Texas Administrative Code Rule 3.330 Data Processing Services – The Most Vague Sales Tax Law in Texas

RE: Private Letter Ruling #142730026

The question should not be ‘What IS data processing?’ but instead, ‘What ISN’T data processing?’.

On January 3, 2017 the Texas Comptroller issued Private Letter Ruling #142730026. This Private Letter Ruling (PLR) was issued to an unidentified company (i.e., lender) which underwrote (i.e., loaned money on) collateralized real estate loans. The lender wanted to know if the purchase of a specific service from one of their vendors was taxable under Tax Rule 3.330 – Data Processing.

Specifically, the lender paid a vendor to track or monitor the insurance status of the collateralized real property. That is, the lender needed to know that the borrower was maintaining hazard and/or flood insurance on the real property they were loaning money on. In this PLR the lender is asking the Texas Comptroller to issue a decision on whether this particular service is subject to Tax Rule 3.330 – Data Processing.

Both parties seemed to agree that there were certain aspects of data processing involved in the tracking / monitoring service in question. The PLR provided no specific details as to how these services were provided except to say that the vendor in question provided insurance status information via some sort of automated system which apparently could be accessed online. I am assuming it was the automated online access aspect of the service which made the lender uneasy about whether sales tax was due under Tax Rule 3.330 – Data Processing.

Footnote: As required the lender had to submit actual vendor invoices / contracts and a complete description of how the automated information could be accessed online. In addition, the lender (or its representative) had to conduct and provide their own extensive research into existing applicable Texas sales tax law / authority (i.e., Statutes, Tax Rules, Tax Policy Letters and Administrative Hearing Decisions) to prove to the agency that this particular service had not been addressed before. This is actually a difficult requirement for submitting a PLR request. The agency would then decide if they would answer the tax question or just refer the business to some existing authority. For more information on how to submit a request for a PLR see Section 3.1 – Private Letter Rulings.

Bottom line, Private Letter Ruling #142730026 stated that these tracking / monitoring services were NOT taxable data processing services. Specifically, the agency believed this service was not a taxable data processing service because:

(1) Professional knowledge was involved and
(2) Any data processing activities were ancillary and incidental to the ‘professional service’ provided by the vendor.

Does online automated access cause any service to become taxable subject to tax rule 3.330 – Data Processing?

There are many services which involve some sort of automated online access. But this does not mean those services are subject to sales tax per Tax Rule 3.330 – Data Processing. The questions to ask are:

  1. Is the service provided via some sort of automated online access?
  2. Does the provision of the service require specifically trained and educated professionals?
  3. Are data processing activities, if any, ancillary and incidental to this service?

If you can answer YES to all three of these questions, then, in the opinion of Private Letter Ruling #142730026, your service SHOULD probably not be subject to sales tax per Tax Rule 3.330 – Data Processing. But ‘reader beware’.

The Texas Comptroller has recently issued a general ‘SYSTEM DISCLAIMER’ for every Private Letter Ruling which states in part:

“The Comptroller of Public Accounts maintains the STAR system as a public service. The documents which provide the Comptroller’s interpretation of the tax law are accurate for the time periods and facts presented in the documents. Letters on STAR (State Tax Automated Research) system can be the basis of a detrimental reliance claim only of the taxpayer to whom the letter was directly issued….. There is no assurance that a document on STAR represents a current policy, even if it has not been marked as superseded. If there is a conflict between the law and the information found on STAR, any decisions will be based on the law.”

The bottom line is that Tax Rule 3.330 – Data Processing is a dangerous and hard to understand tax law. And we at Texas Tax Group are here to help you. Thank you.

 

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Here Come the Millennial Auditors

High Sales Tax Auditor Turnover May Mean Over Assessed Sales Tax Audits

I bet a lot of you would like to know why you are getting audited by young, inexperienced and sometimes aggressive Texas Comptroller Sales Tax Auditors. To do that I must make sure you understand WHO ARE the MILLENNIALS (see below).

