Aaron Giles - Sales Tax Audit Defense

Sales tax audit defense is one of the cornerstones of our sales tax consulting practice. We’ve represented hundreds of clients who were undergoing sales tax audits. We’ve fought audit assessments in all 45 U.S. states that have sales tax. One of the most common questions we hear from taxpayers upon receiving the notification of a sales tax audit is, “What should we do now?” We’ve put together the following list of the best tips and tricks of the trade from our experience as sales tax consultants defending a sales tax audit.

Sales Tax Audit Defense Tip #1 – Relax

It’s never good news when you find out that your company has been selected for a sales tax audit. It seems like the initial reaction everyone has is to cringe and think “I wonder what the auditor is going to find?” Followed quickly by the second thought of “I wonder how much time this audit is going to take?” While no one will ever confuse a sales tax audit with fun, it’s important to remember that there is nothing you can do to avoid the process. Stressing about what prompted the sales tax audit is a useless endeavor and it’s important to remember that it doesn’t necessarily mean that the state suspects any wrongdoing by your company. In fact, I’d say from our experience that less than 10% of audits are generated because of some suspected liability.

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TaxConnections Blogger Diane Yetter posts about sales tax auditsIt’s a fact of life that no one looks forward to being audited.  Undergoing an audit can be a scary proposition.  But just because your company is being audited, that doesn’t mean that you can’t take control of the situation and play a part in determining how the audit will progress.  One of the first steps in a sales tax audit is the opening conference with the auditor.  This is one of your first and best opportunities to take control of the audit and set the tone for how it will progress.  Here we’ll outline seven ways that you can set the ground rules for a sales tax audit during this opening conference.

1. Use a sign-in and sign-out sheet.  You’ll want to monitor the activities of the auditor.  Using a sign-in and sign-out sheet helps you to track the comings and goings of the auditor and ensure that they have left the premises.  And it is likely your company wants to know who is on the premises so use this as the explanation why it is required.

2. Only have one contact person.  Pick one person in your company through which all communications will take place with the auditor.  This ensures that potentially sensitive information won’t be leaked accidentally to the auditor by other employees.

3. Request the specific information needed to track a transaction. If the auditor is examining a transaction, ask the auditor for what specific records are needed for the questionable transaction.  This way you are providing the Read More

By Michael J. Fleming

One of my mentors constantly reminds me that, “We are accountants; words have meaning.” My immediate response is to usually think that, “if we were not accountants would words not have meaning?” However, once I get past my sarcastic thoughts, I realize that he is challenging us to be more precise and succinct in our writing and to not just read surface meanings but to really analyze the words for alternative meanings. Looking for alternative meanings is especially important when it comes to state tax audit defense. Since you can’t change the facts, you sometimes have to change the argument.

This concept was illustrated quite pointedly in the recent decision of Van Horn v. Alabama Department of Revenue, Alabama Department of Revenue, Administrative Law Division, No. S. 12-863, January 3, 2013. In this case, the taxpayer or his employees traveled throughout AL to take photographs which were later developed at the home office and sent to customers by common carrier. The taxpayer also made in-person phone calls. The DOR examiner assessed the taxpayer for the local taxes based on the sales and photographing visits. The administrative law judge agreed that it could be argued that the taxpayer had purposely availed himself of the economic market and met the conditions of Quill. However, Quill did not apply because the DOR had not updated its regulations concerning local nexus. Basically the only activity that mattered was solicitation and the taxpayer actually traveled into four jurisdictions to solicit sales. However the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found that this was still not enough to create nexus. His reasoning was that the statute read “salesmen” while in the taxpayer’s case there was only one “salesman”. He clarified that since the state only used the plural form, the regulation anticipated multiple sales people and therefore the taxpayer did not have nexus.

Words have meaning! In this case the state failed to update its language to be more encompassing and capture the implications of Quill as well as using only the plural form of a word. What great illustrations! We don’t suggest taking this approach when doing tax planning but when you find yourself in an audit situation having someone who can think outside the box is invaluable. My mentor constantly forces us to do so.