Affiliate Programs and Sales Tax Law
With the growth of blogs and social media, affiliate programs are gaining popularity as additional income for the average person. They are also a great way for an online business to build brand recognition and spread the word about promotions and products nationwide. Unfortunately, having an affiliate program run across the U.S. can make a company subject to the changing complexity of nexus sales tax laws, since many states view such programs as “having a presence” in the state.
How can a small company protect itself from getting mired in affiliate nexus tax laws but still offer an affiliate program? There may be no way to fully avoid it, but here are a few ideas that can help ease the process:
Don’t offer the program in every state
Online retailers can refrain from offering affiliate programs in states that have laws specifying that such programs automatically create a nexus. This is an easy solution to the problem that many companies already have in put in place. The downside, though, is that brand loyal consumers in those states will have no financial incentive to spread the word about the product. Additionally, it will restrict the brand from building nationwide growth.
Set an affiliate cap
Certain states have a sales amount that creates an affiliate nexus. For example in Maine, once affiliate sales, plus sales from any other in-state promotions, have reached a total of $10,000 or more in a 12 month period, a nexus has been created in that state. You may want to stop a program when that sales cap is met, or only select states that have a very high sales cap. With the rates this low in Maine, it might be easier to not offer an affiliate program in that state – just like Amazon did earlier this year.
Register as a Streamlined Sales Tax Project (SSTP) seller
As an SSTP seller, companies are still required to collect sales tax in the 24 states that participate in the program. However, they do receive free software to help them manage the programs from any certified service providers, such as AccurateTax. Here’s a list of SSTP states: http://www.streamlinedsalestax.org/index.php?page=alias-10. Not every state on the list has nexus laws but some do, and others may follow, making this a worthwhile investment.
Support the Marketplace Fairness Act
The Marketplace Fairness Act could level the field for retailers. While it’s still not certain what the future holds for this legislation, it seems to be gaining support. Just this March, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee held a hearing entitled, "Exploring Alternative Solutions on the Internet Sales Tax Issue," where they eliminated some of the proposals for the Act and agreed that this would not be a new tax. Stay tuned with the latest news on this issue at The Marketplace Fairness Act News Feed (no longer available).
For some online retailers, the best bet may even be a combination of these options. Whatever a company decides, a trusted professional can help them make the best choice and walk them through the business of setting up a compliant sales site. This will help a business keep up with the sure-to-come changes that will take place in the next few years.