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The (True) Object of My Affection: A Nontaxable Stock Screening Service

By Saabir Kapoor and Andrew Appleby

The Colorado Department of Revenue (Department)

By Saabir Kapoor and Andrew Appleby

The Colorado Department of Revenue (Department) determined that sales tax does not apply to a subscription fee for an interactive stock screening service. The taxpayer, a financial news and research organization, offered proprietary web-based stock screening tools to customers for a monthly subscription fee. To determine whether the subscription fee was subject to sales tax, the Department applied the state’s true object test established in City of Boulder v. Leanin’ Tree, Inc., 72 P.3rd 361 (Colo. 2003), which looks to whether the transaction is commonly understood to be for tangible personal property or a service. The key factor distinguishing the taxpayer’s product from other market survey publications was the interactive nature of the taxpayer’s system. Customers had access to real-time data that could be used to create quasi-customized reports based on search and filter functionality options. In concluding that the taxpayer’s product was a service under the true object test, the Department likened the taxpayer’s product to an “information service” as defined in Ohio and New York. See Ohio Rev. Code § 5739.01(B)(3)(e), N.Y. Tax Law §§ 1105(c)(1), 1105(c)(9). Colorado does not subject information services to tax, and therefore the Department determined that the taxpayer’s stock screening service was not subject to sales or use tax. PLR-12-007, Colo. Dept. of Rev. (published Apr. 8, 2013).

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