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  • Is the Marketplace Fairness Act Fair for Wineries?

    In short, yes, for a couple of reasons:

    1. Wineries already pay sales tax in most states
    2. The vast majority of wineries will likely be exempt from the law

    So what is it, exactly?

    Senate Bill S. 743, more commonly known as the “Marketplace Fairness Act“, is a pretty simple bill that would give states the ability to require out of state businesses that have “remote sales” in excess of $1 million annually to remit sales taxes. Each state would be able to opt in to the Act, but only after they have simplified their tax structure, either by joining the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement or to follow the steps outlined in the bill to simplify their sales tax requirements.

    Will it pass?

    With broad bi-partisan support, S. 743 passed out of the Senate with a vote of 69 to 27. However, a tough battle is expected in the House, and therefore the Marketplace Fairness Act has a long way to go before it is enacted with a signature from President Obama. Amazon.com is supporting the bill (presumably because they would like to move forward with their plans to build warehouses in each state to support same-day shipping), while eBay is one of the main voices in opposition.

    What will it mean for wineries?

    A lot hinges on the definition of “remote sales”. Keep in mind the fact that state legislation to allow wine shipments typically includes a provision that also requires wineries to register for and pay sales tax. As it stands in the Senate version, and based on our interpretation of the current language, sales by wineries to states where they are already required to pay sales tax would not be counted when considering the $1 million threshold for remote sales.

    Based on some quick analysis, there are a few hundred wineries in the US that ship more than $1 million worth of wine to consumers each year. BUT, if you include sales only to those states (Alaska, Colorado, D.C., Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Wyoming) that do not require wineries to pay sales tax, then we estimate that less than 25 wineries would exceed the $1 million cap. In other words, the vast majority of the 7,000+ wineries in the US would be exempt from this law.

    Wineries are already accustomed to calculating, collecting, and remitting sales taxes in most states. So, for those wineries that would not be exempt from this law, it would probably not be that big of a deal to add a few more states (initially the states of Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, and Wyoming) to the list of states to which they would be required to remit sales tax. They already have the technology and processes to do so.

    The bill would take effect, at the earliest, on October 1st, 2013. Once effective, the 22 “Streamlined” sales tax states would begin requiring sales tax for remote sellers with over $1 million in sales. After that, each of the remaining 28 states would choose whether to opt in to the Act and start requiring sales tax from remote sellers.

    7 Tips for Getting Better at Age Verification for Wine Shipments in 2013

    Verifying the age of online wine purchasers and shipping recipients is perhaps the most important and responsible task any online wine seller can engage in. Age verification not only protects your own licenses, but it supports the entire industry as being responsible and it protects against minors obtaining alcohol illicitly. As the new year approaches, direct wine sellers should make every effort to improve by incorporating one or more additional age verification tools into their direct selling protocols. What follows is a 7-point list that offers a variety of ways you can use age verification in the coming year to protect yourself, the industry and minors.

    As you’re making the new years resolutions for your business, think about adding age verification to the list. I’d like to challenge each of you to do a better job at age verification in 2013. It will be easy, and we’ll help you through it. Please pick at least one item from the list below that you are not doing currently, and add it to your direct shipping program starting January 1st.

    1. Require the common carriers (FedEx, UPS, GSO, etc.) obtain an adult signature upon delivery
    2. Add an age affirmation gate on your website/store/mobile app
    3. Collect the date of birth of the purchaser
    4. Collect the date of birth of the recipient for gift shipments
    5. Use an online age verification provider to verify the age of the purchaser in Georgia, Kansas, Ohio, and Michigan
    6. Use an online age verification provider to verify the age of the purchase for orders to all states
    7. Use an online age verification provider to verify the age of the recipient for all gift orders

    Require the common carriers (FedEx, UPS, GSO, etc.) obtain an adult signature upon delivery
    This is a requirement for all wine shipments. No ifs, ands or buts about it. Work with your carrier to understand how to make sure your packages properly labeled for alcohol and ensure they’ll check ID and get an adult signature upon delivery.

    Add an age affirmation gate on your website/store/mobile app
    This is a pretty simple tool that will go a long way. Add a feature to your site that forces the visitor to affirm that they are of legal drinking age by checking a box prior to entering your website, shopping cart, or mobile application. Last time I mentioned this at a seminar, I got a few calls from some eCommerce companies saying that would damage the search engine optimization (SEO) for the products in the store. My response: you’re smart, figure it out! There’s got to be a slick way of enabling the age gate while also preserving the SEO of your site.

    Collect the date of birth of the purchaser
    If you’re going to add an age affirmation tool to your website/store/mobile app, why not take it one step further and collect the date of birth of the purchaser at that point? Alternatively, ask for the date of birth when the purchaser adds wine products to their cart. You’re going to need it at a minimum to include on the direct shipping reports due in Wisconsin, Michigan, and the four counties of Hawaii. You’ll also need it for audit purposes in New York and most of the states that you are shipping into, and it will also make for a much stronger match rate on your age verification checks when using an online provider (see below for details). States will typically require that you keep your records for two years for audit purposes, so we often recommend that you hold onto your data for at least 3-4 years just to be sure. Remember that dates of birth are very sensitive from a privacy perspective, so be sure to store them securely in your files.

