At this very moment, your business may be engaging in activities that create nexus — the obligation to collect and remit sales tax in a state. In fact, the 2017 Avalara Sales Tax Survey for Software Companies found that high-growth software companies trigger, on average, nine new sales tax obligations each year.
Let’s look at the three most common triggers identified in the survey and why they may warrant taking another look at nexus.
1. Staff here, there, and everywhere
You’re only as innovative as your top talent, but the best person for the job may live across the country from your headquarters. That's not really a problem, given today’s technology. In fact, many software companies not only have remote workers, they have salespeople or trainers spread around the country.
Yet while a distributed workforce is not an issue as far as getting the work done goes, having employees in a state may give you physical presence nexus in that state. And when that happens, not only do you need to register to collect and file sales tax according to the state’s software taxability rules, you also need to be sure your tax team can handle the extra work.
It's a good idea to institute a company-wide policy on remote workers that addresses tax implications. After all, you don’t want to let top talent slip through your fingers due to tax issues that spring up unexpectedly. And you certainly don’t want to find out after the fact that your star employee seven states over is actually a substantial tax liability — one you may only discover through a costly audit. So do your due diligence first. Then hire as you see fit.
2. New products on the horizon
There’s nothing like debuting a new product or service; something you’ve been shepherding into existence, possibly for years. But often with new products come new tax responsibilities. Different types of software are taxed different ways by different states. And by different we mean that, across the United States, there are many ways to tax software in a host of distinct categories.
Knowing where your new product or service falls is critical to the success of your launch. If you need additional tax compliance resources to support the new product, it will impact your revenue projections.
Be sure your tax team gets wind of your next big thing sooner rather than later. They may need time to register to collect sales tax in new states, allocate or hire resources to handle the work, and put new processes in place in your accounting system.
3. Taking it to the cloud; looking to SaaS
For many software companies, the cloud and software as a service (SaaS) fit naturally with their growth plans. But, again, what do the tax experts have to say?
Some states will check the box beside physical presence nexus when you store data on servers that reside within the state. It doesn’t matter if you own the server or if a third-party cloud provider does. So going cloud could take you into new nexus territory.
The same holds true for SaaS. Your software may be hosted on an out-of-state cloud server that creates additional nexus for you. Then there’s the matter of selling SaaS. Are you obliged to charge sales tax on the purchase price? That will depend on where you have nexus and what the state’s laws say about SaaS taxability.
Be smart about nexus
Many growth initiatives at software companies have sales tax implications, and they aren’t always obvious right from the start. Which is why the nexus conversation is really never done. It’s imperative to regularly evaluate whether you’re still current with nexus or not. It’s true for established companies. It’s true for growing startups. It’s true for everyone in the software space.
Remember, nexus triggers can be simple, they can be routine, and they can be easily overlooked. States, too, can trigger a change in your nexus. They’re constantly re-examining their nexus laws in order to optimize the amount of sales tax revenue they receive, and the billion-dollar software industry makes for a fine target. To keep your business growing, don’t let a nexus trigger go unnoticed. Plan for it like you plan for any phase of growth.
It all boils down to this: Many business activities are nexus-creating activities. To explore the connection in more detail and learn how to leverage a smart sales tax compliance strategy to support your growth, download The Software Executive’s Guide to Sales Tax.