Baby Boomers (born 1940 – 1960, approximate period)
Generation X (born 1960 – 1980, approximate period)
Millennials (born 1980 – 2000, approximate period)

Millennial Texas Comptroller Auditors

Wikipedia defines Millennials with college degrees as those folks who DO NOT STAY at any job for more than 2 or 3 years and then move to the next job. This cycle usually continues for an average of 3 jobs before they finally settle down for the long haul. If the Texas Comptroller continues to hire young new college graduates then it is a given that most of them will quit in 2 to 3 years and move on to their 2nd job or 3rd job.

Because of the above probability you have a good chance of being audited by one of these young, inexperienced and possibly aggressive auditors. And that is bad news since auditors from the past (hired from 1980 to 2000) usually stayed around much longer, were much more experienced and were in general less aggressive. It is also likely that a 1 to 3 year old Texas Comptroller auditor will not have a firm grasp of proper auditing and estimation techniques and will certainly not know taxability as well as seasoned auditors (i.e., what is taxable and what is not).

Are Auditors Ranked on How Much Tax is Assessed?

It is a fact that the agency continues to provide most auditors with a periodic printout of HOW MUCH tax they are assessing along with other statistics such as ‘tax assessed per hour’ on tax due audits. It is inevitable that many auditors will then believe that they are being reviewed and possibly promoted based on TAX ASSESSMENT factors.

No More Tax Policy Letters

Let me add one more depressing thought. Since 2012 the Texas Comptroller has ceased to issue what are called Tax Policy Letters. These are considered by any serious Texas Sales Tax student to be the most important source of sales tax authority (trumping the statutes, tax rules and hearings). And why has the Texas Comptroller stopped issuing these critical pronouncements. It is easy. Most of the senior Tax Policy Experts have left the agency (i.e., quit, retired, died). I have written another detailed blog on this subject. It should be noted that Texas Tax Group has four former Texas Comptroller Tax Policy Experts on staff.

The takeaway here is to watch out. Take your audit and auditor seriously. If you decide to hire an outside consulting firm then you must also do your homework. Texas Tax Group is committed to a singular activity – defending and representing you with your Texas Comptroller Tax Audit.

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Buying an Existing Business and Successor Liability

If you buy the assets of a Texas business, are you then responsible for that company’s existing state tax liability?

The answer is often YES. It is called Successor Liability (Tax Code Section 111.020 and 111.024) and it is applied by the Texas Comptroller to the purchasers of many businesses in this state. Many people don’t know that just buying the assets of a company can cause the prior tax liability to be assigned to the purchaser. Even if you didn’t buy the assets, the Comptroller can still attempt to assign the debt if a number of other criteria are met. The bottom line is that this is a very gray area of Texas taxation and only an experienced firm can help.

The Texas Comptroller’s Publication titled Buying an Existing Business (Form 98-117) begins with: “Before you buy an existing business, find out if the owner owes any Texas taxes”.

Worst Case Scenario: Erroneous Successor Liability Assigned

It is also possible that the Comptroller’s Office will ERRONEOUSLY assign Successor Liability even if little or no credible supporting evidence is found. Once these tax bills are issued, the person or business must quickly file for an Administrative Hearing and then prove they don’t owe the debt.

Texas Tax Group has represented clients who have received these Successor Liability tax bills and simply DID NOT OWE THEM. In one case the Client simply occupied the same space and continued to run the same type of business. This client didn’t even know the prior client much less purchase their assets. But they received a Successor Liability tax bill based on Tax Code Section 111.020 and 111.024 and the Comptroller then demanded payment within 30 days. We were able to eventually cancel the tax assessment after providing a significant amount of documentation.

These are truly difficult cases since the Comptroller can simply send the Successor Liability tax bill to anybody and then make them prove they are not responsible. The Comptroller can issue these tax bills with as a very little burden to prove these assessments, but the business owner must I can truly say that the Comptroller is often careless when issuing these Successor Liability assessments.

