Today the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled states can force online retailers to collect taxes on the items they sell.

The ruling gives states the power to force eCommerce and Internet retailers to collect sales tax from online purchases, even if the company doesn’t have a physical presence (i.e. no brick and mortar location) in the state. This article from CNN provides a summary of the decision. This post from Bloomberg provides greater detail.

The case originated out of South Dakota and was brought by eCommerce-giant Wayfair.com. Wayfair was arguing against a South Dakota law requiring Internet companies with more than $100,000 in in-state sales, to collect sales and use taxes on goods sold through their website. Naturally, Wayfair was arguing this shouldn’t apply to them as they did not have a physical presence in South Dakota.

This will be a massive blow to online retailers such as Wayfair, Amazon, Overstock, and others. On the plus side, it seems this will level the playing field for all retailers and may even encourage consumers to shop locally.

After a suggestion from friend Mitch Jackson of Jackson & Wilson, I got to wondering, what impact will this ruling have on small and medium businesses? What advice might these small and medium online retailers need to proceed after this ruling? Mitch also covered this same topic in a live video today. His show is called LegalHour.live.

As I normally do in these situations, I turn to our extensive database of expert witnesses to answer these pressing questions. In this instance, we need input from accounting experts.

Accounting Expert Answers:


Michael J. Garibaldi, CPA, ABV, CFF, CGMA, is a Certified Public Accountant licensed in New York. Mr. Garibaldi works closely with law firms and other professional service firms, manufacturing, wholesale/retail, medical, technology, restaurant/hospitality, artists and galleries, construction, and real estate clients where he is responsible for providing accounting, tax planning management consulting services, and financial reporting. You can learn more about Mr. Garibaldi’s services by visiting his website at: garibaldicpas.com.

Posing the same two questions to Mr. Garibaldi, he stated, “The issue and recent ruling is hotly contested and has far reaching implications.” Then he provided the following answers.

Nick: What impact will this have on small and medium sized online retailers?

Mr. Garibaldi: Small and medium online retailers will now have to collect and remit sales tax to the various taxing jurisdictions that they sell in. This will create a significant administrative burden to properly collect the appropriate sales tax for each jurisdiction, file the appropriate sales tax returns and then remit the funds to each taxing authority. Since there is no central taxing authority, the retailers will need to determine the specific law, rules and regulations within each jurisdiction and then timely file and remit the appropriate sales tax collected. This includes not only the states in which the retailers will be responsible to collect and remit the sales tax, but each local  jurisdiction within each state. For example, New York State has over 70 local taxing jurisdictions each with their own tax rate. This will create the need to enhance the technology utilized in processing orders, increase administrative oversight, as well as tax and accounting department personnel to file the returns, etc.

Nick: What advice would you have for small and medium sized online retailers facing the prospect of looming state laws to collect taxes?

Mr. Garibaldi: Online retailers should not wait.  They must begin to develop the systems necessary to properly collect sales tax within each jurisdiction. They should determine the systems and technology needed, design the proper procedures and be ready to implement them as soon as possible. As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Trying to collect and remit the sales tax on the fly will lead to unnecessary work to unravel what was collected and to whom it needs to be paid, not to mention the liability that comes with collecting sales tax. Business owners should take heed that this is a fiduciary responsibility so the owner(s) of the business can be held personally responsible.


Steven G. Roberts, CPA, CFF, CFE, CCI, CGMA, FCPA, is a forensic accountant and economics expert witness focusing valuation, economic analysis, economic loss measurement, forensic accounting, and fraud examination. You can learn more about his service here: veritasteam.com. He was unable to opine, but we received some initial thoughts from Dr. Wade Roberts, a senior forensic economist with Veritas:

Nick: What impact will this have on small and medium sized online retailers?

Dr. Roberts: The ruling was limited to the large online retailers. Additionally, states will have to adopt laws that specify and delineate the tax implications over the coming months/years. For businesses impacted, they will potentially compete for online business against states with more favorable tax treatment.

Nick: What advice would you have for small and medium sized online retailers facing the prospect of looming state laws to collect taxes?

Dr. Roberts: Small or medium size online businesses needing to comply with tax rules over thousands of tax jurisdictions will likely encounter added costs in the pursuit of adhering to the ruling. Businesses should determine the best tax software for their circumstance, attempting to both meet the needs of their operations, while at the same time minimizing the costs required for the added software. Many small and medium size businesses are already moving in this direction as is evidenced by the dramatic rise in Avalaro’s stock price.


Tiffany R. Couch, CPA, CFF, CFE, is Principal at Acuity Forensics, a Pacific Northwest forensic accounting firm. She has more than 20 years of experience in the field of accounting with the last 13 years focused completely on forensic accounting related engagements. Her expertise is in matters involving fraud investigation, forensic accounting, contract and regulatory compliance, internal control risk assessment, and complex litigation. You can learn more about her services at her website: acuityforensics.com.

Nick: What impact will this have on small and medium sized online retailers?

Ms. Couch: Likely cost to track the transactions and file the returns each month. There will also be a potential cost of buying software to handle this kind of tracking and reporting.

Nick: What advice would you have for small and medium sized online retailers facing the prospect of looming state laws to collect taxes?

Ms. Couch: Make sure you have a GREAT sales and local use tax CPA who can assist in ensuring you have an appropriate accounting and record-keeping system to ensure compliance. Also, don’t get behind on paying these taxes. I recommend setting aside the sales tax funds in a separate account so that the funds are available when it’s time to remit the tax.

Posted by nickrishwain

2 Comments

  1. Today’s SCOTUS ruling changes everything. Thanks for sharing your insights and thoughts from the experts at Experts.com

    Reply

    1. Thank you, Mitch. Your discussion on the topic at Legalhour.live was equally pertinent and timely. This will have a massive impact on businesses across the board.

      Reply

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