Business Finacial Group
Business Finacial Group
Free Consultation

Understanding Sales Tax Basics: A Guide for Small Business Owners

Sales Tax

Sales tax is a necessary part of doing business in the United States. As a small business owner, it’s important to have a basic understanding of how sales tax works.

Have Question?



Have Questions? Call us at (678) 799-7241 and let us show you how our expertise can save you in the long run.

[contact-form-7 id="482" title="CALL US TODAY FOR A CONSULTATION!"]

The Beginner’s Guide to Sales Tax: Everything You Need to Know

Sales tax is a critical component of running a successful small business. It is important to understand sales tax laws and regulations to ensure that your business is compliant and not subject to penalties or fines. This guide provides small business owners with an overview of sales tax laws and regulations, as well as practical advice on how to properly collect, report, and remit sales tax. It will also help you determine when you are required to collect sales tax and which taxes you need to collect. Understanding the complexities of sales tax will help you stay in compliance with the law, keep your business running smoothly, and maximize your profits.

What is sales tax?

Sales tax is one of the many forms of small business taxes that entrepreneurs must pay. Sales tax is levied in 45 states and Washington, D.C. to fund budget issues such as schools, roads, and public safety. Calculating the right sales tax rates, collecting payments, completing sales tax reports, and paying the tax can be time-consuming for first-time company owners. We’ll go over the procedures involved in collecting, reporting, and paying sales tax to assist them to figure things out. You should feel much more confident about reporting and paying sales taxes after reading this.

Key Takeaways

  • In the United States, a state and sometimes a county or city levy a sales tax.
  • It is added to the total price of the item or service.
  • Outside the United States, many countries impose a value-added tax rather than a sales tax.
  • Four U.S. states do not have any sales taxes, while a fifth—Alaska—has no state-wide sales tax.
  • Local and municipal governments may charge their own sales tax, which is added to the state sales tax.

Who pays sales tax?

Sales tax is usually paid by the ultimate customer of a service or a product. Nonetheless, in rare situations, the seller or another party may be responsible for paying sales tax. 

Several states have legislation mandating online merchants to collect and remit sales tax on transactions made to clients in those jurisdictions, even if the shop does not have a physical presence in the state. 

The amount of sales tax is generally calculated based on gross receipts. A seller’s tax is generally based on the full amount received from a purchaser, not on the net profit from a sale.

The particular regulations governing who pays sales tax vary based on the jurisdiction and the nature of the transaction.

What are the different types of sales tax systems?

Sales taxes are generically levied by states, although they differ in taxation. Knowing your state’s taxation regulations is essential when deciding the sort of sales tax system.

This is because the sales tax regime determines

  • Who is liable for the tax,
  • Is it possible to sue the tax, or not
  • Who can claim a tax refund?

There are three general types of sales taxes:

  • Vendor privilege taxes: 

Sales and use taxes are imposed on retailers for the privilege of making retail sales in the state. Retailers may have the option to absorb or pass the tax along to their purchasers. In some cases, a retailer may agree to pay a portion of its sales and use tax liability on behalf of its vendors, who also must pay their taxes. 

In the event a retailer absorbs its vendor’s sales and uses tax liability and passes it along to its purchasers, it is not required to collect or remit the tax from its vendors. A wholesaler must calculate and remit tax separately from its vendors, whereas retailers do not have to collect or remit tax from their vendors.

  • Taxes on consumer excise (sales):

The state levies a consumer sales tax on all retail purchases made inside the state. Sellers only function as agents in jurisdictions where this type of tax is enforced, collecting the tax on behalf of the state. Sellers often have little choice but to include the tax on their receipts or invoices because the tax is often the buyer’s duty.

  • Retail transaction taxes: 

Retail sales transactions are subject to these taxes, with both sellers and purchasers responsible for paying them. The sellers are responsible for collecting and paying the tax, and purchasers are responsible for paying the tax that the sellers must collect and pay. This type of sales tax is in essence a hybrid of the other two. In operation, however, it is closer to a consumer excise tax since sellers cannot absorb the tax.

How is sales tax calculated and collected?

The sales tax is a form of consumption tax imposed by governments on the sale of goods and services.

It varies from state to state which items and services are subject to sales taxes. There is no state-wide tax on sales in Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, or Oregon, but the towns may charge sales taxes. 

Handbags, clothing, prescription medications, and food goods are excluded from sales taxes. Online or digital purchases must pay sales tax in any state that establishes a “tax nexus.” 

