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How to Get a Certificate of Exemption in Tennessee

Written by:

Natalie is a business writer with experience in operations, HR, and training & development within the software, healthcare, and financial services sectors.

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 Certificate of Exemption in Tennessee

If you have recently launched or are planning to launch a business that will sell products or services in Tennessee, you may want to get a certificate of exemption, or several of them, before you start doing business, as this can save you a lot of time and money. These certificates are commonly known as resale certificates in most other states.

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

What is a Certificate of Exemption?

If your business has a valid certificate of exemption, or resale certificate, you can buy goods from a wholesaler without paying Tennessee 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 certificate of exemption 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 costly fines or potential jail time.

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

You cannot use a certificate of exemption 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 certificates of exemption, 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.

state flag of tennessee, usa

How to Apply for a Certificate of Exemption in Tennessee

In Tennessee, the resale certificate is known as the certificate of exemption and you’ll need to obtain the form from the Department of Revenue. The certificate is not filed with the state of Tennessee, it’s simply kept on file by the seller.

In a few states, a seller’s permit, or sales tax permit, also serves as a certificate of exemption that applies to all vendors. But in most states, including Tennessee, you’ll need a seller’s permit as well as certificates of exemption 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 certificate of exemption applies to items that you buy for resale, or for parts that you buy to manufacture something for sale.  

How to Fill out the Tennessee Certificate of Exemption

In Tennessee, the Department of Revenue handles the issuance of certificates of exemption. Start by visiting the website, then follow these simple steps:

  1. On the Sales and Use Tax Forms page, scroll down to the Exemptions heading. Click on the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Certificate of Exemption and Instructions link to download the form
Tennessee Sales tax Certificate of Exemption

NOTE: Tennessee is one of a group of states who participate in the Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board and use the same standardized form.

  1. In the first section, select whether or not the certificate is for a single purchase. If so, enter the appropriate invoice or purchase order number.
Tennessee Certificate of Exemption Form
  1. Next, enter your contact information along with the seller’s.
Tennessee Certificate of Exemption Form
  1. In the following section, check the box next to the category that best describes your business.
Tennessee Certificate of Exemption Form
  1. Under “Reason for exemption”, check the letter that best identifies the reason for the exemption.
Tennessee Certificate of Exemption Form
  1. In the next section, enter the state-appropriate ID number and reasons for exemption.
Tennessee Certificate of Exemption Form
  1. Lastly, sign and date the form and store in your files.
Tennessee Certificate of Exemption Form

For assistance, contact the Tennessee Department of Revenue at (800) 342-1003.

Does a Tennessee Certificate of Exemption Expire?

In Tennessee, certificates of exemption do not expire.


Certificates of exemption can be a bit of a hassle, but in Tennessee 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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How to Get a Certificate of Exemption in Tennessee