Major Update for QuickBooks Online Sales Tax

What Is Powering QuickBooks Online Sales Tax?

Last month Intuit announced that they were acquiring Exactor, a “cloud-based SaaS technology provider of sales and use tax calculation and filing.”

It is my understanding that Exactor is providing the underlying technology that is running this new sales tax feature in QuickBooks Online. This is good, Intuit did not go out and try to build this complicated technology on their own. Instead, they have acquired an existing, mature technology. This gives me much more confidence in this new feature than I would have had if Intuit was building it from scratch. On their own, it would have taken years to develop something that was the equivalent.

I’m not familiar with Exactor in detail, so I can’t really say too much about them. The company was founded in 2006, so it isn’t a newcomer. Their sales and use tax products integrate with a very impressive list of products and companies, such as QuickBooks Online, QuickBooks desktop, NetSuite, several flavors of Microsoft Dynamics, multiple Sage Intacct accounting products, and multiple payments/ecommerce providers. See this list of current integrations.

Converting from the Old Sales Tax Method

Everything I’ve shown you so far has been for a new QuickBooks Online subscription, or for an existing one where you have never enabled sales tax before this time. If you have ever turned on sales tax prior to this update, you will not be able to use the new system at this time. Here’s what you might see if you select Taxes. This is the old format for the sales tax center. If you see this, you have been using the older sales tax method, and you can’t change to the new system (yet).

QuickBooks Online Sales Tax Update

If you have enabled sales tax before this new feature was released, the question will be, How can I change to the new system? Unfortunately, it is going to be tricky to convert from the old system to the new system. In the old system, when you set up a sales tax agency, you could enter any name that you wanted. I could, for example, create an agency named “CA BOE.” In the new system, the agency names are set up for you, so they are standardized across all users. For California it would be “California State Board of Equalization.” How can QuickBooks Online know that “CA BOE” is that agency? It’s complicated. And I suspect that there are also some internal differences in how tax data is stored.

Intuit’s plan is to start off by providing the new sales tax feature to companies that have not yet implemented sales tax. No migration necessary there. Early in 2018 they should be able to start migrating customers from the old system to the new system. It will take time. I suspect they’ll start with the easier cases first. This won’t be something that can be done just by clicking a switch in your file.

So What Do I Think?

I’ve only been playing with this for a few days, so it is hard for me to comment on accuracy and reliability. I have to say that it looks very good — I’ve not been able to catch any errors. There might be a few minor user interface glitches that will be resolved soon, but nothing that causes any problems.

This feature has been field tested by a large number of users for many months now, which should give new users a lot of confidence.

As I mentioned above, I’m very happy that Intuit has acquired this technology, rather than trying to develop it from scratch. It is a very complex technology.

The new QuickBooks Online Sales Tax feature is a major improvement, and it will save a huge amount of work for any small business that has to collect sales tax.

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About the author

Charlie Russell

Charlie Russell has been involved with the small business software industry since the mid 70's, and remembers releasing his first commercial accounting software product when you had an 8-bit microcomputer with one 8 inch floppy disk drive. He has a special interest in inventory and manufacturing software for small businesses. Charlie is a Certified Advanced QuickBooks ProAdvisor with additional certifications for QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Enterprise, as well as being a Xero Certified Partner. Charlie started blogging about QuickBooks in 2008 (Practical QuickBooks) and has been writing for the Accountex Report (formerly the Sleeter Report) since 2011.

Visit his CCRSoftware web site for information about his QuickBooks add-on products. He is also the author of the California Wildflower Hikes blog.


    • Anything is possible, and Enterprise is the desktop product where they are focusing development of NEW features. However, I haven’t heard anything about that, and I would be surprised if they did. Intuit really wants people to move to QBO.

      As I point out in the article, Exactor’s website says that they have an integration of their product with QuickBooks desktop. I have not used it, so the technology should be there. That doesn’t mean that they will roll that into Enterprise, however.

  • Hi Charlie,

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge about QuickBooks online Sales tax updates.
    Sales Tax Dashboard really help me to track the things in proper way.

    Looking forward to new things about QuickBooks.

  • Thanks for the article. One thing I missed is any way to indicate where the item was sold. I have to pay one rate if it is purchased at my address and another rate if I ship it to the customer’s address.

    • The product sees YOUR address as well as the ship-to address for the invoice, and should make the proper determination of sales tax based on both of those information points. As well as the classification of the item you are selling.

  • Hello, I have the desktop version and wanted to transition to the online version. After my QuickBooks advisor Lori came by Monday to set it up, we found that in order for taxes to be calculated automatically, I would have to subscribe to the $24.95 version not the basic one I currently have.
    Do you know if QuickBooks update will effect the tax calculation of the basic version? If so, when?

    • There are multiple versions of the product (three, officially, but there also are some special versions based on it), I don’t see them bringing it to all versions at this point. Although if there is enough user pressure for that, they will listen.

  • Wow, this is very promising news! Thanks for another great write-up. The integration with Avalara both on QBO (and in a somewhat lesser degreed QBD) has been very frustrating. A major reason why this is the case is supposedly Avalara’s difficultly in parsing the address in the format that QBO and QBD present it.

    Hoping a tight integration will prevent those issues. This has been and currently is a huge pain point for me and my clients.

    I can understand the complexities in converting existing files, but I hope that is something that will be available very soon as migrating data from one QBO file to another to get this new functionality would be come at a high cost. Any ideas on that time frame?

    What version levels of QBO subscription will this be included in?

    The QBO Sample Company still shows the old sales tax system. Do you know when that will be updated?

    Would like to give the new system a test drive, how should I do that?

    Thanks, Jeff

    • I’m clarifying with Intuit about which editions of QBO support this system. I had assumed all, but I’m checking.

      It won’t be in the “test company” QBO option, or the sample company. Because, I believe, that was set up using the old sales tax system, so it can’t convert. But I’m making an assumption as to WHY it isn’t. I know that they told me that it wasn’t in those versions yet. Simplest way to test this is to do what I always do – start up a new 30 day trial version.

      I don’t have a timeframe from them for being able to convert files that already used sales tax. I know that this is very high on their list of things to do (I was just talking to the product manager for the feature this morning, at QB Connect, and that came up). In any case, if they told me, I wouldn’t be able to publish that, as things like that are usually covered by an NDA. But, in this case, they haven’t told me.

  • That’s a great news and this will surely help small businesses in enhancing their accuracy of sales tax report. Thanks for the detailed information on this update.

  • Discussing this with Intuit product managers, the updated sales tax feature is offered in the US versions of QuickBooks Online Simple Start, Essentials and Plus. Again, if you have ever enabled sales tax prior to this release, the new version won’t be available to you (at this time). This won’t be in QuickBooks Self Employed, and it isn’t currently available in the cut-down version of QBO that you get for free with the Gmail Invoicing feature I’ve discussed recently.

  • Thanks, Charlie, for your insight on this new feature. It will be interesting how Intuit will migrate the existing clients who are already setup with sales tax. In your article, you don’t mention the ship to address (and no screenshots included one) but you did reference in your comments. So to be clear, QBO is looking at the ship to address to determine the sales tax, not the bill to address. This means a couple of things: the QBO user must populate the ship to address (unless QBO detects when there is none and uses the bill to address instead) and the address must be a valid address. Is there any address validation taking place?

    • Joan, I haven’t worked with this extensively, so I haven’t tested out all the use cases. It is best to have the shipping address in the transaction, and if you don’t then you should see a reminder message at the top that will bring that up. My understanding is that if you have just a billing address, not a shipping address, that it will work with that. If you have neither, then it will work just with YOUR company address.

      “Address validation” can be interpreted in multiple ways. I’m not sure what exactly you are looking for here.


  • Charlie, any word on what business owners are supposed to do if their county and local taxing jurisdictions are not on the drop down list of agencies? Can they opt to use the traditional QBO sales tax functionality? Is there a process for getting these jurisdictions set up, or are they stuck manually calculating sales taxes on all of their invoices? Not sure why this functionality is being rolled out as the default set-up if it is not yet ready for prime time players.

    • Interesting that you found a jurisdiction not covered. The underlying software should have covered every jurisdiction. I’ve asked about this, if I get an answer I will post it. What specific tax jurisdictions are you not finding?

      • Thanks, Charlie. I called Diamond support this morning and they created a case to escalate. Maybe some states are better fleshed out in the directory than others. The state of Alabama has 67 counties. There are only 13 counties available to choose in the drop-down list. So 54 missing counties, and I’m sure countless missing cities. And this is 2 months post roll-out of this feature. I feel for the small business owners trying to implement QBO and running into this roadblock, with no guidance provided on the screen as to what to do if your taxing agencies aren’t on the table.

        • OK, here are some further thoughts on this, with a little help from the development team at Intuit, as well as my understanding of how sales tax works in SOME states. I will admit that I’m not familiar with the details of Alabama.

          You don’t always add every tax agency. You only have to add those that require a separate filing. In many states your collected sales tax only is reported to the state agency, even though there may be county and city tax agencies. In these cases, you won’t always see every agency listed in the dropdown. However, in those cases, the sales tax should still be calculated properly, based on the ship from and ship to locations.

          I’ve seen this in my own area as an example. I’m in California, and I have a state, county and city sales tax. But I only find California listed in the dropdown, not the county or city. That is because we don’t file a separate return for the city or county.

          You can check how this works. Set your home address as a point where there are multiple jurisdictions. Sell a taxable item to a customer in that same jurisdiction. The sales tax is calculated. Click the “sales tax” link on the invoice, which shows you how the tax is calculated. In my case, even though I have set up just California as a tax agency, the breakdown shows the state, county and city sales tax amounts.

          Now, I can’t say that the calculation will be correct in your situation. If you don’t believe it is, then you have to talk to Intuit. And that leaves open the issue of “what do I do if there is an error”. I don’t have an answer for that. I know how I would deal with it in QB Desktop, but I don’t have a workaround for QB Online.

          • Good evening. You mention you have gotten help from the development team at Intuit. Is there any chance you could help me get in touch with those folks? As background I got on Quickbooks online as they were rolling out the new sales tax system. I was enrolled in the beta test and have had issues since the first minute (end of September).

            Currently, I can not view the tax reports for the prior months for which I have paid tax. There is just no record for them. In December the tax application did not work at all and I had to record tax payments as journal entries. In January Quickbooks applied a $0 payment for South Carolina, when in fact it says I owe $175. I have been told there is no way to fix this for January and was provided no solution. I have spent hours on the phone with Quickbooks and never make any forward progress. I am really in a tough situation here. Any assistance would be appreciated.


          • You should have contacts through whoever worked out the beta test arrangement with you – that would be the way to get into touch with someone. If that doesn’t work, let me know, I will pass on your info, but I can’t make promises that you would get a response.

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