Thursday, July 02, 2009

Private Letter Rulings

If you are stumped and there isn't a rule, bulletin, regulation, law, court case, or interpretation that addresses your particular question, you've looked in all the places we've talked about here, and you can't get anyone to give you an authoritative answer, there may be help.

Most states will give you a private letter ruling, opinion letter, or something similarly named. The idea is that you formally ask the revenue department about your situation and they give you a formal, take-it-to-the-bank answer. It's not a guess, it is, for you, the answer. And they have to honor it when you get audited, assuming you didn't fib when you gave them the information, and things haven't changed.

Sometimes these letters are published so that others can find some guidance if they're in similar situations to yours.

Yay! Why didn't we do this before???

Because, to do it right, it is expensive. You want to do this anonymously so that the state doesn't know who you are, and send auditors out in the night to ambush you. You want to go through an attorney or CPA. They'll ask the question, keeping your name out of the discussion. In addition, if the professional specializes in sales and use taxes, they might even be able to answer the question without having to get an opinion letter.

This ain't gonna cost you a couple of hundred bucks. This will probably cost a couple of thousand. But if you're looking at a big issue, involving lots of money and risk, this is a very good way of getting a good, reliable answer.

Sales Tax Guy

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