Accuracy Disclaimer:

The figures, statistics, and percentages presented in this article are accurate as of June 2024. Should there be any errors or omissions, please notify Pivotal Forensic Accounting and Audits in writing. This article is intended for informational purposes only. All taxpayers, including individuals, corporations, and non-profits, are responsible for staying informed about current tax codes and laws.

On July 1, 2008, Washington retailers delivering goods to customers in Washington must start collecting sales tax based on where the customer receives the merchandise – the “destination” of the sale.


What this means to both brick and mortar retailers and online sales: Requirements for Mail Order and Online Sales Businesses

In recent years, the state of Washington has significantly adjusted its sales tax policies to adapt to the evolving landscape of commerce, particularly concerning mail order and online sales. The core principle governing these transactions is the “destination-based sales tax.” This policy mandates that the sales tax rate applied to a transaction is determined by the location where the buyer takes possession of the goods or services, rather than where the seller is located. This approach aims to ensure that local tax revenues reflect where economic activities, such as consumption, actually occur.

Understanding Destination-Based Sales Tax

Definition and Application:  Washington’s destination-based sales tax policy requires sellers to collect the applicable state and local sales taxes based on the delivery destination of the purchased goods — This means that if a buyer from Seattle purchases an item from a seller in Spokane, the sales tax rate applied will be that of Seattle, not Spokane.

Tax Rates:
Washington has a combined state and local sales tax system. The state sales tax rate is a flat 6.5% (as of June 2024), but local jurisdictions can impose additional sales taxes, resulting in varying total tax rates across different areas. Businesses must apply the correct rate based on the delivery address.

Let’s use the City of Dupont as an example.

The City of Dupont is located in Pierce County.  Sales tax is calculated as follows:

Sales Tax Component Tax Rate
State of Washington 6.50%
Pierce County 1.6%
City of DuPont and Use Tax 1.4%
Total Sales Tax Rate 9.5%


*Accurate as of June 2024, the date of this article


Requirements for Mail Order and Online Sales Businesses

Sales Tax Collection Obligations:
Businesses involved in mail order or online sales need to be aware of their obligations under Washington’s sales tax policy. Here are key requirements:

1. Sales Tax Nexus:
– Businesses must determine if they have a sales tax nexus in Washington. Nexus can be established through physical presence (such as a warehouse or office) or economic presence (e.g., reaching a certain threshold of sales or transactions in the state). Washington’s economic nexus threshold is $100,000 in retail sales or 200 transactions in the state annually.

2. Registration and Compliance:
– Businesses with nexus must register with the Washington Department of Revenue (DOR). This involves obtaining a Unified Business Identifier (UBI) number and setting up an account to file and pay taxes.
– Once registered, businesses must collect and remit sales taxes on all taxable sales delivered to Washington addresses.

3. Calculating the Correct Tax Rate:
– Businesses must ensure they apply the correct local tax rates for each transaction. This requires using tools or services that provide up-to-date tax rate information based on delivery addresses.

4. Sales Tax Returns:
– Businesses are required to file periodic sales tax returns (monthly, quarterly, or annually) with the DOR, depending on the volume of their sales. These returns must detail the sales made and taxes collected.

5. Record Keeping:
– Accurate records of all transactions, including sales, returns, and taxes collected, must be maintained. These records are essential for filing returns and in case of audits.

6. Remote Seller Requirements:
– Out-of-state sellers who meet the economic nexus thresholds must comply with the same registration, collection, and remittance requirements as in-state sellers.

Benefits and Challenges

– Fairness and Revenue Distribution:
The destination-based sales tax system helps ensure that tax revenues benefit the jurisdictions where goods and services are consumed, promoting fair distribution of resources.

Compliance Tools:
There are numerous tools and software solutions available to help businesses calculate and remit the correct sales taxes, easing the administrative burden.


Keeping track of varying local tax rates and ensuring compliance with all relevant regulations can be complex, particularly for small businesses.

Administrative Costs:
Implementing systems to manage destination-based tax collection and compliance can incur additional costs for businesses.


Washington’s destination-based sales tax policy reflects the state’s commitment to adapting its tax system to the modern economic environment. For businesses engaged in mail order or online sales, understanding and adhering to these requirements is crucial. While the policy promotes equitable tax revenue distribution, it also necessitates careful compliance and accurate record-keeping to navigate its complexities effectively. By leveraging available tools and resources, businesses can ensure they meet their tax obligations while contributing to the state’s fiscal health.


Overview of destination sales tax in Washington

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