- Days left

Online Sales Changing the Tax Game

a computer icon of a tax folder - online sales tax postNine in 10 retailers are expected to offer online deals today, Cyber Monday, according to the National Retail Federation. Those deals are expected to push online sales to $32 billion during the holiday season, up more than 10% from last year.

Numbers like these should have retailers salivating, and encourage state and local governments hoping to fill some gaping holes in their budgets caused by revenue shortages from the past few years.

Forty-five states rely on sales taxes on goods and services as part of their annual state budgets; the exceptions are Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon. Rates range from 4% to 8.25% at the state level, with local additions boosting rates to over 10% in some municipalities. That should translate into a combined boost of over $1 billion in sales taxes for those states that do charge sales taxes -- not a bad haul by any standards.However, state and local governments shouldn't start spending those dollars yet. It's estimated that nearly $19 billion in online sales and use tax will escape collection in 2010; by 2012, that number is expected to climb to $23 billion.

States have been trying to dream up ways to boost collection efforts in an effort to recover some of that lost revenue. Allowing online retailers to avoid collecting tax is, the states argue, unfair to local businesses that are subject to the tax. It also increases administrative costs at the state and local levels since many states, such as Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, impose a "use tax" on residents. A use tax is generally imposed at the same rate as a sales tax and is levied on residents of a state who buy products to use in the state. This means a product that might not have been taxed online (or that might have been physically purchased in another state, like Delaware, not subject to sales tax) must be separately reported by the taxpayer and the resulting tax must be paid. Realistically, few taxpayers actually report and pay use tax, leaving huge gaps in expected tax collections versus actual collections.

Of course, this doesn't mean states are ready to give up that extra revenue just yet. Some states are stepping up efforts to collect from taxpayers who refuse to report. In North Carolina, for example, the Department of Revenue is trying to force online giant Amazon.com to hand over its resident customer list so it can match up sales with reports. Other states, like Texas and New York, are making real efforts to establish a legal basis for collecting sales tax from Internet sales. So far, their success has been mixed.

It may finally fall to Congress to make the laws more friendly to states that are seeking to enforce sales tax laws based on "presence." At least one bill, H.R.5660, also known as the Main Street Fairness Act, has been introduced this year in an effort to subject online sales to the same tax scheme as in-person sales. The bill currently sits in the House Committee on the Judiciary, which means, for now, states are on their own.

This Cyber Monday, it may feel as easy as a click of a mouse to make online purchases, but the laws surrounding those purchases can be complicated. It's important to know what the rules are for sales and use tax in your state -- and to keep up with the changes. Technology is moving fast, and state taxing authorities are hot on the trail.

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Banking Services 101

Understand your bank's services, and how to get the most from them

View Course »

Introduction to Retirement Funds

Target date funds help you maintain a long term portfolio.

View Course »

TurboTax Articles

What is IRS Form 8824: Like-Kind Exchange

Ordinarily, when you sell something for more than what you paid to get it, you have a capital gain; when you sell it for less than what you paid, you have a capital loss. Both can affect your taxes. But if you immediately buy a similar property to replace the one you sold, the tax code calls that a "like-kind exchange," and it lets you delay some or all of the tax effects. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) uses Form 8824 for like-kind exchanges.

What are ABLE Accounts? Tax Benefits Explained

Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) accounts allow the families of disabled young people to set aside money for their care in a way that earns special tax benefits. ABLE accounts work much like the so-called 529 accounts that families can use to save money for education; in fact, an ABLE account is really a special kind of 529.

What is IRS Form 8829: Expenses for Business Use of Your Home

One of the many benefits of working at home is that you can deduct legitimate expenses from your taxes. The downside is that since home office tax deductions are so easily abused, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tends to scrutinize them more closely than other parts of your tax return. However, if you are able to substantiate your home office deductions, you shouldn't be afraid to claim them. IRS Form 8829 helps you determine what you can and cannot claim.

What is IRS Form 8859: Carryforward of D.C. First-Time Homebuyer Credit

Form 8859 is a tax form that will never be used by the majority of taxpayers. However, if you live in the District of Columbia (D.C.), it could be the key to saving thousands of dollars on your taxes. While many first-time home purchasers in D.C. are entitled to a federal tax credit, Form 8859 calculates the amount of carry-forward credit you can use in future years, not the amount of your initial tax credit.

What is IRS Form 8379: Injured Spouse Allocation

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has the power to seize income tax refunds when a taxpayer owes certain debts, such as unpaid taxes or overdue child support. Sometimes, a married couple's joint tax refund will be seized because of a debt for which only one spouse is responsible. When that happens, the other spouse is said to be "injured" and can file Form 8379 to get at least some of the refund.

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum