Retail Merchant Employees Can Be Responsible To Collect Taxes!

Not everyone in a retail business realizes it, but whatever goods are sold, taxes must be collected for the state by the business.  This applies to both sales and payroll taxes. Of course, some in the middle of a cash flow pinch will choose to ignore this responsibility, or pay the taxes “when they get around to it”. What happens in these cases?

Many don’t realize that the individual who runs the corporation, and those who cut the payroll checks for the corporation, can also be liable for payment of the taxes. The theory is that the taxes are held “in trust”, which means that the individual working for the corporation, and the corporation itself, are holding funds for the state.

It’s similar to how the bank holds funds for an individual in an ordinary checking account.  In this way of looking at it, the “bank account” which the business holds for the benefit of the state (which is the 7% sales tax and employee state income taxes withheld) cannot be drained of funds. It is the duty of the business, and the chief financial officer, to make sure that “bank account” is maintained for the state, and that those funds are paid over to the state. If those funds are not maintained, it’s considered embezzlement.

This theory can result in significant problems for the retail merchant.  Officers of the corporation who are considered responsible for its money affairs, are often unaware that they can be held personally liable. Of course, if the corporation goes broke, the liability does not go away; responsible officers can and will be pursued by the state for the trust fund tax liabilities, including both sales tax and state payroll tax withholdings.  Even if those officers move on to other employment, they can find that they owe significant liabilities due to their activities as past corporate officers.

All of these unpleasant possibilities can be avoided, if the taxes are paid on time. Nevertheless, where this is not possible, it is appropriate to consider the effects of delinquent tax payment, and how the corporation’s business or the assets of the responsible officers may be affected.

It should be noted that one of the more harsh but frequently neglected provisions of the Indiana code regarding taxes concerns the priority of payment, or how payments are credited against monies owed. When a taxpayer is behind, the partial payment is first applied towards penalties, then to interest, and last to the tax liability. This means that partial payments do not have a strong effect to reduce the original tax liability, until penalties and interest are paid in full.

In addition, the corporation which is struggling but which has not yet gone out of business may find that its registered retail merchant certificate (RRMC) will be revoked. In this case, the Department of Revenue will place signs on the taxpayer’s place of business, informing customers that the corporation can no longer conduct retail sales at that location. If those signs are removed or retail sales are continued, there is a risk of additional fines (or even imprisonment) as these offenses are considered a class a misdemeanor according to Indiana Code 6–2.5–4.

Of course, as long as monthly tax reports are submitted, along with appropriate payments, there will be no problems. But if those reports are not submitted on a timely basis, the state will investigate, and issue a demand notice for payment.  My next blog post will explain the problems that can arise in such a situation.