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Posted by Jim McClaflin, EA, NTPI Fellow, CTRC

Understanding the Wayfair Decision & Its Impact on Entrepreneurs

Understanding the Wayfair Decision & Its Impact on Entrepreneurs

In June 2018, the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in the case of South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., fundamentally altering the landscape of sales tax collection for online businesses. This ruling marked a departure from the previous physical presence rule established in the 1992 case of Quill Corp. v. North Dakota. The Wayfair decision has far-reaching implications for entrepreneurs, particularly those engaged in e-commerce. 

The Wayfair Decision: An Overview

The Pre-Wayfair Landscape

Prior to the Wayfair decision, the prevailing standard for determining when a business had to collect and remit sales tax was based on the Quill physical presence rule. Under this rule, a business had to have a physical presence, such as a store, warehouse, or office, in a state to be required to collect sales tax on sales made to customers in that state. This rule had its roots in the U.S. Constitution's Commerce Clause, which limits a state's ability to regulate commerce across state lines.

The Wayfair Ruling

In Wayfair, the Supreme Court overturned the Quill physical presence rule, holding that it was "unsound and incorrect." The Court introduced a new standard, commonly referred to as the economic nexus standard. This standard allows states to require out-of-state sellers to collect and remit sales tax if they have a substantial economic presence in the state, even if they lack a physical presence.

Under the economic nexus standard, the key factors considered by states to determine economic presence typically include:

  • A certain threshold of sales revenue is generated in the state.

  • A specific number of transactions with customers in the state.

The specifics of these thresholds vary by state, and entrepreneurs need to be aware of the rules in each jurisdiction where they do business.

Wayfair's Impact on Entrepreneurs

The Wayfair decision dramatically changed the sales tax landscape for entrepreneurs, particularly those involved in e-commerce. Here are some of the key ways in which Wayfair has affected entrepreneurs:

  • Increased Compliance Burden: Entrepreneurs now have to navigate a complex web of state-specific sales tax rules and thresholds, potentially requiring them to collect and remit sales tax in multiple states.

  • Increased Cost of Doing Business: Complying with the Wayfair decision often comes with added costs, including software subscriptions, tax consultant fees, and the cost of registering in multiple states.

  • Record-Keeping: Maintaining detailed sales records by state is crucial for compliance and providing necessary documentation in case of an audit.

  • Registration in Multiple States: Entrepreneurs may need to register for sales tax permits in multiple states where they meet the economic nexus criteria, adding administrative complexity and cost.

  • Software and Automation: To handle the increased compliance burden, many entrepreneurs have turned to specialized software and automation tools that calculate and collect sales tax based on the rules of each state.

  • Tax Collection and Reporting: Entrepreneurs must accurately collect the appropriate amount of sales tax from customers and remit these funds to the respective state taxing authorities on a regular basis.

What Entrepreneurs Need to Know

Understanding Economic Nexus Thresholds

To navigate the new sales tax landscape, entrepreneurs must be aware of the economic nexus thresholds established by each state. These thresholds typically vary in sales revenue and transaction volume and may change over time. It's essential to regularly monitor these thresholds and assess whether your business meets the criteria for economic nexus in different states.

Sales Tax Software

Investing in reliable sales tax software can streamline the process of calculating, collecting, and remitting sales tax. These tools can integrate with your e-commerce platform and automatically apply the appropriate tax rates based on the customer's location. They also generate reports to facilitate tax compliance and record-keeping.

Registering for Sales Tax Permits

Once your business meets the economic nexus requirements in a particular state, you'll need to register for a sales tax permit in that state. This process may involve completing an application, providing business details, and paying any required fees. Keep in mind that the requirements for registration can vary from state to state.

Tax Collection and Reporting

Entrepreneurs must ensure that their e-commerce platform accurately collects the appropriate amount of sales tax from customers. This requires configuring your online store's settings to apply the correct tax rates and rules based on the customer's location. Additionally, you must establish a system for regularly reporting and remitting the collected sales tax to the relevant state tax authorities.

Record-Keeping and Compliance

Maintaining meticulous records is crucial for sales tax compliance. Entrepreneurs should keep records of all sales, tax collected, and supporting documentation for a specific period, as state tax authorities may conduct audits to verify compliance. Failure to maintain accurate records can lead to penalties and fines.

Seek Professional Guidance

Given the complexity of sales tax regulations and the variations between states, many entrepreneurs find it beneficial to seek professional guidance from tax consultants or accountants. These experts can help ensure compliance, provide guidance on tax planning, and assist with resolving any tax-related issues that may arise.

State Responses to Wayfair

States have responded to the Wayfair decision by enacting legislation to establish economic nexus standards and update their sales tax laws. While there is no federal legislation governing sales tax, the majority of states have adopted some form of economic nexus threshold. Here are some common approaches states have taken:

  • Threshold Variations: States have different thresholds for economic nexus, with some setting a dollar amount of sales revenue while others focus on transaction volume. Entrepreneurs must be aware of the specific rules in each state where they do business.

  • Marketplace Facilitator Laws: Some states have implemented marketplace facilitator laws, which require online marketplaces (e.g., Amazon, eBay) to collect and remit sales tax on behalf of their third-party sellers. This can simplify the compliance process for entrepreneurs who sell through these platforms.

  • Retroactivity: Some states have applied economic nexus standards retroactively, meaning that businesses may be liable for sales tax on past sales if they meet the criteria. Entrepreneurs should be cautious of potential retroactive liability in states where they have economic nexus.

  • Marketplace Sellers: In addition to marketplace facilitator laws, some states have specific provisions for "marketplace sellers" who use online platforms to sell their products. These provisions may affect how sales tax is calculated and collected.

Sales Tax Compliance Challenges

Complying with the Wayfair decision and navigating the evolving sales tax landscape can be challenging for entrepreneurs. Here are some common compliance challenges they may encounter:

  • Audit Risk: Entrepreneurs may face audits from state tax authorities to verify compliance. Preparing for an audit and maintaining comprehensive records is crucial.

  • Multistate Complexity: Entrepreneurs who sell to customers in multiple states must contend with a complex web of varying sales tax rates, rules, and exemptions. Staying current with these regulations is essential to avoid costly mistakes.

  • Reporting Accuracy: Entrepreneurs must accurately report and remit the sales tax collected to each state, which can involve multiple filings and deadlines. Errors can lead to penalties and audits.

  • Software Integration: Integrating sales tax software with e-commerce platforms can sometimes be technically challenging, requiring adjustments to ensure accurate tax calculation and collection.

  • Taxability Determination: Determining which products or services are subject to sales tax in each state can be complex. Some states exempt certain items or offer reduced tax rates for specific categories.


The Wayfair decision has transformed the sales tax landscape for entrepreneurs, particularly those engaged in e-commerce. Understanding the economic nexus standards, investing in sales tax software, registering in multiple states, and maintaining meticulous records are essential steps for compliance. Additionally, seeking professional guidance can help navigate the complexities of state-specific sales tax laws.

Entrepreneurs must stay vigilant in monitoring the evolving sales tax rules in each state where they do business and adapt their tax collection and reporting practices accordingly. By proactively addressing sales tax compliance, entrepreneurs can avoid costly penalties and ensure their businesses' continued growth and success in the post-Wayfair era.



Jim McClaflin, EA, NTPI Fellow, CTRC
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