State and local tax issues when buying or selling a business

You’ve always dreamed of owning a business. Now you’ve found the perfect one to purchase. You ask all the questions you can think of, come to an agreement on price and now you’re ready to go, right?

One major thing that sometimes gets overlooked is something called “successor liability.” This is the idea that when you buy a business, or the assets of a business, you generally also inherit all the liabilities associated with that business or the assets.

Some of these liabilities are pretty easy to figure out, but others may be hidden and difficult to know about or quantify. For instance, you can be audited for periods before your ownership and you can be assessed for sales or other taxes owed by the last owner.

Don’t believe us? Here are some common examples of successor liability discovered after the purchase of a business:

So what are some issues that could create tax exposures for you and your new company?

  • Company had the duty to file but failed to do so
  • The return was filed, but tax was not remitted
  • Company failed to pay use tax
  • Company did not have all the correct exemption certificates
  • Local taxes were ignored

So what can you do to reduce your risk when purchasing a business? Perform the proper due diligence. Due diligence can take a number of different forms, but generally includes reviews of the following:

  • Is the seller filing in the states where it has a duty to?
  • Are the returns accurately and timely?
  • Are taxability decisions correct?
  • Is the proper tax rate being applied?
  • Are exemption certificates accurate and up-to-date?
  • Has the seller been audited or received inquiries from any state?

Hiring a professional to assist you with a due diligence study can help you properly assess the potential liabilities and arrive at a more informed decision. Plus, it will hopefully save you some headaches later on.

But due diligence doesn’t just apply to buying a business. Let’s say you’ve finally made it to retirement and want to sell your business. Performing a due diligence study can help you be sure you have handled all these tax issues correctly and nothing will pop up unexpectedly that may scare away a potential buyer.

No matter what side you’re on, a little additional work upfront could potentially prevent some difficult, timely and expensive mistakes later.

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