It can be created by having a physical store, employing one or more people, or exceeding a certain sales volume.

Despite not having a physical presence in a state, states can force internet merchants to charge and collect sales tax. Sales tax is required in 24 states, though most states exempt online sellers who make less than $100,000 a year or complete fewer than 200 transactions online.

Digital downloads such as downloaded books, e-courses, and music files are now taxed in most states. Professional services are exempt from sales tax, whereas personal services are taxable.

To find out if your product or service is taxable, contact your state’s tax office or revenue department.

Here is a general overview of the process:

Determine the applicable tax rate: 

The sales tax rate varies by state and can also vary by city, county, and other local jurisdictions. In some states, it is a flat percentage, while in others it may be calculated based on the type of item being sold.

Register for a sales tax permit:

Before collecting sales tax, firms must register for a sales tax permit in each state where they have a taxable nexus. This is a free service that provides essential business information such as an employer identification number and a business address. At the end of the process, you will receive a sales tax ID to use when reporting sales tax.

Calculate the tax: 

The seller calculates the tax due on the sale once the tax rate has been determined. Typically, the sale price is multiplied by the tax rate. Suppose the tax rate is 10% and the sale price is $100; then the tax amount would be $10. A customer’s total bill is calculated by adding the tax amount to the sale price.

Collect the tax: 

During the sale, the seller is responsible for collecting sales tax from the buyer. It can be done in a variety of ways, such as adding the tax to the total sale price or including the tax separately on the invoice.

Report and remit the tax: 

The seller is required to report and remit the sales tax to the appropriate state agency regularly, usually monthly or quarterly. This involves filling out a tax return and sending in the collected tax along with the return.

State and local governments have various methods for ensuring that businesses are complying with sales tax requirements, including audits, fines, and penalties for noncompliance.

Different Rates in different states

Sales tax rates vary from state to state, as we mentioned earlier in the blog. In spite of the fact that some laws are similar, each state handles sales tax differently, so don’t assume that if you collect or file sales tax one way in one state it will be the same in another.

A Tax Foundation study found that Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas, Washington, and Alabama had the highest combined state and local tax rates. Alaska, Hawaii, and Wisconsin have the lowest. Although New York has one of the highest state tax rates and average local rates, each state has its unique sales tax laws and procedures.

Sales tax for small business owners

Understanding the sales tax procedure as a small business owner is critical to the success of your company. This includes registering for a sales tax permit with your state’s taxation authority, collecting sales tax from consumers on taxable transactions, keeping proper records, filing sales tax reports, paying sales tax owing, and researching any applicable regulations for your business. Be sure to check with your state’s taxation authority if you are not following the correct sales tax procedures.

When a small business needs to collect sales tax

Whenever taxable goods or services are sold in a state with a sales tax, small businesses must collect the tax. It is important for small business owners to understand the specific laws in their state for what is considered taxable and what the sales tax rate is. 

Depending on the state’s regulations, sales tax is remitted to the state regularly, usually monthly, quarterly, or annually. If the sales tax is not collected and remitted correctly, penalties and fines may result.

What types of goods and services are subject to sales tax in the United States

Sales tax is applied to tangible goods such as clothing, electronics, and furniture, but not to services such as legal advice, consulting, and haircuts. 

Also, some states require sales tax to be collected on digital products and services, such as software and streaming video. Small business owners must register with their state’s tax authority and obtain a sales tax permit to legally collect sales tax from their customers.

Sales Tax Exemptions And Exceptions

Sales tax exemptions and exceptions are certain circumstances where a small business may not be required to collect sales tax from its customers. The rules and regulations surrounding sales tax exemptions and exceptions can vary by state, but here are some common examples:

Resale exemption: 

Small businesses may qualify for resale exemptions if they purchase goods from suppliers to resell them. By doing this, the small business will avoid paying sales tax on the initial purchase, as sales tax will be collected at the point of sale.

Non-profit exemption:

Certain states may exempt non-profit organizations from sales tax, depending on their purpose and activities. Religious institutions, for example, may be exempt from sales tax.

Sales tax holidays:

Some states offer temporary sales tax exemptions on certain items during a designated period, such as the back-to-school season or hurricane preparedness season.

Exemption for certain industries or products: 

Some states may offer exemptions for certain industries or products. For example, in some states, prescription drugs are exempt from sales tax.

