Date added: 06/26/2015 California Use Tax Information

You may owe use tax on purchases you made from out-of-state or Internet sellers. Use tax is similar to the sales tax paid on purchases you make in California. You may report use tax on your income tax return instead of filing a use tax return with the State Board of Equalization.


Use Tax Basics

California's sales tax generally applies to the sale of merchandise, including vehicles, in the state. California's use tax applies to the use, storage, or other consumption of those same kinds of items in the state. Generally, if sales tax would apply when you buy physical merchandise in California, use tax applies when you make a similar purchase without tax from a business located outside the state. For example, you would owe use tax when:

  • You purchase something from a mail order catalog, the Internet, an online auction, television shopping network, etc. located outside California and you don't pay tax to that retailer.
  • You withdraw taxable merchandise from your business's resale inventory and use it for your personal or business use.
  • You purchase vehicles, vessels, mobile homes, and aircraft from sellers who do not hold seller's permits.

The California use tax is generally the liability of the purchaser and must be paid either directly to the seller from whom the physical merchandise was purchased or directly to the Board of Equalization (BOE) if the retailer is not required to collect and report California tax.

Use tax is not new. The California use tax law became effective on July 1, 1935.

The use tax is intended to protect California sellers who otherwise would be at a competitive disadvantage when out-of-state sellers make sales of goods to California customers without charging tax. The use tax also assures that all consumers in the state contribute fairly to the funding of state and local programs whether they choose to make purchases in California or outside the state.