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State Income Tax Filing Requirements and Economic Presence

Scope: This memo is intended to provide general guidance on how state income tax return filing requirements are determined and to provide an explanation of the Economic Presence standard which several states are now using to determine if a business entity has a tax return filing requirement in that state. Vertical Advisors (VA) determines state tax return filing requirements based on information provided to us from our clients. However, the historic state income tax filing requirements are based on the general standard as described below but each business will ALSO need to decide whether state filing requirements under the Economic Presence standard should be considered. VA is available to be engaged to review income tax filing requirements for our clients.

General Standard: There are multiple factors that affect state tax return filing requirements. This memo is meant to provide a general overview. A detailed analysis of state tax attributes would be needed to fully understand the state tax return filing requirements for a particular business. Attributes that are considered when determining state tax return filing requirements are as follows:

  1. Sales by state
  2. Wages by state (could also include vendor or independent contractors)
  3. Fixed assets by state

Historically, when a business has two or more of the attributes listed above, a state tax return would be required for that state. However, several states are now using the more aggressive Economic Presence standard which can cause a state tax return filing requirement even if only one attribute exists which is usually sales in that state.

Economic Presence Standard: Under the Economic Presence standard, a state tax return may be required if any one of the following conditions exists:

  • Any income derived in the state
  • Sales in the state exceeding certain threshold
  • Licensed intangible properties in the state
  • Doing business or seeking profits in the state

The Economic Presence standard is not new and approximately 43 states currently have an Economic Presence standard. Although the Economic Presence standard has existed for years, the states were not aggressively enforcing tax return filing requirements under this standard. However, due mainly to the growth of the e-commerce industry, it is now common for a company to transact business in several states in which the only connection to that state may be the sales with no actual physical presence in that state. Under the general standard, without a physical presence in the state, there was no state return filing requirement and thus the states could not assess income tax on businesses that had only sales in those states.

Under Economic Presence, the sales alone can cause a tax return filing requirement. Since each state defines Economic Presence standard differently, a detailed analysis by state would be required to understand the possible state tax return filing requirements under the Economic Presence standard.

Conclusion: As mentioned earlier, Vertical Advisors reviews state tax return filing requirements consistent with the general standard and information provided by our clients. However, since states are becoming more aggressive in applying the Economic Presence standard, each business will need to decide if they want to retain us to consider their specific income tax return filing requirement, allocate their internal resources, or to disregard the laws. We recommend a diligent review of income tax return filing requirements annually.

We feel it makes sense to review state tax return filing requirements under the Economic Presence standard and the general standard approach. Ignoring state tax return filing requirements under the Economic Presence standard can result in tax notices, possible penalties and examinations. However, since not all states are aggressively applying the Economic Presence standard, a business will need to balance the risk of not filing against the cost of preparing possibly several state tax returns. For more information on how state income tax filing requirements including the Economic Presence test may affect your business, please contact us.

Federal government shutdown creates tax filing uncertainty

The IRS has announced that it will begin accepting paper and electronic tax returns for the 2018 tax year on January 28, but much remains to be seen about how the ongoing shutdown of the federal government will affect this year’s filings. Although the Trump administration has stated that the IRS will pay refunds during the closure — a shift from IRS practice in previous government shutdowns — it’s not clear how quickly such refunds can be processed.

Effects of the shutdown on the IRS so far

An estimated 800,000 federal government workers have been furloughed since December 22, 2018, due to the impasse between President Trump and Congress over funding for a southern border wall. The most recent contingency plan published for the IRS lapsed on December 31, 2018, but it provided that only 12.5% of the tax agency’s approximately 80,000 employees would be deemed essential and therefore continue working during a shutdown.

The furloughs are necessary because the standoff over the border wall has prevented the enactment of several of the appropriations bills that fund the federal government. Tax refunds aren’t paid with appropriated funds, but IRS employees are. In the past, the IRS hasn’t paid tax refunds during shutdowns because it didn’t have the appropriated funds it needed to pay the employees who process refunds. Trump administration attorneys, however, have determined that the agency can issue refunds during a shutdown.

The IRS likely will need far more than 12.5% of its employees on the job to process refunds when it starts accepting filings. In 2018, the IRS received 18.3 million returns and processed 6.1 million refunds in the first week of tax season. By just one week later, it had received 30.8 million returns and issued 13.5 million refunds. Even though the IRS has indicated that it intends to recall “a significant portion of its workforce” to work, it has provided few details, and those employees would have to work without pay. The IRS says it will release an updated contingency plan “in the coming days.”

TCJA complicates the picture

The implementation of the federal tax overhaul could further complicate matters for taxpayers. The 2018 tax year is the first to be subject to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), which brought sweeping changes to the tax code, as well as new tax forms. Various TCJA implementation activities, such as the development of new publications and instructions, will continue because they’re funded by earlier appropriations legislation.

Be aware that taxpayers and their accountants may not be able to contact the IRS with questions. When the IRS’s main number on January 9 was called, this recorded message was received: “Live telephone assistance is not available at this time. Normal operations will resume as soon as possible.”

During the 2013 government shutdown, taxpayers also couldn’t receive live telephone customer service from the IRS, and walk-in taxpayer assistance centers were shuttered. At that time, the IRS website was available, but some of its interactive features weren’t. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has stated that the IRS will call back enough employees to work to answer 60% to 70% of phone calls seeking tax assistance during this shutdown, which could lead to widespread taxpayer frustration.

Tax filing deadlines are still in effect

Regardless of how IRS operations proceed, taxpayers still need to comply with the filing deadlines. Individual taxpayers in every state but Maine and Massachusetts must file by April 15, 2019; filers in those two states have until April 17, 2019. Individuals who obtain a filing extension have until October 15, 2019, to file their returns but should pay the taxes owed by the April deadline to avoid penalties. If you have questions about tax filing, please contact us.