We caught up with Lauren Stinson, President of Windward Tax, and learned a few key tips that benefit all manufacturers when it comes to sales tax compliance
Lauren, Windward Tax is a unique firm with a focus on sales tax compliance for manufacturers. How do you describe your firm’s value?
We consult mainly with manufacturers and our expertise is achieving maximum tax compliance for our clients. We help them pay tax where they should, take advantage of tax exemptions where possible, collect tax appropriately, and make sure they have documentation to support their exempt sales. Our goal is to help our clients reduce their expenses and minimize their risk.
You work with both the A/P and the A/R side of tax compliance. What are a couple common risk areas that you look at first?
Most manufacturers have problems on the A/P side, since they don’t take advantage of all the exemptions available in their states. They are leaving money on the table! On the A/R side, we look at whether they are taxing the right products and services. In addition, we look to see they are maintaining the right documentation as part of the sale. One of Windward’s primary services is called a Reverse Audit. A key aspect of the Reverse Audit is training a client’s accounts payable, accounts receivable and purchasing departments to make sure they have the knowledge to do things correctly on an ongoing basis.
What is one simple thing all manufacturers could do to simplify their sales tax compliance?
Make an investment in the best practices of their company. A lot of companies put sales tax on the back burner. They could be missing opportunities for tax savings, putting themselves at risk, or just being inefficient.
How have Avalara’s solutions fit within your practice?
When we see that our clients are struggling with exemption certificate management — this is a key area for manufacturers — and when we see that they could get hit hard in an audit, we look to Avalara CertCapture as a key solution. We recommend it as a way to help our clients reduce their risk and reach their maximum tax compliance.
On a similar note, I just helped a client implement Avalara AvaTax. I was happy to see it fit their needs and accomplishes their goals. It was the first ecommerce implementation I was personally involved with and I think it went very smoothly.
You recently published a guide for manufacturers titled “Surviving a Sales & Use Tax Audit” that gives a very practical overview for a manufacturer to achieve the best possible outcome if they find themselves in an audit.
Yes. We wrote this white paper to provide practical advice based on Windward’s real-world experience in mitigating our clients’ risk during the audit process. We recommend that if you get audit work papers, you go through the “What can you do to minimize your audit assessment?” section of the white paper. You may be surprised at how our tips could help you take your assessment to a smaller number.
Nobody wants to find themselves in a sales tax audit, but how bad is it? Would a manufacturer prefer to endure another Atlanta Snow Jam or go through a sales tax audit?
[Lauren laughs] Tough choice! At the time of last winter’s “Snow Jam” when all of Atlanta shut down, it was awful and terrible at the time, though now we can look back and tell funny stories about it. I suppose the good thing about an audit is that they can be controlled and prepared for, as opposed to the “Snow Jam” where we don’t know if or when another might visit us.