Sales Tax, Etsy, & Marketplace Facilitators, Oh My!

Gosh, that title is a mouthful, isn’t it?  As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve spent several weeks trying to wrap my brain around the Gordian Knot that is sales tax law in the US.

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This is my brain on sales tax law

Ugh.  I’m years late to the internet sales party and now it’s all just a big headache.  In a nutshell, here’s what happened to make selling online using Etsy or Amazon a giant pain the *ss these days:

South Dakota vs. Wayfair – this case went to the Supreme Court and they ruled that SD could require online businesses to collect sales tax under certain conditions.  (I’m simplifying this a LOT, so feel free to fall down the internet rabbit hole about this court case yourself.)  Of course, once South Dakota got the green light to collect sales tax on internet sales, which up to this point had generally been exempt from that, all the states wanted their piece of the sales tax pie.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, a legal person, a CPA, or in any way qualified to give you advice about sales taxes and sales tax law.  I am just explaining to you MY understanding of how things will work moving forward, which admittedly, could be wrong.

Wild West Internet

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This is how the old internet looked, isn’t it?

Ok, with that out of the way, let me explain a few things.  In the olden days of the internet, because states didn’t realize internet sales/business would be a thing, they didn’t address the issue of taxes on those sales.  It was assumed that, for the most part, sales your business made would be to people who also lived in your state.  So it was the Wild West of the internet – set up, sell, collect moolah.  Of course, the state where you lived had laws you needed to follow about sales tax for sales in your state, but everything else – other states, other countries – were fair game.

Most states’ sales tax laws had to do with sales in THAT state and didn’t address the issue of sales that happened out of state.  Sales tax was collected based on the location of the seller – i.e. the state where the online seller lived, not where the buyer lived.

(SIDE NOTE: Most states do address ‘use tax’ – essentially sales tax that people were supposed to pay on items they purchased out of state to use.  Those are supposed to be reported on your yearly taxes – but most people didn’t, so the states lost out on that money.)

Also, since states could all make up their own laws about taxes, they vary widely.  Some states tax food sales, others don’t.  Some states don’t have sales tax at all.  Some states tax digital products – like digital images or computer software.  Some don’t.  Most states that DO charge a sales tax have different tax rates depending on where in the state you make your purchase – cities and counties can add on to the state sales tax rate, so the rate isn’t the same everywhere.

For instance, the state sales tax rate in the state where I live is 6.5%.  But it can range from that 6.5% all the way to 10.475% (which it does, in one city).  Every single city and county in the state can decide to charge sales tax, and that can change the rate.  So keeping up with all the different rates can be a paperwork nightmare.

Enter things like Etsy and Amazon and Ebay -people could sell online and not have to worry about things like pesky sales tax.  It was like having a ready-made store – just set up and go.  You only really had to worry about the sales tax for your state of residence.  Because it was so easy to set up a store and start selling, places like Amazon and Etsy and Ebay became very popular.  So, of course, states wanted a share of all the money changing hands.

South Dakota vs. Wayfair

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Cool wig, right?

The problem was that most sales tax laws said that sellers/businesses had to have a ‘nexus’ in the state,which used to be met in the following ways:

  • If the business had a physical location in the state
  • If there were resident employees working in the state
  • If the business had property (including intangible property) in the state
  • If there were employees who regularly solicit business in the state (i.e., salespeople)

Most sales tax laws were made when internet shops didn’t exist.  Since there is no ‘physical’ location, sales tax laws didn’t apply.  And that was how things mostly went until the SD vs. Wayfair case.  Essentially, the Supreme Court decided that the states could require sellers/businesses to collect sales tax if they had ‘nexus’ in the state, but they made some changes to the definition.

Now there are additional types of ‘nexus’ for ‘remote sellers’ – i.e. internet businesses.  (Don’t you just love all the new terms we’re learning?) Those include click-through, affiliate, economic, and marketplace.  If your online business falls under one of those new umbrellas, you could be liable for collecting sales tax – in every state where you have sales, not just the one you reside in.  Also, many of the new sales tax laws specifically state that the sales tax must be collected based on the location of the buyer, NOT the seller, which is not how it used to be done.