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Sexually Oriented Business Fee (aka the Pole Tax)

If the Comptroller issued you an estimate for this fee, then it is probably wrong. Defend yourself against it now. 

Most, if not all, of these SOB fee estimated assessments are wrong. Very wrong. Consultants at Texas Tax Group (ex-Texas Comptroller auditors) have carefully reviewed the Texas Comptroller’s SOB fee estimation method on SOBF client assessments and found many errors.  These audit methodology errors can easily DOUBLE what the business actually owes in SOB fee.  Texas Tax Group can help you defend yourself against these harsh and significantly over stated assessments. (more…)

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Requesting an Independent Audit Review Conference (IARC) to Stop an Incorrect Texas Comptroller State Tax Audit from being Billed

Imagine this uncomfortable scenario. Your business is under audit by the Texas Comptroller’s Office. It is the last day of the Field Audit and you are meeting with the auditor at the Exit Conference. The auditor then hands you a tax bill for an amount that you disagree with. What do you do now? What rights do you have? (more…)

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Occasional Sale Exemption (Sales of Entire Operating Assets) – Tax Rule 3.316 (d)

Imagine that you purchased all the heavy equipment assets of a Texas contractor for $2 million dollars. Then a year later the Texas Comptroller’s Office randomly selects your business for audit.

Next, imagine that the Sales Tax Auditor decided to tax the entire $2 million dollar purchase because he/she believed the entire operating assets were not purchased in a single transaction as required by Tax Rule 3.316 (d) resulting in a Texas Sales & Use Tax bill for almost $200,000 (tax, penalty, interest). (more…)

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Tandem Skydiving – Is It Subject to Texas Sales Tax?

Not according to the U.S. (DOT) Department of Transportation

Welcome to one of the most debated state sales tax ‘amusement service’ issues in the country. In at least four states, excluding Texas, business owners are fighting and winning the battle over whether they have to charge sales tax on their tandem skydiving services. It should be noted that many ‘Sales Tax’ states have a tax on amusement services which usually includes ‘tandem skydiving services’. Tandem skydiving occurs when a student skydiver is harnessed to an instructor who then guides the student through the entire jump process (i.e., ground training, jump, free fall, chute time and landing). (more…)

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Texas Oil & Gas -Southwest Royalties, Inc. vs. Susan Combs Most Likely Heading to Supreme Court

The issue concerning whether tangible personal property placed inside a well (i.e., “downhole”) qualifies for the manufacturing exemption has been pending in the Texas court system for several years. The trial judge ruled in favor of the Comptroller on April 30, 2012, and the Third Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on September 25, 2013. After considering the issue for almost 11 months, the Third Court of Appeals issued an opinion on August 13, 2014, affirming the trial court’s judgment for the Comptroller. (more…)

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Audit Division and the Fraud Penalty

In the theoretical world, the Texas Comptroller’s Audit Division serves several very real and legitimate purposes. Good state tax auditors conduct audits for tax compliance (as opposed to revenue generation).  Another purpose is to keep the playing field level for all taxpayers.

It is not right for business A to comply with the law while business B, a competitor of business A, ignores it or intentionally violates it.  When businesses choose or intend to violate the tax laws, the Texas Comptroller’s Audit Division has the option and the responsibility to punish the violator via the additional 50% penalty, also known as the Fraud Penalty. (more…)

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4 Convenient Offices across Texas

Texas Tax Group is the only firm in Texas that has offices in Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio. With our extensive experience as former auditors, we actually still have relationships with some auditors, audit managers, local enforcement officials, hearings attorneys, and attorneys at the Attorney General’s office.

This is something other audit representation firms don’t have access to. Add it all up, and this is why dozens of CPA firms have us handle their clients’ Texas Comptroller tax audits.

