Business Guide to Sales Tax in California

Flag of California
California Sales Tax Rate:
7.25%
Local taxes:
Yes
Website:
California Department of Revenue
Economic nexus thresholds:
$500,000 in annual sales

So, you need to know about sales tax in The Golden State. Look no further!

Whether you’ve fully set up shop in California, or simply ship there once in a while, it’s important you know whether your business is liable to their sales taxes. This guide will tell you everything you need to know, plus direct you to the right places for handling any sales tax responsibility you may have.


What’s taxable in California?

Tangible products

Tangible products, as you might guess, are physical items. California taxes most tangible products, but there can be exemptions! To be absolutely clear about which products are subject to sales tax, and which are exempt, check California Department of Revenue.


Do you have nexus in California?

The word “nexus” refers to a commercial connection in the state. Nexus determines the following questions for a state tax agency: Do you do business here, what kind, and how much? And when you do have nexus, that means you’re obligated to collect tax on your sales there.

So the first question for you to answer is whether you have nexus in California.

You probably have nexus in California if any of the following points describe your business:

  • A physical presence in California: a store, an office, a warehouse or distribution center, storage space, you, an employee, a representative, etc.
  • Any affiliate businesses or individuals in the California, which generate sales.
  • Online ads or links on a California-based website, which channels potential customers and new business.
  • A significant amount of sales in California within twelve months. *

* This is called an economic nexus, a sales tax nexus determined by economic activity, i.e. - the amount of sales you make in a particular state. Any kind of economic activity could trigger the nexus, once your total sales reach a certain threshold amount.

The threshold in California is $500,000 in annual sales. To learn more about how this works, check out the Ultimate Guide to US Economic Nexus.


How to register for sales tax in California

Okay, so you have nexus! Now what?

The next crucial step in complying with California sales tax is to register for a sales tax permit. It’s actually illegal to collect tax without a permit. So to get all your ducks in a row, start with tax registration first.

You can find directions about how to register in California on their Department of Revenue website.

When registering for sales tax, you should have at least the following information at hand:

  • Your personal contact info
  • Your business contact info
  • Social security number (SSN) or Employer Identification Number (EIN)
  • Business entity (sole-proprietor, LLC, S-Corp, etc.)
  • Bank account info (account number and routing number) where you’ll deposit the collected sales tax

How to collect sales tax in California

Now it’s time to tackle the intricate stuff! Tax rates can vary based on the location of your business and the location of your customer, plus the levels of sales tax that apply in those specific locations.

The state-wide sales tax in California is 7.25%.

There are additional levels of sales tax at local jurisdictions, too.

California has a destination-based sales tax system, * so you have to pay attention to the varying tax rates across the state. Charge the tax rate of the buyer’s address, as that’s the destination of your product or service.

* Important to note for remote sellers: While this is generally true for California, some state have peculiar rules about tax rates for remote sellers. Contact the state’s Department of Revenue to be sure.


Sales tax on shipping charges in California

California doesn’t apply sales tax to any shipping costs, as long as the shipping costs are clearly listed and separated from the price of the item(s) you’re selling. Be sure to always mark the cost of the product and the cost of the shipping on two different lines of the bill.


When to file taxes in California

When you register for sales tax, California will assign you a certain filing frequency. You’ll be asked to file and pay sales tax either monthly, quarterly, or annually.

Usually the frequency they choose is based on the amount of sales tax you collect from buyers in California. High-revenue businesses file more frequently than lower volume businesses, for example.

California sales tax returns are usually due on the last day of the month following the reporting period. If the due date falls on a weekend or holiday, then your sales tax filing is generally due the next business day.


How to file taxes in California

When tax time rolls around in California, whether it’s monthly or annually, you must do three things:

  1. Calculate how much sales tax you owe
  2. File a sales tax return
  3. Make a payment

California requires that any seller with a sales tax permit file a sales tax return on your due date, even if you don’t have any sales tax to report or pay. Even if you didn’t make a single sale in California during the reporting period, you should must do a “zero tax filing.”


Other California tax info

Penalties

If you miss a filing or payment deadline, certain penalties can apply. Such a pain! Check the state’s website for up-to-date penalty fees.


Discounts

On a brighter note, you could be eligible for sales tax discounts in California! Usually these discounts are designed to save you a bit of money, as a reward for complying with the sales tax system. Check the state’s website for up-to-date discount policies.


Sales Tax Holidays

One final tricky aspect about California sales tax are the sales tax holidays. During these days of the year, you aren’t required to charge sales tax, and buyers will expect to not be charged. Check the state’s website for current sales tax holidays.


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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 official Department of Revenue.

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