    Example: www.chandon.com

    Collect the date of birth of the recipient for gift shipments
    For gift shipments, you’ll also want to collect the date of birth of the recipient. You’ll need this on the shipping reports due in Wisconsin and the four counties of Hawaii, and it will also result in a much stronger match if you decide to do age verification on the recipient. One thing to note here is that the purchaser will often not know the date of birth of the recipient. So, you don’t necessarily have to collect this at the time of transaction, but make sure you have your processes designed such that you can follow up and get the DOB of the recipient prior to shipping.

    Use an online age verification provider to verify the age of the purchaser in Georgia, Kansas, Ohio, and Michigan
    The states of Georgia, Kansas, Ohio and Michigan all have some kind of requirement for verifying the age of the purchaser. The easiest way to meet these requirements is to use an online age verification provider. ShipCompliant integrates with both Lexis Nexis (formerly ChoicePoint) and also IDology, both of which have been approved by the Michigan Liquor Control Commission. These services run about $.50 per check (per customer), and do not need to be repeated for subsequent purchases from an individual that has already been confirmed to be of legal drinking age. When running an online age verification check, you’ll need the purchaser’s name, address, and optionally date of birth. As mentioned above, if you include the date of birth you’ll get a much stronger likelihood of matching the individual in the age check provider’s database.

    Use an online age verification provider to verify the age of the purchase for orders to all states
    Wine Institute and Free the Grapes! both have codes that establish that (from Free the Grapes!’ code for direct shipping) “licensees must verify the purchaser’s age at the point of online purchase before completing any transaction.” Most of the bigger wine companies are therefore choosing not just to run an online age verification check in the four states that require it by statute, but to run online checks on the purchaser in all states that they ship to.

    Use an online age verification provider to verify the age of the recipient for all gift orders
    For gift shipments, you can also consider running an online age verification check on the recipient. Even though the common carrier will ask for identification and a signature for the person that actually signs for the package upon delivery, some wineries take a conservative approach and choose to run an age check on the recipient as well for gift shipments, especially on gift orders that originate from third party marketers.

    Hidden Costs of Direct Shipping Licensing

    Before jumping into a direct shipping program in a new state, wineries should consider their current prospect list, market potential, shipping difficulty and costs. When it comes to calculating start-up costs to enter a new state, there is often more than meets the eye. In addition to license fees, wineries may need to budget for a number of “hidden” fees including bonds, label registration fees and other application fees.


    Some states require wineries to obtain a bond in order to secure a direct shipping license. A bond is a written guaranty, purchased from a bonding company (usually an insurance firm or a surety company), to guarantee that all taxes due will be paid to the state. If there is a failure to pay, the bonding company will make good up to the amount of the bond.

    Bonds for direct shippers range from $500-$1500 depending on the state, but premiums, or out-of-pocket costs, to wineries typically average around 10% of the total bond price, or $50-$180 out-of-pocket on an annual or biannual basis. Different bonding agents may quote different rates, so it pays to shop around.

    Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Texas and Wisconsin all require that wineries secure a bond before submitting your license application. For wineries that ship 40,000 gallons or more annually, Oregon issues a bond document after the license application has been received but before the license is issued. Wineries that ship less than 40,000 gallons to Oregon annually can apply for a bond wavier.

    Label Registration

    Several states require brand or label registrations for direct shipping. Ohio, a state that 26% of direct shippers have in their program, requires wineries to register all the labels that will be shipped into the state for a one-time registration fee of $50 per label.

    If that sounds pricey to you, consider Connecticut who charges $200 per label and requires labels to be re-registered every 3 years if they are still actively shipped into the state.

    Georgia, Michigan, New York, North Carolina and Virginia do not charge a fee though label or brand registration is required in these states.

    Application Fees

    Some states may require business, Secretary of State or tax registration, or other one-time application fees. This varies from state to state and depends on how your business is structured. Wineries that start shipping to Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia or Wisconsin may encounter one or more of these fees.

    License, bond, label registration and application fees all factor into the true break-even costs of shipping to a new state. The key to ensuring a profitable direct shipping program is to research thoroughly in order to avoid getting caught off-guard with unexpected costs.

    Notes on Wine Distribution v.32

    The latest version of “Notes on Wine Distribution”, by R. Corbin Houchins, is now available. Release 32 includes updates on legislation, litigation and general discussions on available distribution channels for wine. This release includes substantial changes, including new sections on age and identity, facial neutrality, and logistical support services, as well as updates to state summaries in Arizona, Delaware, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin. Read about these and other updates that affect the way wine is sold and shipped within the United States.

