Maryland sales tax guide

All you need to know about sales tax in the Old Line State

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Introducing our Sales Tax Automation 101 series. The first installment covers the basics of sales tax automation: what it is and how it can help your business.

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Sales tax 101

Sales tax is a tax paid to a governing body (state or local) on the sale of certain goods and services. Maryland first adopted a general state sales tax in 1947, and since that time, the rate has risen to 6 percent. In many states, localities are able to impose local sales taxes on top of the state sales tax. However, as of September 2019, there are no local sales taxes in Maryland. 

As a business owner selling taxable goods or services, you act as an agent of the state of Maryland by collecting tax from purchasers and passing it along to the appropriate tax authority. Sales and use tax in Maryland is administered by the Comptroller of Maryland (COM). 

Any sales tax collected from customers belongs to the state of Maryland, not you. It’s your responsibility to manage the taxes you collect to remain in compliance with state and local laws. Failure to do so can lead to penalties and interest charges.

When you need to collect Maryland sales tax

In Maryland, sales tax is levied on the sale of tangible goods and some services. The tax is collected by the seller and remitted to state tax authorities. The seller acts as a de facto collector.

To help you determine whether you need to collect sales tax in Maryland, start by answering these three questions:

  1. Do you have nexus in Maryland?
  2. Are you selling taxable goods or services to Maryland residents?
  3. Are your buyers required to pay sales tax?

If the answer to all three questions is yes, you’re required to register with the state tax authority, collect the correct amount of sales tax per sale, file returns, and remit to the state.

Failure to collect Maryland sales tax

If you meet the criteria for collecting sales tax and choose not to, you’ll be held responsible for the tax due, plus applicable penalties and interest.

It’s extremely important to set up tax collection at the point of sale — it’s near impossible to collect sales tax from customers after a transaction is complete.

Sales tax nexus

The need to collect sales tax in Maryland is predicated on having a significant connection with the state. This is a concept known as nexus. Nexus is a Latin word that means "to bind or tie," and it’s the deciding factor for whether the state has the legal authority to require your business to collect, file, and remit sales tax.

Nexus triggers

Sales tax nexus in all states used to be limited to physical presence: A state could require a business to register and collect and remit sales tax only if it had a physical presence in the state, such as employees or an office, retail store, or warehouse.

In June 2018, the Supreme Court of the United States overruled the physical presence rule with its decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc. States are now free to tax businesses based on their economic and virtual connections to the state, or economic nexus.

While physical presence still triggers a sales tax collection obligation in Maryland, it’s now possible for out-of-state sellers to have sales tax nexus with Maryland.

Out-of-state sellers

Out-of-state sellers with no physical presence in a state may establish sales tax nexus in the following ways:

Affiliate nexus: Having ties to businesses or affiliates in Maryland. This includes, but isn’t limited to, the design and development of tangible personal property (goods) sold by the remote retailer, or solicitation of sales of goods on behalf of the retailer. Maryland does not enforce affiliate nexus at this time. 

Click-through nexus:
Having an agreement to reward a person(s) in the state for directly or indirectly referring potential purchasers of goods through an internet link, website, or otherwise. At this time, Maryland has not enacted a click-through nexus law.

Economic nexus: Having a certain amount of economic activity in the state. For sales made on and after October 1, 2018, a remote seller must register with the state then collect and remit Maryland sales tax if the remote seller meets either of the following criteria during the previous or current calendar year:

  • Gross revenue from the sale of tangible personal property or taxable services in Maryland of more than $100,000; or
  • 200 or more separate transactions of tangible personal property or taxable services in the state

Inventory in the state: Storing property for sale in the state. This includes merchandise owned by Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) merchants and stored in Maryland in a warehouse owned or operated by Amazon.

Marketplace sales: Making sales through a marketplace. Effective October 1, 2019, marketplace facilitators are required to collect the applicable Maryland sales and use tax on sales made through the marketplace by third-party sellers (marketplace sellers). A remote marketplace seller isn’t required to obtain a Maryland sales tax license if the marketplace facilitator collects and remits the tax on its behalf.

A marketplace facilitator that makes its own sales (or those of an affiliate) in addition to facilitating sales for marketplace sellers is required to report those sales separately and therefore must have two separate Maryland sales tax licenses: one for its own sales and one for its marketplace sales.

  • The measure specifically excludes the following from the definition of “marketplace facilitator”:
  • Certain delivery service companies
  • Payment processors (e.g., debit card and credit card companies)
  • Peer-to-peer car sharing programs
  • Platforms/forums that advertise internet sales but don’t collect payments from buyers

If you have sales tax nexus in Maryland, you’re required to register with the COM and to charge, collect, and remit the appropriate tax to the state.

For more information, see Nexus Information for Corporations, Nexus Information for Sales and Use Tax, and HB 1301.

Trailing nexus

Sales tax nexus can linger even after a retailer ceases the activities that caused it to be “engaged in business” in the state. This is known as trailing nexus. As of September 2019, Maryland does not have an explicitly defined trailing nexus policy. 

Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA)

If you’re an active Amazon seller and you use Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA), you need to know where your inventory is stored and if its presence in a state will trigger nexus. FBA sellers can also download an Inventory Event Detail Report from Amazon Seller Central to identify inventory stored in Maryland.

If you sell taxable goods to Maryland residents and have inventory stored in the state, you likely have nexus and an obligation to collect and remit tax. To begin to understand your unique nexus obligations, check out our free economic nexus tool or consult with a trusted tax advisor.

Sourcing sales tax in Maryland: which rate to collect

In some states, sales tax rates, rules, and regulations are based on the location of the seller and the origin of the sale (origin-based sourcing). In others, sales tax is based on the location of the buyer and the destination of the sale (destination-based sourcing). 

Maryland is a destination-based state. This means you’re responsible for applying the sales tax rate determined by the ship-to address on all taxable sales.

Getting registered

After determining you have sales tax nexus in Maryland, you need to register with the proper state authority and collect, file, and remit sales tax to the state. We get a lot of questions about this and recognize it may be the most difficult hurdle for businesses to overcome. Avalara Licensing can help you obtain your Maryland business license and sales tax registration.

How to register for a Maryland seller's permit

You can register for a Maryland seller’s permit online through the COM. To apply, you’ll need to provide the COM with certain information about your business, including but not limited to:

  • Business name, address, and contact information
  • Federal EIN number
  • Date business activities began or will begin
  • Projected monthly sales
  • Projected monthly taxable sales
  • Products to be sold

Cost of registering for a Maryland seller's permit

There is currently no cost to register for a Maryland sales and use tax license.

Acquiring a registered business

You must register with the Comptroller of Maryland if you acquire an existing business in Maryland. The state requires all registered businesses to have the current business owner’s name and contact information on file.

Streamlined Sales Tax (SST)

The Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement (SSUTA), or Streamlined Sales Tax (SST), is an effort by multiple states to simplify the administration and cost of sales and use tax for remote sellers. Remote sellers can register in multiple states at the same time through the Streamlined Sales Tax Registration System (SSTRS).

As of September 2019, Maryland is not an SST member state.

Collecting sales tax

Once you've successfully registered to collect Maryland sales tax, you'll need to apply the correct rate to all taxable sales, remit sales tax, file timely returns with the Comptroller of Maryland, and keep excellent records. Here’s what you need to know to keep everything organized and in check.

How you collect Maryland sales tax is influenced by how you sell your goods:

Brick-and-mortar store: Have a physical store? Brick-and-mortar point-of-sale solutions allow users to set the sales tax rate associated with the store location. New tax groups can then be created to allow for specific product tax rules.

Hosted store: Hosted store solutions like Shopify and Squarespace offer integrated sales tax rate determination and collection. Hosted stores offer sellers a dashboard environment where Maryland sales tax collection can be managed.

Marketplace: Marketplaces like Amazon and Etsy offer integrated sales tax rate determination and collection, usually for a fee. As with hosted stores, you can set things up from your seller dashboard and let your marketplace provider do most of the heavy lifting.

Mobile point of sale: Mobile point-of-sale systems like Square rely on GPS to determine sale location. The appropriate tax rate is then determined and applied to the order. Specific tax rules can be set within the system to allow for specific product tax rules.

Maryland sales tax collection can be automated to make your life much easier. Avalara AvaTax seamlessly integrates with the business systems you already use to deliver sales and use tax calculations in real time.

Tax-exempt goods

Some goods are exempt from sales tax under Maryland law. Examples include most non-prepared food items, prescription and over-the-counter medicines, and medical supplies.

We recommend businesses review the laws and rules put forth by the Comptroller of Maryland to stay up to date on which goods are taxable and which are exempt, and under what conditions.

Tax-exempt customers

Some customers are exempt from paying sales tax under Maryland law. Examples include government agencies, some nonprofit organizations, and merchants purchasing goods for resale.

Sellers are required to collect a valid exemption or resale certificate from buyers to validate each exempt transaction.

Misplacing a sales tax exemption/resale certificate

Maryland sales tax exemption and resale certificates are worth far more than the paper they’re written on. If you’re audited and cannot validate an exempt transaction, the Comptroller of Maryland may hold you responsible for the uncollected sales tax. In some cases, late fees and interest will be applied and can result in large, unexpected bills.

Sales tax holidays

Sales tax holidays exempt specific products from sales and use tax for a limited period, usually a weekend or a week. Approximately 17 states offer sales tax holidays every year. 

As of September 2019, Maryland has the following tax holidays scheduled:

  • Energy efficiency sales tax holiday, February 15­­–17, 2020
    • Energy Star products (no price restriction)
  • Shop Maryland Tax-Free Week, August 9­­–15, 2020
    • Apparel and footwear priced at $100 or less
    • For backpacks or bookbags, the first $40 is tax free

Filing and remittance

You're registered with the Comptroller of Maryland and you've begun collecting sales tax. Remember, those tax dollars don't belong to you. As an agent of the state of Maryland, your role is that of intermediary to transfer tax dollars from consumers to the tax authorities.

