If You Are a Retailer or Purchase Goods Subject to Sales or Use Tax

You will be reporting taxes to the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) on a regular basis. The links below give you a brief overview of your tax obligations. If after reading this information you still have questions, contact us. You may also wish to read some of our online publications regarding specific types of businesses. For additional information, see CDTFA’s Forms and Publications.

Sales and Use Taxes - What Is Taxable?

Retail sales of tangible personal property in California are generally subject to sales tax. Examples of tangible personal property include such items as furniture, giftware, toys, antiques and clothing. In addition, some service and labor costs are subject to sales tax if they result in the creation of tangible personal property.

In some instances, retailers must report use tax, rather than sales tax, to the CDTFA. The most common example of a purchase subject to the use tax is a purchase of an item for use in California from an out-of-state retailer. Out-of-state retailers who are engaged in business in this state are required to collect the use tax, whenever applicable, from the consumer, at the time of the sale.

The tax rate for sales tax and use tax is the same.

Some sales and purchases are exempt from sales and use tax. Examples of exempt sales include, but are not limited to, sales of certain food products for human consumption, sales to the U.S. Government and sales of prescription medicine.

For a more detailed explanation of what is taxable, please see Applying Tax to Your Sales and Purchases and Your California Seller's Permit (Publication 73) (PDF). For more information on exempt sales, see Nonprofit/Exempt Organizations.

Resale Certificates

If you purchase tangible personal property for resale, the transaction is not subject to sales or use tax provided the sale is properly documented. As a result, your supplier will ask you to provide a resale certificate to document that the property was purchased for resale. As explained below, the certificate must be taken in good faith and on a timely basis, and it must include specific information.

As a seller, you may also accept resale certificates from other sellers who wish to purchase tangible personal property from you for resale purposes.

The certificate may be in any form, such as a note, letter or memorandum. However, the certificate must contain the following information:

  • The name and address of the purchaser.
  • The number of the seller's permit held by the purchaser (if the purchaser is not required to have a seller's permit, see note below).
  • A description of the property to be purchased.
  • A statement that the described property is being purchased for resale. The certificate must contain words that state the property will be resold or is for resale. The use of words such as nontaxable or exempt or similar terms is not acceptable.
  • The date of the document.
  • The signature of the purchaser or someone approved to act on his or her behalf.

The CDTFA does not furnish resale certificate forms. However, certificates are available in many office supply and stationery stores (you should ensure that the certificates are designed to provide the required information noted above). A CDTFA-approved resale certificate may be taken from Sales for Resale (Regulation 1668).

You must report your total gross sales for the reporting period on your sales and use tax return. If your total sales include amounts you received from sales for resale, you should take a deduction for those amounts on the line set aside for sales to other retailers for purposes of resale. If you don't take the deduction, you'll pay more tax than you owe. If you make any use of property you purchased for resale other than demonstration or display, your property is not considered purchased for resale and you owe tax on its cost.  You should retain resale certificates in your records to support all of your sales for resale. 

For more information, please see Sales for Resale (Publication 103).

Note: Some businesses are not required to hold a seller's permit (for example, a business may not make sales in this state or it may not sell property that is subject to sales tax when sold at retail). If you are selling to a purchaser who is not required to hold a seller's permit but who wishes to make a purchase using a resale certificate, the purchaser must indicate on the certificate that he or she does not hold a seller's permit and why a permit is not required.

District Taxes

The sales and use tax rate is not the same in all California locations. While the standard statewide rate is currently 7.25 percent, the total sales and use tax rate is higher in areas where there are voter-approved special transactions (sales) and use tax districts. In those districts, the total tax rate includes the standard statewide tax rate plus the district tax rate, which varies from district to district. You must report district taxes on Schedule A of your sales and use tax return.

Determining where district taxes are in effect:

California City and County Sales and Use Tax Rates includes information on special tax districts and lists tax rates for all California cities and counties. Tax rates are also found on the CDTFA website (call toll-free 1-800-400-7115). If the rate listed for a city or county is higher than 7.25 percent, that city or county is in a special tax district. While most special tax districts cover entire counties, some are limited to specific cities. There may be more than one district tax in effect in a specific location.

