Frequently, someone will say to me, either in a seminar or in a comment or email “we’re a manufacturer so we’re exempt from sales and use taxes".
If I’m feeling frisky, I’ll usually interrupt them and say, "No you’re not."
They’ll be nonplussed and say, "Oh yes, we’re a manufacturer. We make doo dads."
"No, you’re not exempt because you’re a manufacturer. You’re exempt on some of your purchases because you use them in manufacturing. All of your purchases aren't exempt. And your sales aren’t exempt."
"Well, yeah, OK. If we buy a copier for the office, it's taxable. But everything in the plant is exempt. And we don't have to charge tax on what we sell."
"I'm guessing you're not charging tax on what you sell because you're selling it to others who are buying it for resale. It's got nothing to do with the fact that you're a manufacturer. Hopefully your'e getting resale certificates. And that bit about 'everything in the plant is exempt' is wrong."
Arrrrgggghhhhh! And then I cringe.
Not understanding these exemptions is a dangerous trap to fall into. Manufacturers, in many states, can buy materials and equipment tax free if the purchase will be directly used in the manufacturing process. The rules vary enormously by state, from California who gives virtually no exemptions, to Pennsylvania who is pretty generous. But there aren't any states that just say, "You're a manufacturer so you're exempt."
The only types of organizations that can even begin to make a claim that they're "exempt" are non-profits and government agencies. But even in those situations, the exemption is not total. There are usually restrictions on how they use their purchases and what they can sell tax free. And some states don't even have the exemptions.
Frankly, the only organization that can truly make the claim that they're exempt is the federal government.
So please remember that it's your specific types of sales, purchases, and use that are exempt. The rules are restrictive and they vary from state to state. So don't go around saying you're exempt. You're not.
The Sales Tax Guy
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