Once South Dakota got the green light, states began passing their own sales tax laws to address online sales.  (You can find all kinds of information on these over at the Sales Tax Institute.)

Piece of the Pie

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Who doesn’t want pie?

States knew that going after all the mom-and-pop internet shops would not be popular, so most states also included a ‘safe harbor’ or ‘small seller exception’ for those mom-and-pop internet shops.  Modeling their new sales tax laws after South Dakota, most of the new laws have a clause that if an online business makes under a certain $ amount in sales, or under a certain number of transactions (or sometimes both), the business is exempt from having to collect sales tax.

Because of the complexity of many states’ sales tax rates, asking a small business to correctly collect from and remit sales tax to 50 different states, and potentially thousands of localities, is a huge burden on those small businesses.  Indeed, if every online business, no matter its size, was required to do this, a huge percentage would likely close overnight.  It’s simply too much work for it to be feasible for small businesses to do this.

Of course, states aren’t dumb.  They want the most money for the least amount of effort. So they aimed for the big guys.  If they could require the big businesses to collect sales tax, it would net them more money.  Enter ‘Marketplace Facilitator’ clauses.

Marketplace Facilitators

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How’s the air up there?

Requiring big online sales giants like Amazon and Etsy to collect sales tax could net the states a ton of money.  Those big businesses have the resources to collect and remit sales tax – so the states get more money, and most of the work falls on the shoulders of these big platforms – now referred to as ‘Marketplace Facilitators.’ There are lots of ins-and-outs of these provisions – including things like whether or not Amazon (or other Marketplace Facilitator) has a warehouse in your state, that can determine whether a business has to collect sales tax.

Etsy now collects and remits sales tax on sales in 34 states (as of Oct 1, 2019).  There are currently 5 states that do not charge sales tax – Alaska, Oregon, New Hampshire, Delaware, and Montana.  And many states have new laws in the works.  Alaska, for example, does not charge a state sales tax, but cities are free to charge sales tax if they wish, and some may.

What does it mean? 

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Mass confusion

All these changes mean that if you want to sell on Etsy or Amazon or anything that could be deemed a ‘Marketplace Facilitator,’ you’ll need to know about sales tax and what the requirements are – in every state, not just the one you live in.  And even if Etsy or some other Marketplace Facilitator collects and remits sales tax to a state for you, you may still be required to file sales tax with that state.

Let’s look at some examples.  (Again, these are based on MY understanding of these convoluted laws, so I could be wrong – do your homework!)

Example 1:  Let’s say you live in Delaware and open a store on Etsy.  Your state doesn’t charge sales tax, so you’re golden, right?  Only if all your sales are to other people in Delaware.  If you sell something to someone in Nebraska, Etsy will collect sales tax on the sale and remit that tax to Nebraska.  Cool, so you’re still golden, right?  Nope.  Nebraska’s sales tax law requires you to register with their state, even though Etsy collects and remits the sales tax for you.

Example 2:  You live in Kansas and open an Etsy store selling digital downloads.  Kansas exempts digital products from sales tax, so you don’t need to worry about sales tax, right?  Again, only if your sales are all to other people who live in Kansas.  If you sell a digital download to someone who lives in say, Arkansas, what happens?  Etsy will collect and remit the sales tax to Arkansas.  Do you need to do anything else?  Nope – Arkansas does not require remote sellers (that’s you) to register if a Marketplace Facilitator (that’s Etsy) is collecting and remitting the sales tax.

Example 3:  You live in Maine and you open an Etsy store.  You’ve already registered with Maine for sales tax purposes.  You know that Maine requires Etsy to collect and remit sales tax for sale in Maine.  So you don’t need to do anything, right?  Maybe?  You need to be familiar with the sales tax laws of the state you reside in – there are many different laws and items that are exempt in one place may not be in another.  What do you do if your product is exempt from sales tax, but Etsy collects it anyway?  What if you make a sale through Etsy to someone in New Mexico?  Etsy will collect and remit the sales tax, but New Mexico still requires the remote seller register and file sales tax – though you can take a deduction for sales tax collected by a Marketplace Facilitator.

