Equine Accounting and Taxes: And with Sales Tax, your total comes to $$$....

Before someone goes on a horse hunting trip, hopefully they check their wallet to see that they have enough money to cover the cost of the horse, the vet check, transportation costs, tack (because the new horse is always a different size that all of your current tack), etc, etc. But many potential buyers never consider that sales tax may be due on their purchase.

There have been efforts to create a uniform sales tax that would be the same for all states but for now, each state regulates the imposition of sales tax in that state. As I mentioned in a previous post, some states charge sales tax on horse boarding. But many more charge sales tax on the sale of horses. Generally, most sales of tangible personal property are taxed and horses would meet that description.

If you purchase tangible personal property in a state with no sales tax, or the sales tax percentage where you made the purchase is less than your home state, you may be liable for use tax for the “use, storage or consumption” of that property in your state.

Because each state is different, I can’t write 50 articles about sales tax on the sale of a horse. But I can tell you about a situation which is a good example of possible sales/use tax liability for someone engaged in the business of selling horses. A regularly imports horses from Europe, both as an agent for his clients and buying horses directly himself, for training and resale later. A had a working relationship with several sales barns in Europe. So for purposes of simplification, even when acting as an agent for a client, it was A’s name on the paperwork for U.S. Customs. A was recently contacted by the Department of Revenue for his state regarding use tax liability on the horses purchased in Europe and brought to his state. If his state decides to audit these transactions, they could audit multiple years and some states have no statute of limitations for the examinations of returns. With some states charging as much as 60% in penalty and interest, this could become a very expensive problem for A.

There are many possible scenarios for the sale of a horse including: resident seller to resident buyer, resident agent (who holds no title to the horse) to resident buyer, resident agent to nonresident buyer, resident seller to nonresident buyer and nonresident seller (outside United States) to resident buyer and each may involve sales/use tax liability.

In my state of Massachusetts, if a horse residing in Mass is purchased and delivered to another state, the seller should provide the buyer with a letter of delivery. If there is sales tax in the new owner’s state, the new owner is responsible for the liability. But, if the horse comes back into Mass to live within six months of purchase, the owner would be responsible for Mass sales tax if they had not paid sales tax in their state. Sound complicated? It is. Some CPA firms specialize in this area due to the complexity and variety of regulations among states.

Though sales tax audits may not sound as familiar as an audit by the IRS, they are much more common. And with the current state budget shortages, some states look to sales tax audits as a way to make up some of the difference. So it’s important to the future of your horse sales business to learn more about the sales/use tax regulations of your state. Contact your state Department of Revenue as well as your state horse council, farm bureau or other related agency for general information. If you find that you have a potential sales tax liability, contact an attorney or CPA who specializes in this area.

Equine Accounting and Taxes: Potential Sales Tax Liabilities for your Horse Business

A potential client contacted me to ask if I would be willing to prepare her sales tax return for her. I've prepared sales tax returns for over 20 years so this should be no problem. "What have kind of product have you been collecting sales tax on?" I asked.

"Horse board".

"Are you sure about this?"

She sounded pretty sure. So I decided to investigate myself.

She lives in New York State, so I contacted the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. Yes, I was told, horse boarding in New York State is subject to sales tax. The customer service rep there referred me to their tax regulations and several tax memos and advisories. Further digging uncovered the NY State Horse Council, which has website including an index of legal issues affecting horseman, including a list of what is and is not subject to sales tax for commercial horse boarding operations.

Sales tax is regulated by individual states, or in some cases, individual counties or cities. But there are some general concepts. Generally, all tangible personal property is taxable except with exemptions. So if you are a farrier and also sell hoof supplements to your customers, in most states you would be required to collect and remit sales tax on the supplements you sell. In many states, sales tax should be collected and remitted for sales of horses - a subject to be discussed in a future newsletter.

The difficulty sometimes becomes defining what tangible personal property is. In NY State, horse boarding is compared to leasing storage space. It's the stall itself that is considered to be the primary item in a boarding transaction, so sales tax is assessed on that tangible personal property. If in a sales tax audit, you feel that sales tax should not be assessed on a certain type of personal tangible property, the burden of proof is on you -the taxpayer- to prove this is the case. Conversely, generally only certain services are taxable. In a sales tax audit, the burden of proof is on the auditor to make the case that the services at issue are subject to sales tax.

Sales tax audits are much more common than IRS audits of income tax returns. Some states have no statute of limitations for examination of prior years' sales tax returns and penalty and interest can amount to up to 60% of the tax.

What can you do to find out more about the possibility of sales tax liability for your horse business?

1. Contact your state Department of Revenue. Ask for information regarding what goods and services are taxable in your state.

2. Contact your state Farm Bureau, Horse Council, etc. for more information. If you feel that you may have potential sales tax liability, ask them to recommend an attorney with expertise in this area.

3. Contact a CPA firm or attorney that deals only with matters of sales tax. Sometimes, this is less expensive than people fear and gets them a definitive and relatively quick answer. If you do need to collect sales tax, you will need to register with your state but speak with the attorney or CPA first. There could be serious tax consequences if you register and owe back taxes. Your attorney may be able to negotiate a settlement before you register. If you register first, the chances of negotiating a settlement is very small.

4. If you don't use one already, consider putting your financial data into an accounting software program like QuickBooks. You can create invoices with sales tax included and track and remit sales tax liabilities relatively easily using QuickBooks.

Remember that each state is different. Find someone that is familiar with the sales tax regulations that affect you. A little attention now may save you time and money in the future.