The exemption applies to “qualified persons” who purchase (or lease in some cases) “qualified tangible personal property” and then put that property to a “qualified use.” Each of those terms is spelled out in the California tax code.
Qualified persons are primarily engaged (more than 50 percent of the time) in specific lines of business as defined by NAICS codes. Those businesses include:
Qualified tangible personal property includes:
Qualified use means the property or equipment must be used more than 50 percent of the time for:
In addition, qualified use includes property purchased by a contractor as part of a construction contract with a qualified person.
Startups can recognize the tax break at the time of purchase by providing the seller with a partial exemption certificate. The exemption can be used for up to $200 million in purchases each year, and that amount is not prorated – for example, startups launched on October 1 can still claim up to the full $200 million cap for that tax year.
Let’s look at an example. If you are a San Francisco-based startup, you are subject to an 8.5% sales tax rate. That’s comprised of:
If you purchased $5,000,000 worth of R&D materials you would pay:
Your total savings from the partial tax exemption is $223,875.
Also, if you’ve already paid full sales tax for purchases that you now realize are qualified, you may be able to provide a partial exemption certificate to the retailer who can apply for a sales tax refund on your behalf. For use tax refunds, you can apply to the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration.
The California partial tax exemption differs from the R&D payroll tax credit. All companies pay payroll taxes every pay cycle, and companies also pay sales taxes when they purchase goods. R&D payroll tax credits are filed on your annual tax return and get you refunds on your payroll taxes, whereas R&D sales tax partial exemptions provide a reduced tax rate on your R&D equipment purchases. Think of them as refunds (R&D payroll tax credit) versus discounts (R&D sales tax partial exemption).
The partial sales tax exemption can provide significant savings to qualified startups, but companies that take advantage of it will need to carefully document their qualifications and the supporting data, and maintain that information. Kruze Consulting can help you with the partial sales tax exemption, as well as other tax credits, including the California R&D payroll tax credit and the federal R&D tax credit. To learn more about these tax benefits and incentives for which your startup may qualify, contact us.
Some startups may be able to qualify for a sales tax exemption in Massachusetts if they purchase tangible personal property that’s used exclusively for research and development.