Starting to understand the headache?

Marketplace Facilitator vs. Website 

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I stand just like this to think, don’t you?

I’m now wondering if it would be easier to just open my own little online business.  Yes, there are pros and cons, but given all the new headaches with sales taxes, with many more changes likely coming down the pike, it seems like a lot of unnecessary (and unwanted) work.

Because states know it’s a huge headache, some states have banded together and created the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement (SSUTA).  Basically, you register with SSUTA and are registered with all member states at once, which is currently 23 states (as of this writing).

Given how poorly some government agencies are at securing my information, I don’t know if I’m comfortable handing over my SSN or Business Tax ID to 23 states to lose.  Or perhaps more, if I opened an Etsy shop and had to register with all the states that require it, which at last count was 9 that definitely require registration, 5 that require you contact them to determine whether you are required to register, and 17 that may (likely will) require registration – depending on whether they pass new sales tax laws and when they go into effect.

Also, given that most states have included ‘small seller exceptions’ in their new sales tax laws, if I ran my own website, I would only have to worry about sales in my state of residence, at least until I reached their small seller thresholds.  In most instances, those range from $100K-$500K in gross sales or revenue and/or 100-200 transactions per year.  (The laws vary widely, so again, do your homework!)  Actually, I wouldn’t even have to worry about my own state, because my digital download sales would be exempt.  So if I did all my sales through my own website, I likely wouldn’t have to worry about sales tax at all.  And if I did, by some miracle, begin making enough sales to have to register, most states don’t require you to register until you reach the threshold.

Of course, the attraction of Etsy and Amazon is the built-in traffic.  I get that.  But does it balance out against the headache of all the extra paperwork for what I’m looking to do?  I mean, I’m not planning to have a business that makes over $100K a year.  I just want a small online shop where I can be creative and make some money at the same time.  Is that worth the headache of filling out a ton of paperwork for the convenience of Etsy?  I could just open an Etsy store and then wait to see where my buyers were located, and then register.  But should I?  What happens if Etsy collects and remits the sales tax for me and I haven’t yet registered?  Will that cause issues?

Etsy also charges fees, so that could balance out what I would need to spend on my own website for sales.  Etsy is charging 5% fees on transactions – including shipping.  PayPal’s fees are lower than that, but on micro-transactions like mine, the per transaction fees would rack up quickly (2.9% + $0.30 per trans).

Ultimately, I need to sit down and think about all of this and whether I want the headache that comes along with Etsy and the new sales tax requirements, whether I want to try and run my own ecommerce website, or whether I want to just use Patreon or something like it for what I’m trying to do.  I’m not sure yet.

I know this was a long post, but I hope you found some of it useful.  If you’re thinking of opening an online business – even if it’s on Etsy or Amazon, research, research, research and know what the requirements are for your business.  Ultimately, YOU are responsible for your business, whether someone else is collecting the taxes or not.

(All images from Pixabay)

 

Brain Overload

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(Image Source: Pixabay) This is my brain on technology 😛

For the last several weeks, I’ve been dipping my digital toes into the (cess?)pool of social media.  I’ve blogged about joining Ello and I’ve also recently joined Ko-Fi.  I guess that Ko-Fi isn’t technically social media? Or maybe it is?  I don’t know.

If you’re not familiar with Ko-Fi, it’s a site where you sign up, create a page for yourself, and people can donate via PayPal to support you – i.e., buy you a cup of coffee.  It’s similar to Patreon, I suppose, although you have to pay a monthly fee for recurring payments from supporters.  So Patreon Lite, maybe?

In any event, I thought it looked like a cool way to provide an opportunity for those who don’t have tons of cash lying around (like me), but would like to send something small to those whose talents we appreciate.

So now I have a Ko-Fi page set up for myself.  If you’re interested, check it out here.  It’s still pretty bare bones, but I’ll be adding to it in the coming months.  Learning to navigate all these new (to me) sites has really taxed my poor brain.

