Sales Tax 101

Sales Taxies 2016! Which state will take home the gold?

by Jennifer Dunn

Sales Taxies 2016

It’s Oscars week, and that means that it’s also time for those lesser-known but equally important (or so we think) awards: The Sales Taxies! We deal with all kinds of aspects of sales tax every year, and every year we seek out the good, the bad and the ugly (we’re looking at you, complicated Arizona) to receive a Sales Taxy.

Read on for this year’s awards and be sure to add your own in the comments! Or, hey, do you think we got it wrong and want to challenge one of the awards? Let us know why someone else should have won instead!

Best Website Upgrade: New Mexico

This state almost received a different award, the “Most Antiquated Technology” Sales Taxy. But sometime in 2015 they upgraded the New Mexico Department of Taxation and Revenue website and important sales tax information is no longer hidden behind pop-ups. Yes, you heard me – before the redesign, you were better off just enabling pop-ups for the entire site. It made the site frustrating to navigate and important information difficult to find. Good job on the upgrade, New Mexico!

New Mexico’s lovely redesign follows on the heels of South Carolina’s major upgrade in 2014. We hope this trend continues and we’ll see some major contenders for “Best Upgrade” in next year’s Sales Taxies!

Best Customer Service: Washington

We find ourselves talking to various state taxing authorities quite a bit, with varying levels of frustration. From maze-like automated menus to unbelievable hold times, you never know what you’re going to get when you dial in. But the representatives in Washington have consistently been patient, knowledgeable and helpful. We get that sales tax is difficult and sometimes customer service agents need to put us on hold to look up the esoteric point of law that we happen to be asking about that day, but I’ve never run into that problem with Washington. Gold stars and a big Sales Taxy to you and your customer service, Washington State Department of Revenue!

Hardest to Reach: North Carolina

North Carolina’s Department of Revenue number greets you with a convoluted automated menu. If you navigate your way through the labyrinth to talk to someone about sales tax, you’re left on hold along with… deafening silence. Not only is North Carolina’s automated menu full of ceaseless announcements, that’s all it’s full of. No hold music! Fortunately, we’ve detailed how to zip through this automated menu, and all of the other states’ menus, in our How to Talk to a Human about Sales Tax in Every State blog post. Until then, we’ll keep attempting to call you, North Carolina!

The runner-up in this category is Maryland. While it doesn’t happen often, sometimes their automated system informs you that “our capacity to put you on hold has been reached,” and it actually instructs you to call back, before hanging up on you. Ouch!

Most Engaging Sales Tax Guidance: Minnesota

At first glance, the Minnesota Sales and Use Tax Instruction Booklet might look like your typical government guidebook, but when you delve inside you realize it’s so much more. Most of the time, we have to navigate a maze of state code, department of revenue web pages and 3rd party interpretations to find literally all the answers we need to know about sales tax in a state, but Minnesota has made it simple by packing everything into one amazing little book. Nexus, tax maps, product taxability – this little book addresses anything we ever wanted to know about Minnesota sales tax and more. From this writer to you, good job on your booklet Minnesota!

If there were a runner-up in this category, it would be Wyoming. While their website design is very dated and the navigation is a little too layered, the information they’ve gathered all in one spot at the Wyoming Department of Revenue website is fantastic.

State to Watch: South Dakota

The Quill v. North Dakota Supreme Court case set the precedent for how we view sales tax nexus – and who has to charge sales tax to what buyers – to this day. When Quill was decided in 1992, the court’s opinion left the matter open to legal challenge. And just last year, Justice Anthony Kennedy mentioned it may be time to reexamine sales tax. The states, still struggling for money, took that as a sign that they should try again to pave the way for an “internet sales tax,” or at least a tax where all sales within their borders are taxed by the merchant. South Dakota’s state Senate just voted 33-0 in favor of a bill that is intended to challenge Quill before the Supreme Court.  The next step for this law is South Dakota’s House of Representatives. This could be a game changer when it comes to the way sales tax is treated in this country, and South Dakota is definitely one to watch in the coming days and weeks.

Best Sales Tax Community: Sales Tax for eCommerce Sellers

Okay, I admit it. The “Academy” was a little biased on this one as we started this particular Facebook group, but since that day, years ago, it has grown into nearly 5,000 online sellers sharing their tips and horror stories, answering questions, and generally helping one another out in the best way possible. Discussion are polite and informative, and we don’t let a seller’s question go unanswered. In this category, you can be the judge. Join Sales Tax for eCommerce Sellers and see for yourself!

How’d we do? Did we leave off a Sales Taxy? Or get one totally wrong. Let us know in the comments!

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