Archive for the ‘Board of Equalization’ Tag

Property Taxes on Equipment, Furniture, Tools, Etc. Due April 1

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

March 7, 2014

Many people starting up a small business for the first time are surprised to learn that there are business personal property taxes due each year on the value of everything from the chair they sit in, to their computer, to the pads of paper in the supply closet.  Most people are familiar with property taxes assessed on their home each year, but a business is also taxed on all of its personal property.  When I say personal property, I mean anything that is tangible, but is not real property (real estate).  Intangible assets like copyrights, patents, goodwill, or even software are generally not subject to tax.

This business property tax is established in the California Constitution and the Revenue and Taxation Code.  It falls under the jurisdiction of the California Board of Equalization (the same group that handles sales tax), but it is administered by and filed with the assessor’s office of each county.  For most businesses, the form to file is BOE-571-L (BOE-571-A for agricultural businesses), and it is due on April 1st of each year.  Even though the form is due on April 1st, there is a grace period, and you technically have until May 7th to postmark the form so it will not be delinquent.  (This is much appreciated by CPAs that are working to get income tax returns completed by April 15!)  It is also important to note that the reporting covers your property that existed as of January 1st, and not as of the date you fill out the form.

Maybe you have been in a business for a few years, or maybe 20 years in unusual cases and have never seen a request for this form.  Are you in trouble?  There is an interesting rule that states if the total cost of your business personal property is under $100,000, you do not have to voluntarily start filing the form.  That would cover a lot of small businesses.  However, if you receive a request from the assessor’s office to file the form, you must file every year going forward.  As information sharing has become more mainstream among various government agencies, it is fairly common to get a request in the first year or two you operate, even as a tiny sole proprietor.

The BOE-571-L asks you to break down your property into various categories and by year of purchase.   As the property gets older, it is assessed less each year.  (Tip: retain a copy of your submitted form for reference when filing for the next year.)  Each form is processed by hand.  The assessors appreciate having attached lists that identify more specifically the property you list in the various categories and years.  As you will see on the form, it is not always clear which category to put things in.  For instance, the word equipment is used in four different categories, and you might not be sure where it should be included.  Categories are assessed and depreciated at different rates, so the assessor has a better chance of assessing you the correct tax if you provide more information.  If you have questions, you can call the Monterey County Assessor’s office at 831-755-5035 and ask for the business property tax department.  They are generally available to answer any questions you may have.

It is probably fairly obvious that computers, printers, copiers, furniture, equipment, machinery, and tools are assessed.  In addition, the supplies you have on hand for your business are assessed.  If you do not have a good idea of this value, one approach, or instance, may be to take your office supplies account in your accounting records and divide by 12 if you think you keep about a month of supplies on hand.

Leased property such as a copy machine, is an area that people sometimes overlook.  Your lease agreement will indicate whether you, or the company you lease from is responsible for the property taxes.  If you are responsible, you need to report it on your BOE-571-L.  Licensed vehicles through the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) do not need to be reported here whether owned or leased, as they are being taxed through the DMV.

Structural improvements, fixtures, land improvements, construction in progress, and land development are required on the form as well.  Generally, however, structural improvements, land improvements, and land development information is not assessed by the business property tax division and is passed along to the real property division for them to decide whether or not to assess it, or wait for the next time the property as a whole is assessed. Construction in progress would be assessed by the business property tax department: i.e. – you have spent $200,000 in construction on a building that is not complete at the end of the year.  Once the building was completed, the business property tax department would stop assessing it, and the real property department would start assessing it.

Fixtures such as counters, sinks, lights, bolted down equipment, etc. would generally be assessed by the business property tax department.  If you are a tenant and pay for any leasehold improvements, you should report and will be assessed on those as well.  Most leases are written that the property becomes the landlord’s after the tenant moves out of the space.

