Small Business Sales Tax Guide

small business sales tax guide

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Most shoppers bemoan sales tax because it increases the cost of goods and services. However, most people know that sales tax is needed to balance state and local budgets and pay for roads, schools, police, and fire departments. If you own a small business in one of the states that collect sales tax, you must be charging customers the correct amount on their purchases. Moreover, you need to thoroughly understand the current sales tax laws in your state, city, and county.

Sales tax rules can be challenging, especially if you have multiple business locations or sell products online. This Balboa Capital blog article takes the confusion from sales tax; it is essentially a small business sales tax guide. In it, you will learn how to calculate sales tax. We also explain how to manage, collect, report, and file sales tax so your small business can remain in good standing with your state and local governments.

What is sales tax?

Sales tax is collected from buyers on all taxable products and goods you sell. For example, if you run a service business, your state might require that you collect sales tax on your services. Sales tax rates vary based on the state, city, and county, and it is common for sales tax rates to change often.

Your small business needs to have a sales tax permit to collect sales tax, also called a sellers’ permit or sales tax license. The state issues this permit to small businesses that sell taxable products, goods, or services. The application process for a sales tax permit is relatively straightforward. Just log online and check out the Department of Revenue website for the state you reside in. The information you need about sales tax and the type of permit(s) necessary for doing business will be right at your fingertips, along with a link to apply for a sales tax permit.

The type(s) of business forms you will need to complete your application will depend on the state in which you do business. Additionally, you might need to provide additional information if you have business locations in multiple states or run an online business with no physical brick-and-mortar storefront.

What is the sales tax nexus?

You might have heard the phrase “sales tax nexus” before. It refers to a business’s physical presence in a particular state. Let us use an Indiana-based guitar shop as an example. The shop has 3 locations in Indiana, employs ten people, and has over 1,500 guitars in stock. The guitar shop’s nexus is in Indiana, and, as a result, the shop has an Indiana sales tax permit. If the guitar shop did not obtain a sales tax permit required by Indiana state law, the nexus would not exist.

A nexus needs to be established for a state to collect taxes. The sales tax nexus can become tricky if you operate an online business. Tax rules for online shops and online marketplaces can be complicated, so spend time reading about them. Doing so can help you avoid any tax-related issues in the future. Collecting the right amount of sales tax and reporting it on your tax return can help you prevent a business tax audit.

Calculating and collecting sales tax.

After obtaining a sales tax permit and establishing a business tax nexus, it is time to start collecting sales tax. To do this accurately and adequately, you will need to determine your local sales tax rate. As mentioned earlier, sales tax rates differ by state, and some states do not collect sales tax. In some areas of the US, the sales tax rate is higher because it includes state, city, and county taxes.

Next, you need to determine which products or services you sell are taxable. This will be an easy task if you own a niche business that offers a select number of taxable items or services. On the other hand, making a list of your taxable and tax-exempt items will take time if you sell a wide range of goods. For example, certain foods, prescription medications, and medical devices are generally exempt from sales tax.

A simple math formula is needed to calculate the total sales price for your taxable goods and services. Just add the sales price together with the sales tax. For example, a men’s t-shirt that costs $15.00 is selling in a state that has a 6.5% sales tax rate. The tax is .98 cents, so the total price that customers will pay for one men’s t-shirt is $15.98 ($15.00 + .98 cents).

Adding sales tax to your POS system.

Point-of-sale systems make it easy to apply sales tax to your items and services. You can configure your tax settings on the backend of your POS system. Most POS systems have the option of either automatic tax settings or manual tax settings, which lets you enter rates for a specific state, city, and county. Another convenient and time-saving feature included in most POS systems is the ability to input taxes on shipping.

Having all of your sales tax information saved in your POS system ensures that you keep accurate records and prevent anything from falling through the cracks. Then, when tax season approaches, you can generate comprehensive sales tax reports with just a few clicks of the mouse.


Sales tax rates and rules are known to change frequently at the state and local levels. Please consult with a business accountant or tax advisor to determine your small business’s sales tax obligations.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.