Just setting up a PayPal account gave me a headache.  I set it up as a business account, but since I’m a sole proprietor, things can be tricky.  The state I live in doesn’t require me to register my business as a sole proprietor, so some of the questions either didn’t apply or didn’t make sense to me.

Also, their categories for type of business was disappointing.  I didn’t see anything that I thought applied to what I do, but I suppose it doesn’t matter.  I think it’s more for PayPal to send me marketing crap than it is to actually help me out.  We’ll see, I suppose.  I wonder if I can change the category later?  Now I just have to wait for PayPal to do their thing with the test deposits/withdrawals from my bank account so I can get down to business.

I still want to set up a YouTube channel, but I think I may wait and tackle that project another day.  My poor brain is on overload dealing with all these different sites.  Ain’t technology grand?!

Family Business?

I’ve been working for the past several months on designs for my mandalas.  I have decided that I also want to make stickers to sell on Etsy.  That was my original plan, but then I got sidetracked by how much fun I was having with the mandalas.

I spent some time recently using my Silhouette cutting machine to make some craft kits for a preschool classroom.  It was so much fun, I may have to find other kits to make and sell!

Here’s the craft kit I made – they were doing a monster design for ‘M’ week, so I used my machine to cut out all the circles and horns for the monsters.  Enough for 40+ kids done in about 15 minutes.  It would have taken me all weekend to cut these by hand, not to mention they wouldn’t have been true circles.

Monster Craft Kit 2

My husband is getting in on the action, too.  He is working with vinyl rather than paper, and he’s been making vinyl decals for cars.  He made some for his car and his colleagues saw the decals and asked if he could make some designs for them.

He’s spent the last two weekends working on the computer, designing decals, and having a blast.  He told me yesterday that he really wants to invest some time into seeing if he can turn it into a viable small business.

Crossing my fingers that he can and we can turn this into a family business. 🙂  Now to get busy working on my own designs!

Learning Curve

FailMy struggle to start my online business continues.  For whatever reason, my brain insists that before I start something, I must know ALL THE THINGS.  So I decided to see how other people were running their sticker businesses on Etsy.

My first goal was to order some stickers from other stores. I had a million questions.  What kind of paper do they use? How do they package their products? What do they charge? How much is postage?  Do they charge shipping?  What about sales tax?

So I purchased some stickers for my own use and I also purchased some stickers that I could download, print, and cut myself. I’m still deciding whether I want to mail out orders, which will add to the cost because of postage and packaging, or whether I want to just sell downloadable files.

So I purchased a couple of downloadable files that also included the cut files so I could use the Cameo and see how things work. Buy the files, download, open, print, cut – easy peasy, right?

Right.

After 30 minutes of work, I was ready to pull out my hair. I made ALL the rookie mistakes. I’d tried to read and research about how to use the software and the cutting machine, so I thought I was ready to go.

Nope.

First, I wanted to try out my new CMYK printer and see what the print quality was like. It was okay, though not as saturated as I thought it would be. The images I was printing were kind of washed out, so I’ll wait and see how I feel after printing more than 3 or 4 pages.

I printed two pages of the stickers I purchased and then got ready to cut them. Opened the cut files and loaded the cutting machine. And then realized, after the cut job failed, that I had just printed the pdf files of the stickers, which don’t include the registration marks that the cutting machine needs to cut.

Sigh.

So, I opened the cut files and printed the stickers again – this time making sure the registration marks printed. So far, so good. Next headache – my Cameo is connected to my PC via bluetooth because it sits too far away from the PC to connect with a cord. Then I got the cut job loaded and ready to go, but when I went to send it to the machine, the bluetooth was continually searching (and not finding) the Cameo.

Grrr.

Deep breath, and then I shut off the Cameo, counted to 5 and turned it back on. Finally, the bluetooth connected and I was able to get the cut job started. I did notice that the blade didn’t seem to have moved (my Cameo came with an auto blade), but I didn’t think much of it. I wanted to track how long it took to cut, so I was watching the clock.

As I said, rookie mistake. When the job finished, the machine had cut, but not deep enough to peel the stickers off easily. Some of them were quite small and they ripped as I tried to take them off, or I couldn’t get them separated at all. Clearly, my blade wasn’t cutting deep enough. Google, here I come.

