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How to Get a Resale Certificate in California

Written by:

Carolyn Young is a business writer who focuses on entrepreneurial concepts and the business formation. She has over 25 years of experience in business roles, and has authored several entrepreneurship textbooks.

Edited by:

David has been writing and learning about business, finance and globalization for a quarter-century, starting with a small New York consulting firm in the 1990s.

How to Get a Resale Certificate in California

How to Get a Resale Certificate in California

If you have recently launched or are planning to launch a business that will sell products or services in California, you’ll want to get a resale certificate, or several of them, before you start doing business, as this can save you a lot of time and money. 

It’s a relatively simple process, as detailed in this step-by-step guide. 

What is a Resale Certificate?

If your business has a valid resale certificate, you can buy goods from a wholesaler without paying California sales tax, though you may pay a use tax. Depending on the size of your business, this can save you tens of thousands of dollars each year. 

The catch is that whenever you do use a resale certificate to purchase goods, you are legally bound to resell those items and collect sales tax when you do so. If you do not resell those items, or fail to collect sales tax, the punishment could be liability for the sales tax on the items as well as penalties and interest. 

Keep in mind, each resale certificate, also known as a resale license, applies to a single vendor. This means you’ll need a resale certificate for each one of your vendors. 

You cannot use a resale certificate to buy items you do not intend to resell, such as a new computer for your business. This would be tax fraud, a felony offense. You are only able to buy items tax-exempt if you are going to collect sales tax on them later.

Not all wholesalers will accept resale certificates, nor do they have to. They may choose not to because of the risk of expired or false certificates, which would put the wholesaler on the hook for the sales tax.

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How to Apply for a Resale Certificate in California

You’ll obtain a blank certificate from the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration. The form does not get filed with the department. You’ll simply fill it out, save it and present it to your vendors at the time of purchase. 

In a few states, a seller’s permit, or sales tax permit, also serves as a resale certificate that applies to all vendors. But in most states, including California, you’ll need a seller’s permit as well as resale certificates for each of your vendors. 

The seller’s permit identifies you with your state as a collector of sales tax. If you sell tangible personal property or goods you are required to have a sales tax permit. In some states, even a service provider like a lawyer is required to have a sales tax permit and collect state sales tax.

The resale certificate applies to items that you buy for resale, or for parts that you buy to manufacture something for sale. 

How to Fill out the California Certificate of Resale

In California, the Department of Tax and Fee Administration handles the issuance of resale certificates. Start by visiting the website, then follow these simple steps:

  1. Go to the online form.
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  1. Fill in your seller’s permit number, the business you’re engaged in, and the vendor’s name.
California Certificate of Resale Application
  1. Fill in a description of the items being purchased.
California Certificate of Resale Application
  1. Fill in your name, address, and phone number and then sign the form.
California Certificate of Resale Application

Again, you don’t file the form with the state. You’ll simply keep it on file and present it to your vendor at the time of purchase. 

Does a California Resale Certificate Expire?

In California, resale certificates do not expire. They can only be canceled in writing by the purchaser.  

Conclusion 

Resale certificates can be a bit of a hassle, but in California, they are an absolute necessity. So take the time to get certificates for each of your vendors to ensure full compliance with your state’s tax regulations. 

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