For a more detailed explanation of district taxes, read District Taxes (Publication 44); District Taxes and Delivered Sales (Publication 105), and Applying Tax To Your Sales and Purchases.

How to Register With CDTFA

When you sell or lease merchandise, vehicles, or other tangible personal property in California, even temporarily, you are generally required to register with the CDTFA and to pay sales tax on your taxable sales. When you register, you will be issued a seller's permit, sometimes mistakenly called a resale number or resale permit. A seller's permit is a state license that allows you to sell items at the wholesale or retail level and to issue resale certificates to suppliers. You cannot legally make sales of taxable products in California until you are issued a seller's permit. The requirement to obtain a seller's permit applies to individuals as well as corporations, firms, partnerships, and so forth. Both wholesalers and retailers must apply for a permit. As a permit holder, you are required to:

  • Report and pay sales and use taxes.
  • Keep adequate records.

You must report and pay sales tax on each taxable sale. At the time you make the sale, you may collect from your customer an amount equal to the tax you will owe.

As a registered seller, you will need to take the time to learn how to properly apply the sales and use tax law in your business operations. And you must keep adequate records that document your sales and purchases.

You are also required to notify CDTFA if you:

  • Change your business or mailing address
  • Change the ownership of your business
  • Sell your business
  • Buy another business
  • Discontinue your business

For a more detailed explanation of your tax obligations, please see Do You Need a California Seller's Permit? (Publication 107), Your California Seller's Permit (Publication 73) (PDF) and Closing Out Your Seller's Permit (Publication 74) (PDF).

Applying for a Seller's Permit

You can register online for a permit, license, or account for Sales and Use Tax and most of the Special Tax and Fee programs. To register for a permit, you can apply online through our online services. You will answer questions regarding your business activities and the registration system will identify the permits and licenses required.

The registration process will automatically save the information at each step, allow you to quit at any time and continue at a later time. If you are unable to register through our online services, you can also call our Customer Service Center at 1-800-400-7115 (CRS: 711). Representatives at our Customer Service Center are available to assist you with permit registration questions Monday through Friday (except on state holidays) from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

When registering, you will be asked to furnish:

  • Your social security number (corporate officers excluded).
  • A photocopy of your driver license to ensure the accuracy of the information provided and to protect against fraudulent use of your identification numbers.
  • The name and location of banks where you have an account.
  • Names and addresses of suppliers.
  • Name and address of bookkeeper or accountant.
  • Names and addresses of two personal references.
  • Anticipated average monthly sales and the amount of those sales which are taxable.

Additional information may be required.

If you have partners, or if your business is managed by corporate officers or limited liability company managers, members, or officers, those persons will also be asked to furnish some of the information listed above.

If you purchased your business, you'll need to provide the previous owner's name and seller's permit number. To make sure that you won't have to pay any sales or use tax owed by the previous owner, you should request a tax clearance from the BOE before you buy.

There is no charge for a seller's permit. However, depending on the type of business and anticipated taxable sales, we may ask you for a security deposit.

Temporary Sellers

If you make sales of a temporary nature (such as Christmas tree sales or sales at craft fairs), you may apply for a temporary seller's permit. Temporary permits are issued to those whose sales activity will last no longer than 30 days. Please refer to the Tax Guide for Temporary Sellers for more information on the temporary seller’s permit.

Other Programs Administered by CDTFA

The CDTFA administers over thirty special taxes and fees. For a listing of all tax and fee programs administered by CDTFA, please review Publication 41A. For further information or to register for a particular program, please call the Customer Service Center at 1-800-400-7115 (CRS: 711).

You may also visit the CDFTA website to view program information, registration questions, available forms, publications, and industry guides.

Additional Requirements for Your Business

The state and federal governments have additional requirements for businesses. Certain businesses are required to obtain permits from the California Department of Consumer Affairs and state and local environmental agencies. You will probably need to obtain a business license or other permits from the county or city where you operate.

California's Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) offers extensive local, state, and federal business permit information on the CalGold website. Chambers of commerce, economic development organizations, and other business organizations are other good sources of information. Often the city or county business licensing department can assist you, too. Some counties and cities publish special guides for small businesses, available free or at a low cost.

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