Reporting taxes on online activities


If you are an online buyer or seller, you may have tax responsibilities.

Generally, your activity is considered a business if it’s carried on continuously with the expectation of earning a profit.

Hobby or business

Generally, a hobby is for sport or recreation and you do not intend to make a profit. Businesses operate to make a profit.

These 9 questions may help you determine if your activity is a hobby or a business:

  1. Do you carry on the activity in a businesslike manner and maintain complete and accurate books and records?
  2. Does the time and effort put into the activity show an intention to make a profit?
  3. Do you depend on income from the activity?
  4. If there are losses, are they due to circumstances beyond your control or did they occur in the start-up phase of the business?
  5. Have you changed methods of operation to improve your profits?
  6. Do you have the knowledge needed to carry on the activity as a successful business?
  7. Have you made a profit in similar activities in the past?
  8. Did you make a profit in the majority of the past 5 years?
  9. Do you expect to make a profit in the future from the appreciation of assets used in the activity?

Visit IRS’s Five Things to Remember about Hobby Income and Expenses and Hobby or Business? IRS Offers Tips to Decide for more information.

Online sales and taxes

We tax residents on all income, regardless of source, within and outside of the U.S. This includes income earned from making online sales.

As a part-year resident, we tax you on all income received while a California resident, including income earned from making online sales.

Visit Part-year resident and nonresident for more information.

Income from online activities may be taxable, even if you do not receive a tax form.

Earnings from online activities

Online auctions

If you have a business and you increase your sales using online auctions, remember to include these sales in your business income.

If you’re in the business of selling items through auctions, you may owe self-employment and other taxes.

Online garage sales

If your online auction sales are similar to the occasional garage or yard sale, you generally do not have to report the sales.

You may have started an online business if you:

  • Have continuous sales
  • Purchase items for resale with the intention of making a profit

When your sales price is more than your cost and improvements to the item, you usually have a reportable gain. Visit Instructions for California Schedule D (540) for more information.

Estimated payments

If you expect to owe over a certain amount in taxes, you must make estimated tax payments throughout the year.

Visit Business Expenses (FTB 984) for more information.

How to pay

Visit Payment options for making estimated tax payments.

Keeping good records

You may deduct some or all of your business expenses (subject to the normal tax limitations and rules). Keeping good records of your business expenses will help you claim the business expense deductions that you are entitled.

Visit Business Expenses (FTB 984) for more information.

Online purchases

You are required to pay a tax when you purchase tangible property that will be used, consumed, or stored in California.

As a buyer, you may owe use tax for items purchased when an out-of-state or online retailer does not collect tax on items delivered to California.

Visit the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) for more information.

Seller's permit

A California retailer collects sales tax and is responsible for reporting and paying the tax.

Generally, if you make 3 or more sales in a 12-month period, a seller’s permit is required. A seller’s permit allows you to collect sales tax from California customers and report those amounts.

As a California retailer, you are responsible for paying sales tax to the CDTFA.

Filing requirement

You may have a filing requirement if your income from online sales and auctions meets the threshold. To determine your threshold amount visit the following pages:

What form to file

Residents with a filing requirement must file California Resident Income Tax Return (Form 540). Visit Form 540 Booklet for more information.

Nonresidents or part-year residents with a filing requirement must file Nonresidents or Part-year Residents (540NR)Visit Form 540NR Booklet for more information.

Visit When to file for more information on your due dates.