How to file

Once you’ve collected sales tax, you’re required to remit it to the Comptroller of Maryland by a certain date. The Comptroller of Maryland will then distribute it appropriately.

Filing a Maryland sales tax return is a two-step process comprised of submitting the required sales data (filing a return) and remitting the collected tax dollars (if any) to the COM. The filing process forces you to detail your total sales in the state, the amount of sales tax collected, and the location of each sale.

Maryland asks taxpayers to use their online bFile service to file sales and use tax returns. If you need help, instructions for completing form SUT202 are available.

Filing frequency

The Comptroller of Maryland will assign you a filing frequency. Typically, this is determined by the size or sales volume of your business. State governments generally ask larger businesses to file more frequently. See the filing due dates section for more information.

Maryland sales tax returns and payments must be remitted at the same time; both have the same due date.

Online filing

You may file directly with the COM by visiting their site and entering your transaction data manually. This is a free service, but preparing Maryland sales tax returns can be time-consuming — especially for larger sellers.

Using a third party to file returns

To save time and avoid costly errors, many businesses outsource their sales and use tax filing to an accountant, bookkeeper, or sales tax automation company like Avalara. This is a normal business practice that can save business owners time and help them steer clear of costly mistakes due to inexperience and a lack of deep knowledge about Maryland sales tax code.

Filing when there are no sales

Once you have a Maryland seller's permit, you’re required to file returns at the completion of each assigned collection period regardless of whether any sales tax was collected. When no sales tax was collected, you must file a "zero return” via phone.

Failure to submit a zero return can result in penalties and interest charges.

Closing a business

The COM requires all businesses to "close their books" by filing a final sales tax return. This also holds true for business owners selling or otherwise transferring ownership of their business.

Timely filing discount

Many states encourage the timely or early filing of sales and use tax returns with a timely filing discount.

As of September 2019, the COM offers a discount of 1.2 percent on annual collections of up to $6,000, with a 0.9 percent discount on the remainder. There is a maximum discount of $500 for all returns for any one period.

Filing due dates

It's important to know the due dates associated with the filing frequency assigned to your business by the Comptroller of Maryland. This way you'll be prepared and can plan accordingly. Failure to file by the assigned date can lead to late fines and interest charges.

The COM requires all sales tax filing to be completed by the 20th day of the month following the tax period. Below, we've grouped Maryland sales tax filing due dates by filing frequency for your convenience. Due dates falling on a weekend or holiday are adjusted to the following business day.

Maryland 2019 monthly filing due dates

Reporting periodFiling deadline
JanuaryFebruary 20, 2019
FebruaryMarch 20, 2019
MarchApril 22, 2019
AprilMay 20, 2019
MayJune 20, 2019
JuneJuly 22, 2019
July August 20, 2019
AugustSeptember 20, 2019
SeptemberOctober 21, 2019
OctoberNovember 20, 2019
NovemberDecember 20, 2019
DecemberJanuary 21, 2020

Maryland 2019 quarterly filing due dates

Reporting periodFiling deadline
Q1 (January 1–March 31)April 22, 2019
Q2 (April 1–June 30)July 22, 2019
Q3 (July 1–September 30)October 21, 2019
Q4 (October 1–December 31)January 21, 2020

Late filing

Filing a Maryland sales tax return late may result in a late filing penalty as well as interest on any outstanding tax due. For more information, refer to our section on penalties and interest.

In the event a Maryland sales tax filing deadline was missed due to circumstances beyond your control (e.g., weather, accident), the COM may grant you an extension. However, you may be asked to provide evidence supporting your claim.

Penalties and interest

Hopefully you don't need to worry about this section because you're filing and remitting Maryland sales tax on time and without incident. However, in the real world, mistakes happen.

If you miss a sales tax filing deadline, follow the saying, “better late than never,” and file your return as soon as possible. Failure to file returns and remit collected tax on time may result in penalties and interest charges, and the longer you wait to file, the greater the penalty and the greater the interest.

If you’re in the process of acquiring a business, it’s strongly recommended that you contact the COM and inquire about the current status of the potential acquisition. Once you've purchased the business, you’ll be held responsible for all outstanding Maryland sales and use tax liability.

Shipping and handling

If you’re collecting sales tax from Maryland residents, you’ll need to consider how to handle taxes on shipping and handling charges.

Taxable and exempt shipping charges

Maryland sales tax may apply to charges for shipping, handling, delivery, freight, and postage. Generally, delivery charges included in the price of a taxable sale are taxable as well. Separately stated shipping charges are not taxable. Handling charges cannot be separately stated and are taxed on taxable sales. When shipping and handling charges are combined, the entire charge, including shipping, is taxable.

There are exceptions to almost every rule with sales tax, and the same is true for shipping and handling charges. Specific questions on shipping in Maryland and sales tax should be taken directly to a tax professional familiar with Maryland tax laws.

For additional information on Maryland sales and use tax on shipping and handling charges, see the Sales and Use Tax FAQ.

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