the buyer presented a sales tax exemption certificate; 2) the pumpkin was of a pie variety and specifically advertised for that purpose, or 3) they were purchased using food stamps.

How are pumpkins treated in your state? Did you pay sales tax when you bought yours this year. Please comment and let us know your experience.

 

Back To School sales tax holiday list for 2015

Back To School sales tax holiday

Back To School Sales tax holidayThe most complete list of all 17 states holding a Back To School sales tax holiday for 2015, updated July 14, 2015.  This list is complete with items sales tax will be suspended on, the upper price limit, the sales date ranges, when the sales were first initiated, and a link to where you can get more information.

The 2015 Back To School sales tax holiday will be held in Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

Keep in mind that while some states suspend the state portion of the sales tax during these Back To School specials, but county, city, or other local sales taxes might still apply if those municipalities are not participating the sales tax holiday.

Also consider that not all items are viewed equally in the eyes of the tax adjuster. Shoes may be considered an item of clothing in one instance, but “track shoes” may be considered sporting goods and not included along with the tax-free items during this Back To School sales tax holiday.

StateItems IncludedMax Price1st Year2015 DatesInformation Links
Alabamaclothing$1002006August 7-9http://www.revenue.alabama.gov/
computers$750
school supplies$50
books$30
Arkansasclothing$1002011August 1-2http://www.dfa.arkansas.gov/
school supplies
Connecticutclothing and footwear$3002001August 16-22http://www.ct.gov/drs/
Floridaschool suppies2007+August 7-16http://dor.myflorida.com/
clothing$100
supplies$15
computers$750
Georgiaschool supplies2012+July 31 – August 1http://dor.georgia.gov/
clothing$100
supplies$20
computers$1,000
Iowaclothing$1002000August 7-8https://tax.iowa.gov/
Louisianaall taxable personal property$2,5002007August 7-8http://www.revenue.louisiana.gov/
Marylandclothing & footwear$1002010August 9-15http://www.marylandtaxes.com/
Mississippiclothing & footwear$1002009July 31-Aug. 1http://www.dor.ms.gov/
Missouriclothing$1002004August 7-9http://dor.mo.gov/
computers$3,500
school supplies$50
New Mexicoclothing$1002005August 7-9http://www.tax.newmexico.gov
computers$1,000
computer equip.$500
school supplies$30
Ohioclothing$752015August 7-9http://www.tax.ohio.gov/
school supplies$20
instructional material$20
>Oklahomaclothing$1002007August 7-9http://www.tax.ok.gov/
>South Carolinaclothing2000August 7-9http://www.sctax.org/
school supplies
computers
other
Tennesseeclothing$1002006August 7-9http://tn.gov/revenue/
school supplies$100
computers$1,500
Texaclothing, backpacks and school supplies$1001999August 7-9http://comptroller.texas.gov/
Virginiaclothing$1002006August 7-9http://www.tax.virginia.gov/
school supplies$20
energy star products$2,500
hurricane preparedness items$60
generators$1,000

Source: Federation of Tax Administrators

Sales Tax or Use Tax – Either Way you Pay

use tax requirements

use tax requirements

Know the use tax requirementsA Mississippi air business dinged for confusion over sales verses use tax

State officials frown upon efforts to circumvent use tax requirements, as an airplane dealer in Mississippi recently learned.

What is Use Tax?

Most states assess either a sales tax or a use tax of personal property. The use tax applies when no sales tax has previously been paid.

Two men formed a partnership in Tate County, Mississippi, called Johnny Reb, ostensibly to buy and sell airplanes. Johnny Reb paid no tax on the planes it purchased. Therefore Johnny Reb either had to sell the planes – and collect Mississippi’s 3% sales tax – or pay an identical amount in use tax if it used the planes for any other purpose.

A Hefty $160,000 Fine

According to Mississippi officials, Johnny Reb did neither. Instead, a state audit revealed the partners were using planes for personal use and, in effect, running a charter air service. Indeed, Johnny Reb’s tax returns and website identified it as a “charter” or “airplane leasing” business, not a dealership. Based on this information, the Mississippi Department of Revenue assessed Johnny Reb for unpaid use taxes (plus interest) of more than $160,000.

Fine Overturned in Chancery Court

Johnny Reb appealed the department’s assessment to the Tate County Chancery Court. The Chancery Court is a trial court that handles certain administrative cases. The chancery judge reversed the department’s decision. He re-examined the facts of the case, including new information presented by Johnny Reb, and determined the company really was a dealership exempt from use tax. And even though there was evidence Johnny Reb used its planes to transport passengers, that was not the company’s “principal business” and it never made a profit from providing charter service.

Chancery Court Overruled in Appeals Court

But in a decision issued on Oct. 14 of this year, the Mississippi Court of Appeals reversed the chancery judge and reinstated the department’s original use-tax assessment. The appeals court said the chancery judge exceeded his authority in questioning the department’s determination of the facts. A chancery court may not reverse a tax decision because he personally disagrees with it; rather, he must find there was no “substantial evidence” supporting it. That was not the case here.

Moreover, the Court of Appeals said the use tax applies to Johnny Reb regardless of its “principal business” or whether it made a profit on charters. The department agreed Johnny Reb was primarily in business to sell planes. The problem was that it wasn’t doing that. It was using the planes, which meant it had to pay a use tax.

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

Sales and use tax changes for March 2014

tax changes for March 2014

Sales and/or use tax rates in the states of Arizona, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Nebraska and New York have changed in Zip2Tax products since February 2014.

In Arizona, tax rates changed for Carefree.

In Alabama, tax rates changed for Huntsville.

In Mississippi, tax rates changed for Jackson.

In Louisiana, tax rates changed for Saline.

In Nebraska, tax rates changed for Crete.

In New York, tax rates changed for Ulster County.

There were 9 states with ZIP code changes effective after February 2014 including Alabama, Arizona, California, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington.

For February’s changes click here.

Angel Sauer

Angel Sauer, sales tax research team leader

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