In this article
How to file a sales tax return isn't covered much online.
File sales tax, they say.
File on time, they say.
But do they tell you how? Not really!
That’s why we’re here — to guide you through the steps of filing a sales tax return in the United States.
Filing a return helps you with two things: it reports the amount of tax you owe, and also the amount of money you can reclaim. (Cha-ching!)
How to file a sale tax return in the USA
Ok, let’s start this off with the most important piece of information first!
You must file returns in every US state wherever you are registered for sales tax.
This is true regardless of how much you’ve actually sold in that state during the reporting period. Even if you’ve sold nothing! This is usually called a zero return.
Note for remote sellers: If your sales no longer meet the economic nexus threshold in a certain state, you’re still required to collect and remit sales tax if you have an active registration. If you think you’ll stay below the threshold permanently (or for a long while), it’s recommended that you contact the state directly to see if you can end your registration.
With that covered, we can move on. Below we’ve tried to answer all your questions!
What info do you need to file a sales tax return return?
If you’ve learned anything about how sales tax works in the US, you ‘ve learned all 50 states have their own policies and tax rates. This is true for sales tax returns, too, but there is some overlap!
Basic information that’s required across the board includes:
- Sum of all taxable transactions (sales and purchases) at net value
- Sales tax charged on these transactions (what you’ve collected from customers and what you’ve paid vendors)
- Your business sales tax ID
We recommend you organize and record this information by state. Yes, we know that sounds tedious… Here's how to prepare a sales tax return.
But in fact, Quaderno does that for you with our tax reports! We won’t file the return for you, but we do make it possible for you to fill out the forms in mere minutes. Because all the data you need is at your fingertips.
Basically, when it’s time to fill out the return, you can just click on a certain state in the app, and a tax report is produced for you instantly. All the information you need to file is there in one, easy-to-read place.
How often do you need to file a sales tax return?
The state should have told you how frequently you need to file (monthly, quarterly, yearly, etc.) when you originally registered
- Monthly, usually required of businesses who have a high volume of sales.
- Quarterly, for mid-range businesses.
- Annually, which is required in addition to one of the above in some states!
Again, you should have been assigned a frequency when you first registered for sales tax, so check those materials.
Note: Your expected filing frequency can change depending on your business revenue. If sales ramp up, you might be asked to file more often. If sales slow down or dwindle to nothing, get in touch with the state’s tax agency and ask if your filing frequency is affected.
When are sales tax returns due?
Each state sets its own due dates for returns and payments. But as a general rule, the due date may not be earlier than the 20th of the month following the reporting period.
For example, take your January sales. The due date for the return and the payment of those taxes cannot be earlier than February 20th.
Note: Some states may have you file as needed or on a “casual” filing basis. That means you file when you have sales.
To be sure, we recommend you check directly with the states where you’re registered.
Where and how do you file a sales tax return?
Surprising to no one, there are differences across the 50 states. The one thing they have in common is that even if you’ve made zero sales, you must still file a return.
The good news: all states offer filing either online or by phone. BUT this doesn’t apply across the board to all sellers. Some states offer it to everyone, other states only offer it to high-grossing businesses.
States that require all businesses to file online or by phone include Alabama, Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
But other states only require (or allow) electronic filing for businesses that owe above a certain amount in their return. For example, Illinois only requires it if your business needs to pay a whopping $20,000 in sales tax per year. Over in Georgia, you’re required to pay electronically if you owe more than $500 on that particular return.
And yes, as you probably already know, you’ll need to log on to each individual state’s website and file separately. You can find the state tax websites and other resources in our Sales Tax Guides for every US state.
If you need to file offline, you should be able to find the appropriate forms on the state’s tax authority website.
How do you pay if you end up owing money?
When you file your return, the state will provide you with instructions about how to pay any tax that you owe.
Electronic payments are often possible, sometimes required. Most states accept credit cards, though sometimes for a fee of 1.5-3%.
What can help you with filing sales tax in the US?
Well, Quaderno! Instant tax reports provide you with all the information you need, per state, so you can file sales tax returns in just a few minutes. It’s automatic accounting and tax compliance combined — so the only thing you need to do is file.
Or, if you'd rather leave tax returns to the professionals, we'll connect you with a verified tax filing service!
Quaderno is a tax management platform for businesses who want to grow without memorizing all the tax policies at home or abroad. From tax calculation and tax receipts to threshold alerts and comprehensive tax reports, Quaderno handles not just sales tax in the States but taxes elsewhere, too, such as VAT and GST in countries around the world. You can give it a try with a 7 day free trial.
Note: At Quaderno we love providing helpful information and best practices about taxes, but we are not certified tax advisors. For further help, or if you are ever in doubt, please consult a professional tax advisor or the Tax Agency.