STATES are living in 'VIRTUAL REALITY,' are YOU?

The states are living in virtual reality. They want out-of-state companies who don't have a physical presence in the state to pay income tax, and collect sales tax.

You may know about all of the talk to enact federal legislation to require remote sellers to collect sales tax when they don't have a physical presence. You may even know about the legislation some states have enacted to require remote sellers to collect sales tax based on having 'economic nexus.'

ECONOMIC NEXUS: Economic nexus is simply having customers in a state and deriving income or sales from those customers. Economic nexus does not require the seller to have a physical presence in the state.

Before states started using economic nexus to require out-of-state companies to collect sales tax, some states enacted economic nexus legislation to require out-of-states companies to pay income tax. In addition to economic nexus, many states have adopted market-based sourcing for apportionment purposes.

APPORTIONMENT: Every company that operates in multiple states has an apportionment factor. The apportionment factor is used to determine the portion of the company's tax base that should be taxed by a state. Historically, the apportionment factor was based on a ratio of the company's in-state property/payroll/sales over the company's everywhere property/payroll/sales. Most states now use an apportionment factor solely based on sales. The property and payroll factor have become less important.

Now, back to market-based sourcing. Market-based sourcing applies to the sales of services and intangibles. It simply says that for apportionment purposes, a service provider's sales are sourced to where the customers are located. 

This leads to why it is important to know where a company's customers are located versus where the company is located for both nexus and apportionment purposes. A service company or any company that sells over the internet could have economic nexus and customers in multiple states creating a large tax liability, possibly over multiple years.

Personally, I think economic nexus and market-based sourcing should not be allowed. I think states need to stop living in virtual reality and live in the physical realm. 

Regardless, if you are a service provider or Internet retailer, please review your situation to reduce the likelihood of having a large tax assessment fall on your doorstep. Virtual reality could simply become reality.


With all the talk of innovation, robotics and artificial intelligence changing the landscape of how tax departments function, it is imperative that tax professionals position themselves as something more than data movers.

Certain areas of accounting and tax have been commodities for years. Now, with technology, it will become even more so. As I have been saying for years, the real value of a tax consultant is providing leverage - knowledge, judgment and advocacy. In other words, it isn't the data that helps a company win an audit, determine a position on a return, or plan to minimize tax on a merger or acquisition. It is the knowledge, judgment and advocacy (expertise) of the tax professional and his or her ability to interpret and apply the law to specific data. The experience and connections of a tax professional cannot be mimicked by a computer or robot.

Position yourself to be valuable. Position yourself to provide leverage.

That's my objective.

Why Corporations Don't File State Tax Private Letter Rulings

  • Taxpayers must disclose their identify before obtaining an answer from the state.
  • Facts may not be accurate, or disputed later, making the answer invalid.
  • Ruling may be revoked at any time.
  • Timing of the proposed and prospective transaction with obtaining an answer from the state.
  • Rulings are binding unless the facts are not accurate.
  • Unsure as to how deep of an analysis of the law the corporation is required to provide.
  • The length of time to obtain a ruling.

Why would you request a private letter ruling?

  • To avoid receiving an assessment for additional tax, interest and penalties in the future

How do you file a private letter ruling?

  • get your facts straight
  • do it timely

Any questions?

Middle Market Companies Fight State Tax Surprises

Asa CFO, controller or finance executive in a middle market company, you have a wide range of responsibilities to manage.  State and local tax matters can pop up when you least expect it and cause compliance and financial burdens.

Some of those state tax surprises could be (regardless of industry):

  1. State tax registration requirements - when should you register?  If you register, will that create tax filing obligations?  When can you withdraw your registration?
  2. State income tax apportionment - when can your company allocate income instead of apportion income?
  3. Sales taxability of digital goods, licenses, subscriptions, computer hardware, software, cloud computing, etc.
  4. Sales tax audits and appeals
  5. Choosing sales tax codes for your sales and purchases to correctly utilize your sales tax compliance/decision software with your ERP system
  6. Knowing when your company has a filing obligation in a state
  7. Filing Voluntary Disclosure Agreements to mitigate prior year tax exposure
  8. Determining sales tax consequences of "bundled transactions" or "mixed transactions" (transactions that include taxable items with non-taxable items)
  9. Determining sales and use tax consequences for entities that conduct transactions with governmental entities.  When does the exemption apply?  What does the exemption apply to? 
  10. If my company is a service provider, is my company paying use tax on purchases?

Several of my clients have had these issues recently.  Do any of the above items sound familiar to you?  

Current State Tax Amnesty Programs

In case you missed what states have amnesty programs going on currently, I thought I would send you a link to COST's (Council on State Taxation) quick summary.

Amnesty can be a great tool for states and taxpayers, but sometimes a voluntary disclosure agreement is a better option.

What is an Amnesty Program?

An amnesty program is generally a time period established by a state to allow taxpayers who are delinquent on their taxes to come forward, and pay those taxes without penalties being imposed. Usually interest is still imposed, but sometimes it may be waived as well. Each state amnesty program is different or unique; meaning, they each contain their own set of rules, guidelines and qualifications. Amnesty programs usually pertain to certain tax periods, specific tax types, and taxpayers who meet certain criteria. In other words, "look before you leap."

Taxpayers who are eligible for an amnesty program, but don’t take advantage of the program, are often faced with harsh penalties if caught after the program has ended.

Voluntary Disclosure Agreements

When amnesty programs are not in effect, most states still have what they call “Voluntary Disclosure Agreement” (VDA) programs which allow taxpayers to come forward on an anonymous basis, limit the number of prior years required to be filed (usually 4), and pay taxes and interest. Under most VDA programs, penalties are waived, but not interest.

Remember, a voluntary disclosure agreement is only able to be utilized if the state has not already contacted the taxpayer (in most cases). If the state contacts the taxpayer first, technically, the state can make the taxpayer file returns for all previous years in which the company had nexus in the state. However, generally, the state does not require returns to be filed for all previous years. The number of years a state will require depends on the facts of each case. In addition, unlike a voluntary disclosure, there is no relief for interest and penalties.