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Tax-Free Internet Sales Are Now Dead

21 June 2018

The Supreme Court overturned decades of precedent Thursday and paved the way for states to impose a broader internet sales tax.

In a 5-4 ruling on Thursday, the Supreme Court decided that states could tax internet sales, even when the internet retailer was not based in that state.

Previously, companies without a physical presence in a state were exempt from sales tax collection requirements. The cases the court overturned said that if a business was shipping a product to a state where it didn't have a physical presence, such as a warehouse or office, the business didn't have to collect the state's sales tax. But paying online sales tax is nothing new, especially if you buy from large stores like Amazon, Walmart, Dell, and so on. It also impacts Amazon, but only for the goods it sells from third-party merchants.

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Brick-and-mortar retailers in states are required to collect taxes on a state's behalf.

The decision ends years of work by the retail industry "to reverse a pre-internet era rule that distorts free markets and puts local brick and mortar stores at a competitive disadvantage with their online-only counterparts", said Deborah White, general counsel for the Retail Industry Leaders Association. "This Court should not prevent States from collecting lawful taxes through a physical presence rule that can be satisfied only if there is an employee or a building in the State". The conservative chief justice, John Roberts dissented along with liberals Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

That said, South Dakota's tax system includes several features that appear created to prevent discrimination against or undue burdens upon interstate commerce.

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Amazon's stock is down almost a percent since the announcement, Etsy is down 3.12 percent.

South Dakota wanted out-of-state retailers to begin collecting the tax and sued several of them: Overstock.com, electronics retailer Newegg and home goods company Wayfair.

South Dakota has estimated that it could take in up to $50 million a year in additional revenue with these taxes being collected.

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Tax-Free Internet Sales Are Now Dead