Exception for out-of-state purchases: 

If a customer purchases goods or services from a small business that is located out-of-state, they may not be required to pay sales tax. However, the small business may be required to collect and remit use tax on the out-of-state sale.

To understand whether their business is subject to any exemptions or exceptions, small business owners must research their state’s sales tax laws. Properly documenting any exempt sales is important to avoid any penalties for improperly collecting or failing to collect sales tax.

Managing Sales Tax Audits 

Sales tax audits involve evaluating a small business’s financial records to find any inconsistencies or errors in sales tax filing. Handling a sales tax audit requires thorough planning, collaboration with the auditor, and a willingness to correct any anomalies.

 Small companies may prepare for an audit, cooperate with the auditor, correct any inconsistencies, understand the appeals procedure, and stay compliant with sales tax regulations to guarantee an audit is smooth and honest throughout the process.

What to expect during a sales tax audit

During a sales tax audit, a state’s taxing authority will review a small business’s financial records to ensure that they are accurately collecting and remitting sales tax.

Here are some things to expect during a sales tax audit:

Notification of the audit: The small business will receive a notification from the taxing authority regarding the audit, including the scope and timeframe of the audit.

Review of financial records: The auditor will review the small business’s financial records, including sales transactions, invoices, and tax returns.

Identification of discrepancies: The auditor will document any discrepancies or errors in the small business’s sales tax reporting and work with them.

Assessment of penalties and fines: The auditor may impose penalties or fines on a small business if there are errors or discrepancies.

Opportunity to appeal: If the small business disagrees with the results of the audit, they may have the option to appeal the findings.

In general, a sales tax audit is complex and time-consuming, but small businesses can minimize the risk of penalties and fines for non-compliance by maintaining accurate records, cooperating with the auditor, and addressing discrepancies.

How To Prepare For A Sales Tax Audit

Preparing for a sales tax audit can help make the process smoother and minimize the risk of penalties or fines for non-compliance.

Here are some tips for preparing for a sales tax audit:

 Firstly,  review your sales tax records. Make sure your sales tax records are accurate and current before the audit. This includes reviewing sales transactions, invoices, and tax returns.

Secondly, organize your records, so the auditor can review them easily.

Thirdly, identify potential issues,  by preparing explanations for discrepancies or errors, you can minimize any penalties.

Fourthly, gather all documentation, if the auditor requests it, such as invoices, receipts, or contracts. It will help you greatly with the sales tax audit.

Finally, cooperate with the auditor during the audit.

Answer their questions honestly and provide any requested documentation promptly. 

By taking these steps to prepare for a sales tax audit, a small business can help make the process smoother and minimize the risk of penalties or fines for non-compliance.

Tips For Avoiding Sales Tax Audit Issues

Here are some tips for avoiding sales tax audit issues:

  • Keeping accurate records is essential to avoiding sales tax audit issues.
  • This includes tracking sales by state, product or service, and tax rate, and keeping detailed records of any exempt sales.
  • Understanding your sales tax obligations is crucial to avoiding sales tax audit issues.
  • This includes understanding which products or services are taxable, which states require sales tax, and when and how to remit sales tax.
  • Using automated systems, such as accounting software or point-of-sale systems, can help minimize errors in sales tax reporting and reduce the risk of audit issues.
  • Sales tax laws can change frequently, so it’s important to stay up-to-date on any changes in your state’s sales tax laws. This can help you avoid penalties for non-compliance.
  • Working with a sales tax expert can help ensure that you are complying with all sales tax laws and regulations, and can help minimize the risk of audit issues.


In conclusion, understanding sales tax basics is crucial for small business owners who want to adhere to state and local sales tax laws. By understanding what sales tax is, when it is required, how to calculate it, and how to remit it, small business owners can avoid penalties, fines, and audit issues.

However, managing sales tax can be complex and time-consuming, especially for small business owners who have limited resources and expertise. 

This is where BFG Sales Tax Services can help. To help small businesses avoid non-compliance risks and manage their sales tax obligations, BFG Sales Tax Services provides comprehensive sales tax solutions.

With BFG Sales Tax Services, small business owners can benefit from expert guidance on sales tax compliance, and assistance with sales tax audits. 

Let sales tax compliance not be a burden on your small business. Trust the experts at BFG Sales Tax Services to handle your sales tax needs so you can focus on growing your business. 

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you simplify sales tax management and achieve compliance.

Signup for Newsletter

Powered by
Schedule A Free Consultation

Powered by