October 20, 2020

How Real Estate and Construction Contractors Can Avoid Overpaying Sales and Use Tax

Whether you’re a real estate broker and independent contractor or a general or sub-contractor working in construction, sales tax for contractors can be complex and difficult to understand. There are many factors that affect taxability, and real estate and construction contractors may also be subject to exemptions based on the customer and the property’s function. In this time of uncertainty with the COVID-19 pandemic affecting many businesses, sales tax refunds can help recoup over-paid sales tax and put more money in your pocket.

Are contractors exempt from sales tax?

There are many circumstances where exemptions are allowed but understanding sales tax liability for a construction contractor can be a challenge. States generally do not consider contractors to be making taxable sales, but providing tax exempt services. Contractors are typically treated as the final users and consumers of materials and supplies they use on construction contracts and are liable for sales tax on purchases of those materials and supplies used in a contract. However, many states provide special treatment for construction contracts with exempt organizations if the purchases are related to the entities’ exempt functions and activities.

When can an exemption certificate be used?

In both Missouri and Illinois, a contractor’s purchases of tangible personal property can be exempt with a flow-through exemption, provided a contractor is contracting with an exempt organization. The contractor can obtain an exemption certificatefor purchases of tangible personal property and materials used for a specific contract for the exempt entity. In Missouri, a project exemption certificate is typically needed from the exempt entity and provided to the vendor when making such purchases. Not all states allow a flow-through exemption from exempt organizations, and each state’s rules need to be reviewed individually.

In Missouri, contractors are exempt on purchases of tangible personal property for use out-of-state on a construction contract with an entity authorized to issue an exemption certificate under that state’s law. In Illinois, tangible personal property sold to contractors who resell it as tangible personal property can be treated as a purchase for resale.

Are all contracts treated the same?

Determining the structure of the contract can also impact the taxability. A lump-sum contract will generally leave the contractor responsible for the tax on materials. Whereas, with a separated contract or a cost plus contract the sale may be deemed as part property and part sale of service which may be treated differently on the contractor’s sale to their customer.

These are just a few sales tax nuances and opportunities available to contractors. A clear answer to specific questions on a state-by-state basis will need to be determined by reviewing each state’s rules and regulations. Anders has the resources and expertise to quickly help determine opportunities for you.

A sales and use tax refund review can help find overpayments to keep more money in your business’ pocket during this tough time. Anders State and Local Tax advisors have the expertise to pursue these refunds and can do so on a contingent basis. Contact an Anders advisor below for more information on reverse audits.

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