Defining Sales Tax, Sellers Use Tax, and Consumer Use Tax

Familiarize yourself with the basics of these three major tax types.

Best Practices for Managing and Mitigating Sales Tax Audit Risk

Navigating the intricate landscape of taxation requires an understanding of sales tax, sellers use tax and consumer use tax – fundamental pillars in the realm of taxation. As major components of the taxation framework, these three distinct categories play pivotal roles in the economic ecosystem. Read more to learn their distinct roles and compliance requirements.

What is Sales Tax?

Sales Tax Definition

Sales tax is a transaction tax, calculated as a percentage of the sales price of taxable goods and certain taxable services. Sales tax is usually imposed on the purchaser (consumer). However, some sales taxes are imposed on the seller, sometimes called a “transaction privilege tax”. However, in either case, the tax is typically collected by the seller from the purchaser and remitted to the state, county and local taxing jurisdictions by the seller. The tax is usually imposed on sales of tangible personal property and selected enumerated services. If a consumer of a state makes a taxable purchase within his/her own state, the full sales tax is paid at the time of the transaction.

What is Considered to be a Taxable Sale?

Taxable Sale Definition

The definition of a taxable sale varies by taxing jurisdiction, but generally includes:

  • Transfer of title or possession of taxable tangible personal property for consideration.
  • Exchange, barter, lease, or rental of taxable tangible personal property.
  • Performance of a taxable enumerated service for consideration.

What is Sellers Use Tax?

Sellers Use Tax Definition

Sellers use tax is the same as a sales tax. It is a transaction tax, calculated as a percentage of the sales price of goods and certain services. However, the key difference is that the sellers use tax is imposed on vendors located outside of the state, but are registered to collect tax in the state. Sometimes this tax is called a retailer's use tax or a vendor's use tax. Also, sellers use tax sometimes is not filed on a sales tax return. It is filed on a separate return called a sellers use tax return, vendors use tax return, or retailers use tax return. The sellers use tax rate is the same as the sales tax rate, which may include local sellers use tax.

What is Consumer Use Tax?

Consumer Use Tax Definition

Consumer use tax (sometimes referred to as a compensating use tax) is complementary to the sales tax. It is imposed by state and local governments, calculated as a percentage of the sales price of goods and certain services; but paid as a use tax. Typically, consumer use tax is imposed on transactions that are subject to sales tax, but tax was not charged. Usually, this occurs when items are purchased out-of-state, ordered through the mail, over the Internet, or by phone from another state. It is imposed on the use, storage, or consumption of tangible personal property in the state. The use tax often applies when a company makes a purchase from an out-of-state seller that is not required to collect sales tax in the purchaser’s state.

Retailers are not usually required to collect sales tax on taxable purchases from consumers in states where the retailer does not have some connection to the state (known as "nexus"). This connection is created by retailers if they have a physical presence, make regular deliveries with their own vehicles into the state, have sales representatives located in the state, affiliate nexus, click-through nexus or marketplace nexus and economic nexus. Following the Wayfair Act of 2018, economic nexus rules were established by most states, typically requiring businesses to meet specific revenue thresholds (e.g., $100,000) or transaction volumes (e.g., 200 transactions) within a particular taxing jurisdiction. The use tax burden falls on the consumer to calculate and remit the tax to his or her state government. Therefore, if the seller does not collect the tax from the purchaser and the transaction is taxable, the purchaser is responsible for remitting the use tax to the state.

Consumer use taxes are imposed by state and local governments for two reasons — to prevent someone from evading a sales tax by buying goods or taxable services from a non-taxing state and shipping them into the state that imposes the sales tax. The use tax protects retailers located in the state or municipality because it removes the incentive for consumers to shop outside that locality in order to avoid paying the sales tax. The use tax rate is the same as the sales tax rate, which includes state and may include local sales taxes. A taxpayer who does not pay use tax may be subject to interest and penalties.

Transactions Subject to Consumer Use Tax

  • Purchases from mail-order companies not required or registered to collect sales tax from the state of delivery.
  • Deliveries from out-of-state companies that are not required or registered to collect sales tax from the state of delivery.
  • Buyer gives an in-state merchant a blanket resale or exemption certificate and transaction is taxable.
  • Purchases from an out-of-state or in-state company that is required to collect sales tax but does not.
  • Benefit received from an out-of-state performance of a service.
  • Purchases made on the Internet from vendors who are not required to be registered and sales tax is not charged.


A person buys a vehicle from a dealer in a neighboring state and the dealer does not charge sales tax on the vehicle. The buyer must pay use tax on the purchase price of the vehicle when he/she returns to his/her state and/or city.

ABC Manufacturing Co. purchases office furniture for use by the accounting department. The furniture is purchased from XYZ Wholesale Co., vendor that is located out-of-state, which sells via the Internet. After the order is placed and invoiced, XYZ Wholesale Co. delivers them via common carrier. XYZ Wholesale Co. does not include any sales tax on the invoice. The office furniture would have been charged sales tax if they had been purchased from an in-state vendor. Therefore, ABC Manufacturing Co. must self-assess and remit the consumer use tax that is due on the purchase to the state Department of Revenue.

If you are interested in learning more about Consumer Use Tax solutions for your business or what Vertex has to offer, reach out to our team today.

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