In my business career I have seen this happen three times: Once I was a credit manger, once as a major account sales rep, and once as a financial consultant, companies that sold products out of state and did not keep exacting records of sales tax exemption certificates. In two of the three cases, the result was devastating for the business. The state sales tax commission team audited the business and heavy fines were imposed along with sales tax in arrearage including hefty late fees. Then it seemed all the neighboring states-through some miracle of unhappy coincidence sent their sales tax audit teams in as well (although they swore they never tipped off the other states, yeah right!). It was a major contributing cause for two of the three businesses to end operations!
So what to do? If yours is a new business, include a sales tax exemption certificate with every new account package which should include a signed credit application and a request for a freight guide. If you are the owner of a small business make this part of your day before your employees start working! I have found sending the new account package works best if you send this to your customer’s controller. This is generally a very visible person of director level who will know where to route this very important paper work. Also, if the controller has any questions about your businesses policies and practices, he or she will generally call or have an appropriate person call to “iron out” any details. Send these out by mail since most will require a signature and request that the packet returned complete (so you only have to handle it once). For the record, I am a huge fan of “if you touch it, you scan it” (if it comes to you in paper form). Many of these tax certificates will come to you via email-save them to a CD and store a copy off site. The same holds true for the certificates that are mailed or faxed, scan them then save them to a CD, and store a copy of the CD off site. Keep a log of every packet that your business sends out (an Excel worksheet should be sufficient), and check them off as they return. Later as your business grows you may delegate this to a trusted employee like an office manager and later the company controller.
Following this simple practice of keeping sales tax information up to date can keep you company in good standing with the state and prevent costly and heartbreaking audits for your small or new business.
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