How to determine taxes and shipping for online store

Building your online store involves fun tasks like picking your product photos and writing catchy descriptions of the items you’re selling. But some elements of your new store may be a bit intimidating, especially if this is your first online retail business.

How do you figure out sales tax for your orders, and which orders require you to collect sales tax? What should you charge for shipping, and how do you avoid losing money on it?

The answer is plugins. If you’re setting up a WooCommerce-powered shop, you have lots of options for plugins to automate sales tax calculation and collection, set shipping rates based on actual costs, and let you get on with building your store.

We recommend WooCommerce on a WordPress-powered site because there are so many plugins and extensions (beyond sales tax and shipping) to help you develop a good-looking store with the functionality and security you want. It’s also important to get an SSL certificate for your online store to protect your customers as they enter their payment and shipping data at checkout.

Once you’ve got those elements in place, it’s sales tax and shipping time.

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What You Need to Know about Sales Tax for Online Businesses

Until recently, the sales tax rules for US online retailers were simple: Collect and file sales tax on orders from states where your business has a physical presence, like an office, warehouse, or factory.

So if you had a home-based online business in Dallas, you were responsible for collecting and filing sales taxes on orders from fellow Texans, but not from customers in, say, Georgia or New York. (Not every state has a statewide sales tax. Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon don’t.)

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This setup was easy for online sellers, but some states argued that out-of-state internet retailers were depriving their budgets of much-needed sales tax revenue. In June 2018, a Supreme Court ruling opened the way for all states with sales taxes to require online sellers to collect them, regardless of which state the business calls home. In other words, your home-based business in Dallas might now be required to collect sales taxes at different rates for customers in states across the US.

However, the new rules may not have a huge impact on your new business—at least not while it’s just starting out. A state-by-state chart from the Sale Tax Institute serves up the latest rules, which vary by state.

For example, if you’re based outside Alabama but have customers in the state, you’ll need to collect and pay sales tax there, but only if your in-Alabama sales top $250,000 per year and you meet some other legal requirements. Meanwhile, California is set to enact a rule that out-of-state retailers must collect sales tax if they sell more than $100,000 in-state per year or have at least 200 separate California-based orders per year. Sell more than $300,000 a year into New York and have at least 100 orders from the state? You’ll be collecting Empire State sales taxes, too.

All these rules are subject to change, depending on what new laws state legislatures enact, what goes to court, and what laws get upheld or overturned. The big takeaways here for new business owners are to keep up with the rules and automate your sales tax collection as much as you can to save time and headaches.


Sales Tax WordPress Plugins for WooCommerce

If your online store is built on WooCommerce and WordPress, you have several options for plugins that will take care of figuring sales tax on orders, adding it to order totals, generating reports, and in some cases, filing your state returns for an additional fee.

Here are three of the most popular sales tax plugins for WooCommerce shops.


1. AvaTax

AvaTax is a plugin for subscribers to its service, which offers paid plans based on the number of taxable transactions your store has each year. AvaTax service plans start at $50 per year for 250 transactions and include a 60-day free trial period. AvaTax lets you set up exemptions for certain categories of sales (like government or charitable group purchases) and calculates international VAT, duty, and customs fees.


2. Simple Sales Tax

Simple Sales Tax is the plugin for Tax Cloud, a service that’s free to online businesses in two dozen states, because those states pay for the service. For other states, Tax Cloud rates start at $9 per month. Simple Sales Tax automatically calculates current sales tax rates by jurisdiction, which is helpful when you sell in states that allow cities, counties, and other taxing entities to add on their own varying tax rates to the base statewide sales tax.


3. TaxJar

TaxJar’s plugin and subscription service (starting at $17 per month) cover your WooCommerce site with tax rates, exemption tools, reports, and automated filing options. TaxJar supports multichannel collection and reporting, so if you sell on eBay, Amazon, or other marketplaces in addition to your online store, you can keep all your sales tax info in one place.

Once you’ve got a plan in place for dealing with sales tax compliance, you can focus on delivering the goods.


Shipping WordPress Plugins for WooCommerce

In an ideal world, your customers get their purchases delivered as fast as possible, as cheaply as possible, and you don’t lose money on shipping.

Your goal? Get as close to the ideal as possible in a world where shipping rates go up every year and vary widely by distance, weight, speed, and other factors. Good thing there are plugins that can help.


1. Flexible Shipping for WooCommerce

Flexible Shipping for WooCommerce has a free version that covers a lot of ground. This plugin calculates shipping rates based on weight, total order value, and delivery zone. It also lets you set up free shipping rules. The pro version (starting at $79 per year) adds more extensive and customizable shipping rules, lets you set maximum shipping costs, and supports different shipping class options.  


2. Woo Weight Based Shipping

Woo Weight Based Shipping is a free plugin that bases calculations on item weight and dimensions, gives you options for flat rate and weight-based rates, and sets free-shipping threshold rules. The paid version, Tree Table Rate Shipping ($39 per year), lets you define rates by local, national, and international shipping zones. It also integrates with multiple carriers, including USPS, UPS, and DHL, to give you and your customers more options.


3. WooCommerce Advanced Free Shipping

WooCommerce Advanced Free Shipping is a free plugin that’s all about what consumers want most: free shipping. You can use this tool to set your own rules about when to apply free shipping to orders. You can set your rules by order value, quantity ordered, shipping class, destination, product category, and lots of other criteria.


Get Started with WordPress and WooCommerce

With your sales tax and shipping plugins set up to automate these parts of your customer orders, you can focus on growing your business. Ready to get started? Start building your online store with WordPress hosting and WooCommerce.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance B2B content marketing writer. Her specialty areas include SMB marketing and growth, data security, IoT, and fraud prevention