Preparing Your Business for a Sales/Use Tax Audit
Updated: Feb 4
It is no surprise that states audit their small business community as a productive way to increase revenue for their state coffers. Should you receive the dreaded notice of one of these audits, here are some ideas that can make this a more pleasant experience:
Review the sales tax rules. Know the rules in your state and locality. Pay special attention to areas that are not taxed. A quick internet search on sales and use tax audits for your state should yield examples of areas the auditor will focus their resources. Pay attention to the terminology used in these documents. Use the same terminology when talking with the auditor.
Conduct a self-audit. Prior to the arrival of the auditor, audit yourself. Begin with your sales receipts, migrate to capital purchases, and then finish with your bills. Pay special attention to internet sales and purchases you make with your credit card.
The best defense is a good offense. You may find areas in your self-audit where you paid tax when none was due. Perhaps you have production equipment and your energy providers charge you sales tax on all your power. You may be due a sales tax refund for up to three years of this production energy use.
Watch out for capital equipment. The sales tax rules on capital equipment can vary dramatically. Some vendors may be required to collect and send in sales tax on equipment purchases that are not taxable. You must then file to collect a refund.
The expense report trap. An easy way to have the auditor pay for their time is to review your expense reports. Often you do not keep receipts of items purchased at a retail store. An auditor could assess you sales tax on items purchased at Walmart, simply because you did not keep the receipt. This despite the fact that a Walmart retail store always collects sales tax.
It’s not usually taxes on your sales that gets you. Remember, it is not often the collecting and transmitting taxes on your sales that gets attention in an audit, it is the payment of use tax and sales tax purchases you make and potentially overlook.
Find out the scope of audit. Prior to the audit, please inquire what the scope of the audit will entail. If the timing of the audit will create a hardship, request a time that is better for you and your business. Consider recommending sampling a defined period of time versus a full review of all your records.
Get help from your CPA. Finally, please consider that you will typically encounter an audit of this type once or twice during your career. The auditor does this every day. So get help as soon as you receive the audit notice.