After spending just a few minutes searching, I found the answer. Because my machine has an auto blade, the machine has to adjust the setting on the blade, rather than me doing it manually (which is how some other machines work). Apparently most newbies insert the blade incorrectly. Mine was actually inserted correctly, so that wasn’t the problem.

I went back to the cut file and realized that the cut file assumes that your machine has a ratchet blade (one that you adjust manually). So, that problem solved. I just change the blade selection to reflect that my machine has the auto blade.

Success! I load the paper to be cut, get the machine connected via bluetooth, and when the job starts, it adjusts the blade. Yay!! I wait another 4 minutes for the job to finish and then I go to remove the sticker paper from the cutting mat. As I pull, I realize that the blade, rather than kiss-cutting the stickers, has instead cut all the way through the paper. Which means when I try to peel the paper off the tacky cutting mat, it comes up in pieces, leaving the stickers stuck to the mat.

Arrrggghhh.

I spent 10 minutes peeling off all the stickers from the mat. Another piece of paper wasted. But – now I know what not to do. So, back to the drawing board. Print the stickers, make sure they have the registration marks, make sure the machine is connected to the PC, and adjust the blade settings so that it doesn’t cut all the way through the paper.

How did it go?

Well, partial success. I adjusted the blade setting, but I left everything else the same. Mistake. I considered adjusting the force/pressure of the blade as well, but I decided not to. After spending more time cutting the stickers, this time I think the blade depth is good, but it is still cutting too deep. Some stickers were fine, but others were still cutting through the backing of the paper. Not enough that I couldn’t pull it off the cutting mat in one piece, but enough to make it unworkable as a setting.

Back to the drawing (cutting?) board. 😛

Procrastinators Unite! Tomorrow

Image Credit: Pixabay

I am a procrastinator. Which is bad for a home business, probably. I work best under pressure (like writing a 5 page college paper the night before it’s due, etc). I think I get overwhelmed by choices, so leaving things until the last minute forces me to make quick choices and I don’t have the time to over think them. (I think there’s a sticker in there somewhere!)

So when I decided to try and start a sticker business, I was making list after list after list. What would I use as a name? Did I need a blog? What equipment and supplies would I need? My husband, on the other hand, was immediately online, researching what the best equipment and supplies would be and encouraging me to order them asap so I could get started.

We ended up purchasing a new printer, since my current printer was about 7 years old. We also bought a Silhouette Cameo 3, which I will be using to cut out the stickers I plan to sell. The printer we bought locally, but both items sat in the box for about two weeks – I needed to rearrange some things in my office to make room for the new machines.

We finally got around to rearranging the office so we could set up the new printer and the Cameo. A few days ago I set up a separate bank account to use for the business and got a PO Box as well. So now I don’t have any more excuses for not getting started.

So, have I? Of course not.

I set a deadline for myself of April 1, which has come and gone. I do have the machines set up and I’ve been working on designs and learning the ins and outs of the Cameo. But it seems that external deadlines are easier for me to worry about than internal ones. So I’m going to try my hardest to meet the next one – by May 1 I want to have at least 10 products ready to launch. Crossing my fingers that I can stick with this one.

How do you keep yourself motivated to meet personal deadlines?

My First Fail

My OCD need for organization has been the butt of many jokes in my life. My children find it hilarious that I can’t remember what I had for dinner last night, but I can tell you if someone moved my stapler two inches. (Maybe that’s just my OCD and not my need for organization, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

I’ve always been a ‘neatnik,’ as my mother would have said. I like things to have a place and for things to be in that place. There are things I don’t do – like organize my clothes by color or season or things like that (because I don’t have the time, nor do I care, frankly). When it comes to my office and files, however, I want everything neat and tidy.

I started using daily planners in college to help keep track of homework, due dates, etc. I’ve been using them ever since. However, I usually have just purchased a generic daily planner and used those. I like having my month laid out so I can see everything at once. The planner was something I liked and used because I wanted to, but once I had children, it became a necessity.

