Friday, August 20, 2010

Associations as a Research Resource

"...Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..An information source that I frequently suggest is your industry association. You're already paying dues to them. You should check to see if they can help you.

Most importantly, there may be an sales and use tax exemption for your industry that they lobbied for and won. States don't hand out exemptions because they're feeling generous. They pass the laws because enough suits took them out for lunch and jawboned them to death. And the people paying for the lunches and the jawboning are the various industry associations.

Want to know more about the manufacturing exemption? It's not a bad idea to contact your state's manufacturers' association. Want to know more about any exemptions for photographers? Well, maybe not.

Some associations are better at this than others. It's a function of the amount of dues that members pay, the existence of any dedicated full-time staff, and the leadership of the organization. And whether the industry is taxed or regulated enough to make it worthwhile to do some research or hire lobbyists.

I used to belong to an state association, and while, looking back on it, there were some sales tax issues that the industry faced, the organization was more about networking, having meetings and conferences, putting out a nifty newsletter, and producing publications on how to build business. Even if they did something about sales and use taxes, the members were so intent on growing their businesses (mostly entrepreneurs) that they would not have paid attention. There was at least one publication about income taxes, but there's always a publication about income taxes.

So don't have high expectations, but check with them anyway. See just what you get for all those dues you pay. Here are some ways they might be able to help:

1. They may have published a book or pamphlet about how sales and use taxes relate to your industry.
2. They may have an SUT attorney or CPA that they can refer who has a lot of experience in the industry.
3. They may have put together a link list on their web site to sales and use tax resources
4. They may even offer seminars on sales and use taxes with a focus on your industry. If they're not, they might be open to doing something like that. Ahem.
5. You might be able to network with other folks through meetings and online forums to discuss any sales tax questions.

There's another benefit. If you're in accounting (and most of you are), you probably haven't had much interaction with your association. Usually it's the operations. executives, and marketing people who go to the meetings, read the newsletters, etc. You'll receive new-found respect in your organization if you start asking about how the association can help. OK, I'm lying in that last sentence. No new-found respect for you....sorry. But you still might find it rewarding to see what your industry association has to offer.

Finally, chambers of commerce probably won't be much help. They're not industry specific, which is what you want. And most of them are more interested in networking and boosterism rather than something as crushingly boring as sales and use taxes. Although you never know. They just might be willing to sponsor a sales and use tax seminar for their membership. Again, ahem.

The Sales Tax Guy

See the disclaimer - this is for education only. Research these issues thoroughly before making decisions. Remember: there are details we haven't discussed, and every state is different. Here's more information

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Picture note: the image above is hosted on Flickr. If you'd like to see more, click on the photo. It's actually got nothing to do with associations, but it's got a relatively funny caption.

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