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.