    If you are at all interested in the shipping and distribution of wine, this is an excellent resource that is well worth reading.  You can view the most recent version of the document anytime by visiting the ShipCompliant Blog and clicking the link located under “Compliance Resources”, or by visiting CorbinCounsel.com and clicking on the home page link, “Notes on Wine Distribution.”

    Click Here to View NWD Release 32

    Wisconsin County and Stadium Local Taxes

    All businesses registered with the Wisconsin Department of Revenue received a notice (see below) that county and stadium taxes must be remitted beginning October 1st, 2009. Wineries shipping into Wisconsin are subject to this change. For all orders that were taken after October 1st and shipped to Wisconsin residents, wine shippers must remit the appropriate county and stadium taxes.

    When filing the Wisconsin sales and use tax return, form ST-12, Schedule CT should be used to report these additional local taxes. The first sales and use tax return with local taxes is due for monthly filers in November for the month of October. For quarterly and annual filers, the first report with local taxes will come due on January 31st, 2010. Because this new rule became effective on October 1st, annual filers need only to pay the 5% state sales tax rate for the first nine months of the year, but should pay state tax and local tax for the final three months.

    All Registered Retailers Must Collect Sales and Use Taxes for All Wisconsin Counties and Stadium Districts

    Effective October 1, 2009, all retailers that are registered in Wisconsin to collect and remit the 5% Wisconsin state sales and use tax are also required to collect and remit the applicable county and stadium sales and use taxes for any sales that are sourced to a county or stadium district that has adopted the applicable county or stadium sales or use tax. This provision applies regardless of whether the retailer is “engaged in business” in the county or stadium district to which the sale is sourced.(Section 77.73 (3), Wis. Stats., as created by 2009 Wisconsin Act 2 and amended by 2009 Wisconsin Act 28)

    Wisconsin Liquor Reporting: Reciprocal (9 months) + Electronic Filing (3 months)

    Effective October 1st, 2008, Wisconsin requires electronic filing for reporting shipments of wine into Wisconsin. According to Wisconsin, filing and paying taxes online is more accurate, more certain, and means better business. And, as we’ve discussed previously, it’s also green and convenient. Direct shippers must file their first excise tax report as a permitted Wine Direct Shipper electronically, and are required to file the “Wisconsin Distilled Spirits, Cider, and Wine Tax Return” (AB-130) and the “Wisconsin Winery and Direct Shipper Schedule” (AB-135). The first quarterly return includes shipments made from October 1st, 2008 through December 31st, 2008, and is due before January 15th, 2009. Also, wineries that ship to Wisconsin wholesalers must file the “Wisconsin Distilled Spirits, Cider, and Wine Tax Return” (AB-130) and the “Wisconsin Liquor Tax Multiple Schedule” (AB-131). Shipments to Wisconsin wholesalers must be filed monthly (also due by the 15th of the month), again, beginning October 1st, 2008.

    There are two methods for filing the Wine Tax Return and all related schedules, electronically:

    1) The Free-File filing application is available to anyone who has a Wisconsin Liquor Tax Permit Number, and you don’t have to set up a special account to start using it. Free-file will save all your data, so you can work on it as you ship orders, save it, and come back to it later. Entering the schedule information (e.g. the name of the recipient, how much wine they received) will automatically calculate the tax form. You can watch a detailed training video for more complete information on how to report using the Free File format. It’s about a half of an hour in length, and is very thorough. I had the best luck viewing the video in internet explorer. Payment options for Free-file include Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT), or a payment voucher, which you can print out and then mail in with your payment to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue. If you decide to pay your taxes via Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT), it takes about a week to process your registration, so don’t wait until the last minute. For more information about EFT payments, you can visit the Wisconsin EFT web page, or call (608) 264-9918.

    2) The Liquor Tax File Transmission filing method is a quick and painless way to submit your tax return. You won’t have to hand-enter all of your data, which can save you a lot time. And just the same as Free-file, you don’t have to set up a special account, so you can begin using it immediately. This filing method does need some initial development, as it requires the creation of an XML file. If you are computer savvy, you can create this file yourself, or, if not, you could have someone that is computer savvy create it for you (ShipCompliant will provide this service to its clients, in case you were wondering). After you have saved the XML file to your computer, just upload the file using Wisconsin’s file transfer application, and wait for an immediate confirmation of receipt. The Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) payment option is available for this filing method.

    Last but not least, for those direct shippers that shipped wine to Wisconsin consumers under the old reciprocity statutes (California wineries only), don’t forget that the “Annual Reciprocal Wine Shipment Report” must be filed for shipments made from January 1, 2008 through September 30th, 2008 (and don’t forget the required dates of birth for both purchaser and recipient). This form can be submitted in paper format. Because the “Annual Reciprocal Wine Shipment Report” only includes shipments through September, it can be submitted now, or anytime before January 31st, 2009.