Resale Certificates: The Ecommerce Seller’s Complete Guide

Jennifer Dunn

Jennifer Dunn

Contributor at Fundera
Jennifer Dunn is a small business contributor for Fundera and owner of Social Street Media. She is also the community manager at GoDaddy Online Bookkeeping, and her long-standing life goal is to learn something new every day.
Jennifer Dunn

Resale Certificates: An Overview

You know this much this far: A resale certificate (also called a tax exemption certificate) lets retailers purchase goods for resale without having to pay sales tax for those items.

But let’s dive a little deeper.

Depending on your state, they will either provide you with a resale certificate number to use with a generic template or they will create a customized certificate for your business. Either way, you’ll need to provide a copy of the certificate for each business where you purchase goods for resale without paying sales tax, showing proof that what you’re purchasing is for resale.

When you purchase goods with a resale certificate, you’ll also need to be sure to collect the exempted tax when you sell the products.

Resale certificates usually state your name and address as the buyer, the reseller’s permit number, a description of the purchased item, and a statement that the item in question is being purchased for resale.

Because resale certificates involve state sales tax, the way you use a resale certificate varies by the state you operate in.

How to Get a Resale Certificate

Avoiding paying sales tax as a seller yourself sounds pretty great. But how do you get a tax exemption certificate?

You can apply for a resale certificate through your state’s tax department. Be sure to apply to the state tax department in the state you physically have an address in—not the state in which you incorporated, if it’s different. If you sell products in more than one state, you’ll have to apply for a resale certificate in every single state you do business in. If you’re operating in a state that’s different than the state in which you incorporated, you’ll need to complete a Foreign Qualification process to be able to do business in a different state.

It’s important to note that you’ll need a copy of your resale certificate for every instance in which you use one, as you’re doing business with separate retailers.

Resale Certificates: Frequently Asked Questions

Now that you have a general overview of resale certificates, let’s cover some of the details with frequently asked questions about these documents.

Are resale certificates and sales tax permits the same thing?

Most of the time, yes. Sometimes the sales tax permit acts as a resale certificate, but some states require a separate resale certificate. If you live in a state with no sales tax, then you’ll typically need to have a sales tax permit to use a resale certificate.

Remember, you’ll need a separate resale certificate when you do business with different sellers. This is different than protocol with a sales tax permit, where you have a single permit that you hang onto and display when needed.

To find out the procedures for your state, you should contact your state directly to see their requirements.

What can I buy with a resale certificate?

You can buy any products that you intend to put up for resale or components to make items you intend to resell. For example, if you are a jewelry designer, you can purchase gem stones tax free to fashion into jewelry for your customers.

Just keep in mind that you can’t purchase items you do not intend to resell—like equipment or office supplies—without paying a sales tax using a resale certificate. In this case, that would be considered tax fraud. (Those items, however, can be income-tax deductions, but that’s a whole different tax matter.)

When it comes down to it, you can purchase items with a resale certificate when you intend on charging sales tax on the items when you resell them.

resale certificates

Where can I use a resale certificate?

Many retailers accept resale certificates, but not all—it’s completely up to the business whether they do or don’t accept resale certificates. Retailers are on the hook to pay lost sales tax if it turns out that the resale certificate is expired or false.

You’ll also find situations where retailers choose not to accept resale certificates to discourage retail arbitrage, such as Target trying to discourage people from buying rare items to sell online with a huge markup.

Can I use a resale certificate in multiple states?

Most of the time you can use a resale certificate in multiple states, but there are 10 states that will not allow retailers to accept out-of-state resale certificates

If you make a lot of purchases in those states, you may wish to consider registering for a sales tax permit. Keep in mind that if you choose to register for a sales tax permit that you’ll be required to collect sales tax from buyers in that state, so you’ll have to weigh the pros and the cons to figure out if that route works for your business.

What is a multijurisdictional resale certificate?

There is a multijurisdictional resale certificate (or a blanket retail certificate or uniform sales tax certificate) can be used to help businesses that purchase goods for resale in multiple states avoid having to use different resale certificates for different states and vendors.

If you do choose to use multijurisdictional resale certificates, be sure you’re doing so correctly. If misused, you risk delaying your payment or shipment of the goods or being charged the sales tax you were trying to avoid.

This specific resale certificate produces a lot of confusion for buyers and sellers, so make sure you read up on how to use one correctly before you pursue this type of resale certificate.

What happens if I don’t sell the items I buy with a resale certificate?

If you don’t sell the items or components you purchased without sales tax by the end of your filing period, you’ll generally be required to pay a use tax that corresponds to the same amount as the sales tax you didn’t pay. Basically you’re paying the sales tax when you file a state sales tax return.

resale certificates

What should I do when a customer hands me a resale certificate?

As a retailer, you may be presented with a resale certificate from a customer who intends to resell your products. You are responsible for deciding if you do or don’t want to accept the resale certificate.

Keep in mind that if the resale certificate ends up being expired or false, you will be on the hook for paying the sales tax, so if you decide to accept resale certificates, you should definitely perform some sort of resale certification verification, which will be different for each state. You’ll also want to keep the resale certificates on file in case there are any issues or in the event of a sales tax audit.

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
Jennifer Dunn

Jennifer Dunn

Contributor at Fundera
Jennifer Dunn is a small business contributor for Fundera and owner of Social Street Media. She is also the community manager at GoDaddy Online Bookkeeping, and her long-standing life goal is to learn something new every day.
Jennifer Dunn

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