A few years ago, someone mentioned a bullet journal and I was intrigued. I did some research and decided I would try it.

Huge failure.

My need for perfection ruined my use of the bullet journal. I felt like I had to not only be an expert at using the bullet journal, but also be a fantastic artist and decorate it beautifully as well. Which, of course, didn’t happen, and I got so frustrated I quit using it and went back to my generic planners.

Fast forward to about 6 months ago, and I discovered the planner/sticker community on YouTube and Etsy. I was instantly hooked – a way to stay organized with a planner and make it look cute and fancy, but with stickers! As I dove deeper into the idea, I realized a sticker business was something I was interested in. I could work from home, set my own schedule, have some extra income, and satisfy my own need for creativity and organization.

I don’t know if this business idea will work out, but that’s part of the fun, right? I might succeed, I might fail. Either way, at least I will have tried, which is more than most people can say. I’m still working out the logistics of everything – setting up my Etsy store, making product, learning about incredibly boring things like sales tax and online business, but it’s all slowly coming together.

I’m also a huge procrastinator and I suffer from sometimes debilitating bouts of imposter syndrome, but I am determined to see this through. So follow along and watch me fail and learn.

I Am Not A Niche

Created with Quozio

I know all the advice out there says you should ‘niche’ your blog. I’m still not sure I understand why. I mean, I get wanting to be seen as an expert in your field. But I am interested in people, not in niches. When I think about it in that light, it makes me wonder about the other advice you always hear on social media – be authentic, be real. But authentic and real people are complex and multi-dimensional, not a single ‘niche’ idea, right?

As an introvert, people usually assume that I hate people. I don’t. I love watching people, observing their behavior, trying to figure out what makes them tick. Interacting with people is a completely different thing, though. Because I’m an introvert, I’m socially awkward. I mean, I can handle being in social situations, but I don’t generally enjoy them. Mostly because I don’t understand them. If you don’t really care how I am, why are you asking? I want to talk about deep and meaningful things, but most social conversation is completely superficial.

Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked, sorry. This post is about why this blog likely won’t fit into a neat little niche. The purpose behind it is not to present myself as an expert about anything, but rather to (hopefully) show people that with success comes a lot of failure. I think that people are so afraid these days to fail at anything that they prefer to do nothing. But you don’t learn if you don’t fail. I think that’s a lesson that so many people miss. We’re so focused on success that we forget it is driven by failure.

I decided to start a business, and as is usual with me, I jumped right in with both feet. But after spending a week or so researching and doing some paperwork, that darn imposter syndrome showed its ugly face. Suddenly, the whole prospect seemed incredibly daunting. I have no idea what I’m doing; what was I thinking?

Then I started to really head down the rabbit hole. I don’t even really use social media – I have no ‘following’ to promote this business to, so how in the world am I going to get sales? Then I started researching selling online and all the new tax and privacy laws in the US and elsewhere and it really started to get overwhelming. How am I ever going to make this a success?

Then one day, in the midst of all my angst, I thought, why the hell am I worrying about all this? When I originally decided to start the business, I told myself that I wouldn’t worry about failing. If I did fail, then at least I would have learned something. If I fail, I’ll have lost some money and some time, but at least I will have tried. I’d regret not trying more than I’d regret failing. So, here I am.

If you’re expecting this to be a blog about only things relating to an online business venture, you might be disappointed. I will write about that, but other things interest me, and since this is, after all, my blog, I will probably write about them too.

I’m opening at Etsy shop selling planner stickers and vinyl decals. Topics you may encounter in this blog: starting an online home business, cutting machines (like the Silhouette Cameo), stickers, planners, vinyl, decals, sales tax, using Etsy, etc. I may also write about things like fonts, software, blogging, writing, creating, art, being an introvert (and sometimes a hermit), my tinfoil hat theories (shh, don’t tell anyone about these), and you may encounter my snark/sarcasm.

If any of those don’t strike your fancy, no problem. The internet is a big place, and this is just one tiny corner of it. If you’re interested in watching me fail (or succeed), then slap the follow button and let’s go!