One final issue that often comes up in an audit is whether or not the business has property that was purchased and immediately expensed on its books and tax returns, and therefore do not show up on depreciation schedules, which is often the main source for reportable property.  In the code, there is no immateriality exclusion for something as small as a stapler, but in practice the auditor is not going to assess you on those items.  You should look for more significant items, however, such as the $400 in books you bought for your business library.

Prior articles are republished on my website at

IRS Circular 230 Notice: To the extent this article concerns tax matters, it is not intended to be used and cannot be used by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law.

Travis H. Long, CPA is located at 706-B Forest Avenue, PG, 93950 and focuses on trust, estate, individual, and business taxation. He can be reached at 831-333-1041.

Do You Buy Online or Via Catalogs? – Use Tax – Merry Christmas to CA!

Originally Published in the Pacific Grove Hometown Bulletin

December 21, 2011

If you made any purchases over the Internet or via mail-order catalogs for your holiday shopping (or any time during the year) for business or pleasure, California does not want to be left out of the gift-getting!  Due to the strain on California’s budget over the past few years they have been looking high and low for additional revenue – including the enforcement of existing laws that have historically been quite lax.

For decades, California, and many other states have had use tax laws.  California use tax is basically sales tax imposed on all those purchases you make online or via mail-order catalogs, or while in no sales tax states like Oregon (you know – all those purchases you made so you could avoid paying sales tax!).  If you bring the goods into California and use them here (or give them to somebody in California), you owe California use tax equivalent to the sales tax rate where you reside.  This applies to individuals as well as businesses. Certain goods like cold meats, cheeses, crackers and other grocery type foods that are not subject to sales tax are not subject to use tax either.

The California Board of Equalization (BOE) has been aggressively marketing its efforts to pursue this tax including sending letters to tax professionals several times a year, hiring auditors, registering businesses, working with the Franchise Tax Board (FTB) to add a form to your 540 income tax return, and now creating safe-harbor use tax tables based on your income.  The downside of not complying is that if audited, they can go back for years looking through your bank statements and credit card statements for purchases from the likes of – and who knows what else they might find…

The new safe-harbor use tax tables are available for use with your individual 540 California tax return (business entities including schedule C businesses cannot use these tables).  Instead of collecting all your receipts for non-taxed purchases, California will allow you to pay a predetermined amount based on your adjusted gross income (up to $20K – $7, up to $40K – $21, up to $60K – $35, up to $80K – $49, up to $100K – $63, up to $150K – $88, up to $200K – $123, over $200K – multiply by 0.07%).

If you elect to use the tables, you will be presumed to have met your requirement and they will not ask for more, even if the actual tax based on receipts would have been much higher.  Individual purchases over $1,000 are treated separately from the use tax tables.  This can be a strategic move.  Beware, if you owe money to the FTB for any other reason such as past due taxes, the FTB will not pass the use tax paid to the BOE, and you will get a bill from the BOE with a 10 percent late penalty.  Your other option is to file a separate Form BOE-401-DS Use Tax Return, but the safe harbor tables are not available for this return.

All businesses (including schedule C businesses) that have gross receipts over $100K, and do not already have a seller’s permit with the BOE, are required to register with the BOE and file a separate use tax return.  Even if they made no qualifying purchases they have to register and file a zero return each year.  If you fail to register and file, and the BOE discovers this, they will likely require use tax returns for the past eight years.  It is probably in your best interest to register and file simply to avoid the possibility of an eight-year look-back!

So as you open gifts this year and ponder how smart you will look in that new sweater, you may also think, “I wonder if the giver has a use tax issue?!”

For more information on use tax, registering, and filing returns you can go to

Prior articles are republished on my website at

IRS Circular 230 Notice: To the extent this article concerns tax matters, it is not intended to be used and cannot be used by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law.

Travis H. Long, CPA is located at 706-B Forest Avenue, PG, 93950 and focuses on trust, estate, individual, and business taxation. He can be reached at 831-333-1041.