Due to our team’s unique experience, we often have more experience than the auditor and we know the audit procedure better than the auditor! Isn’t that the kind of experience and dedicated know-how you want representing you?

Call us toll-free at 855-892-8348 to schedule your FREE Anti-Audit Consultation!

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Practitioners’ Corner

http://www.window.state.tx.us/taxinfo/prac_corner.html

We can also handle defenese for Mixed Beverage Tax Audit, Texas, Sales Tax Defense Texas, and so much more. See our Services page for more information.

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Tax Publications

http://www.window.state.tx.us/taxinfo/taxpubs/index.html

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State of Texas offers alternative to paper filling

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Successor Liable for Seller’s Tax Liability Incurred after Business was Sold

In Hearing No. 48,186, the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, through successor liability, assessed mixed beverage tax owed by a business on the purchaser of that business. The liability arose when the Comptroller audited the company after it sold its business to the petitioner.

Texas tax law, in Tax Code Section 111.020, provides that if a person who is liable for tax sells the business or the stock of goods or quits the business, the successor shall withhold an amount of the purchase price sufficient to pay the tax liability. A purchaser who fails to do so is liable for the amount due up to the value of the purchase price.

To avoid successor liability, the purchaser may request from the Comptroller a certificate that no tax is due.

At the hearing, Comptroller staff presented as evidence of successor liability the sales contract between the previous club and the petitioner. The contract provided the petitioner receive all rights, title and ownership of the previous club’s physical assets. The assets included cash registers, televisions, tables and bar stools, DJ sound equipment, a microwave oven, office furniture and equipment, glassware and other items used to mix and serve drinks and cleaning equipment (mops, brooms, mop bucket and supplies). In addition, the assets included alcoholic beverages listed on the ending inventory for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC).

The petitioner contended that it cannot be held liable as a successor unless it used the business name of the original club. The petitioner’s president testified that the petitioner had no intent to open and operate a new club as the original club. He stated that the petitioner did intend to buy everything identified in the contract, but after the contract was signed, he discovered the original club did not own all the assets and had rented the tables, bar stools and furniture.

He also testified that the inventory list was prepared for TABC‘s benefit and the petitioner never received the alcoholic beverages on the list. The TABC prohibited the sale because the petitioner did not have a liquor permit at that time. When the petitioner obtained a permit and moved onto the premises, according to the president, the only alcoholic beverages left were a couple of bottles of beer.

While there was no request for a Certificate of No Tax Due, the president claimed he called the Comptroller’s office and was told that the original club had no outstanding liabilities.

When determining whether a business has been sold, Rule 3.7(d), relating to successor liability, provides that the Comptroller examines the transaction to determine what the parties intended to buy and sell. The answer in each situation will depend on the type of business involved, and a sale can occur even if a few assets are transferred.

The Comptroller may assess the successor of a business within four years from either the date the seller sells the business or the date the Comptroller’s assessment is made against the seller, whichever occurs later. See Tax Code Sections 111.020(e) and 111.201. Based on this period of limitation, Comptroller’s Hearing No. 27,579 had previously held that a successor can be held liable for a predecessor’s audit liability even though the predecessor was audited after the business was sold.

The administrative law judge ruled that the contract and the testimony of the petitioner’s president established “without a doubt that petitioner intended to purchase the entire business…” The judge continued, “Despite not receiving all assets that were included in the contract, petitioner did in fact acquire every item that [predecessor] actually owned at the club location… The continuation of a similar business at the same location using the entire assets, even if they are few, purchased from the predecessor, even under a different name, is sufficient for petitioner to be the successor under Tax Code Section 111.020.”

The administrative law judge recommended that the successor liability imposed against the night club be upheld but the amount assessed be reduced to the purchase price of the business. The Comptroller concurred.

*Originally published in Tax Policy News; a monthly newsletter about Texas tax policy at http://www.window.state.tx.us/taxinfo/taxpnw/tpn2009/tpn906.html

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