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But Why Are We Getting Hit with a Sales/Use Tax Audit?

November 14, 2016
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Written by Eugene Ruvere, CPA, Partner and Kimberly Buono, Semi-Senior

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Over the last few years, we have noticed an increase in sales/use tax audits focused on screening various businesses that are not accustomed to facing such audits.  For example, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York have targeted industries that include law firms, architecture, and the medical field. 
 
Historically, medical practices never concerned themselves with sales tax since providing medical services is generally an exempt service. However, with the proliferation of internet sales, practices can now order most if not all their supplies on-line and not pay sales tax to the seller (assuming the seller has no responsibility to collect tax in the “ship-to” state).  When taxable products and services are purchased and sales tax is not collected by the seller, most states require the buyer to pay “use tax” on the purchases. Use tax is a tax imposed on the use of taxable items and services when sales tax has not been paid at the time of initial purchase. In most states, the use tax rate and sales tax rate are the same.
 
Doctors are required to pay sales or use tax when they make purchases of non-exempt equipment, supplies, materials, and other products which will be used or consumed in providing professional medical services. As previously noted, many medical practices purchase both medical and office supplies via the internet and by credit card.  If the seller of the supplies does not collect the applicable sales tax, the medical practice is responsible for remitting the appropriate use tax directly to the state where the supplies are used. As with every sales and use tax audit, auditors request to review credit card statements and underlying receipts to determine if sales tax was properly paid on purchases. A lack of supporting documentation on this front can be very damaging, as an auditor will generally assume that tax was not paid if a receipt or invoice is not provided. 
 
The following are four general guidelines a medical practice can follow to help keep the practice compliant with its use tax responsibilities. Please note, since every medical practice is different, the following is not intended to be specific advice but rather general guidelines.  
 
  1. Register for sales and use tax purposes with the State Departments of Revenue and file the required sales and use tax returns. This starts the running of the statute of limitations and thereby should keep a state from assessing tax beyond the standard statute.
  2. Review, on a monthly basis, all significant purchases to determine if sales tax was properly paid on taxable purchases.  If sales tax was not paid, use tax should be remitted directly to the State in which the goods/services were used.
  3. Perform technical research as necessary to determine the taxability of items purchased. Note the applicability of tax may differ from state to state.
  4. Maintain all purchase receipts and invoices, including purchases made through credit cards. 
 
To make this issue clearer, here are a few examples of when a use tax payment may be required:
 
Example 1: You buy consumable medical supplies in New Jersey and bring them back to New York State for use in your business. The seller does not collect New York sales tax. You owe New York use tax on the amount you paid for the supplies (although an offsetting credit for any New Jersey sales tax paid may apply). 
 
Example 2: While in Florida attending a business meeting, you purchase equipment that will be used by your practice in New York. The vendor delivers the equipment to your office through common carrier. The seller does not collect New York sales tax. You owe New York use tax on the purchase price of the equipment, including any charge for shipping and handling.
 
Example 3: Your New York medical group intends to expand its market for one of its services. You contract with an out-of-state data seller to provide you with certain information related to your target market. The report and data are sent to your New York office. The service is a taxable information service for New York sales/use tax purposes. No New York sales tax is collected by the data seller. You owe New York use tax on the amount you paid for the report and data.
 
Failure to pay use tax may result in the imposition of penalties and interest. State auditors are aware of these problems and are taking focused actions to call out medical practices that are not in compliance with their sales and use tax responsibilities.  It is critical to put appropriate procedures in place to address this matter.  Don’t be left wondering why your practice is getting hit with a sales/use tax audit.  Take action.  Contact your accountant or Citrin Cooperman to discuss.