California Use Tax Guide

Your guide to California use tax compliance

An overview of California use tax


When tangible personal property is purchased in California, sales tax is generally collected by the retailer at the point of sale. Should it not be collected or if goods are purchased out of state and no tax is collected, a use tax is likely due and it is up to the buyer to file it. Use tax is one of the most overlooked and misunderstood taxes. This guide will help you better understand how to manage your California use tax responsibilities.

Use tax may apply to businesses, individuals, or nonprofits that don't have an exemption granted by the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) and attempts to level the playing field for purchases that avoid sales tax.

Two types of use tax exist. Sellers use tax applies to retailers while consumer use tax applies to the consumer. Consumers may be individuals or businesses.

The current use tax rate in California is equivalent to the state sales tax rate of 6.0%

Common use tax situations in California

There are many situations that require use tax to be paid to the CDTFA. The following list is far from complete, but offers some common situations:

  • Taxable items purchased from in-state or out-of-state sellers where California sales tax is not collected
  • Items purchase for resale taken out of inventory to give away or use
  • Use of goods purchased tax-free when performing a nontaxable service
  • Goods taken from inventory and used as free samples or giveaways
  • Bringing equipment, supplies, or vehicles into California for permanent use

Sellers use tax in California


Like sales tax, sellers use tax is a transaction tax. It is determined by applying the use tax rate (equal to the sales tax rate) to the purchase price of qualifying goods and services. Generally speaking, a business is required to pay sellers use tax if the following two conditions are satisfied:

  1. No tax was collected on a sale that qualifies for sales tax in California.
  2. A business in California uses, gives away, stores, or otherwise consumes a taxable item that was purchased tax-free.

To determine the amount of sellers use tax owed, the retailer should apply the sales tax rate where the item is used, stored, or otherwise consumed to the total purchase price.

Sellers use tax may also be referred to as "retailers use tax" or a "vendors use tax".

Consumer use tax in California


Consumer use tax is typically imposed on taxable transactions where sales tax was not collected. A good example is an taxable online purchase where the retailed fails to collect sales tax. The responsibility shifts from the seller to the buyer who can report, file, and remit total use tax on their annual California income tax return.

Credit for sales tax paid out-of-state


In some cases, an out-of-state purchase may be taxed at a sales tax rate different from that in California. If the consumer paid a higher, out-of-state tax rate, the CDTFA allows them to claim a credit. If they paid a lower out-of-state tax rate, the CDTFA expects them to report, file, and remit the difference.

Reporting California use tax


Depending on your situation, the manner in which you report use tax may vary. Consider the following examples:

  • Individuals: Individuals who owe use tax in California may report it on their annual income tax return.
  • Businesses:
    • With no sales tax permit: Should report on annual California income tax statement.
    • With ongoing use tax to file: Should report per assigned California sales tax filing frequency.

Resources


The following represents a list of resources you can use for further details pertaining to California use tax.