BIR clarifies small online sellers are exempt from withholding tax

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THE BUREAU of Internal Revenue (BIR) on Monday clarified that small online sellers are exempted from the payment of the creditable withholding tax imposed on online marketplaces but would still need to register their business.

“Small-scale online sellers are exempted from withholding tax. The BIR is sympathetic to small businesses in its approach to taxing online sellers/merchants,” BIR Commissioner Romeo D. Lumagui, Jr. said in a statement.

BIR Revenue Regulations No. 16-2023, which took effect on Jan. 11, imposes a withholding tax of 1% on one-half of the gross remittances by e-marketplace operators and digital financial service providers to the sellers or mer-chants for the goods and services paid or sold through their platforms or facilities.

The BIR said that the withholding tax is not imposed if the annual total gross remittances to an online seller for the past taxable year has not exceeded P500,000; if the cumulative gross remittances to an online seller in a taxable year has not yet exceeded P500,000 or if the seller is duly exempt from or subject to a lower income tax rate pursuant to any existing law or treaty.

“For those who are above the threshold of P500,000 annual gross remittance, it is only fair that they will be subjected to withholding tax. We have to be fair to the retail sector and brick and mortar stores who are regularly pay-ing their taxes,” Mr. Lumagui said.

The tax covers marketplaces for online shopping, food delivery platforms, platforms to book lodging accommodations, and other similar online service or product marketplaces.

E-marketplace operators and digital financial service providers were given a 90-day transitory period to comply with the order.

The BIR in a separate circular said all online sellers and merchants need to register with the BIR and submit documentary requirements, even if their annual gross remittance is below the P500,000 threshold.

The circular also noted that sellers and merchants are not allowed to receive payments through a personal account and instead must use a BIR-registered account.

“If you have a business, you have to register and pay your taxes. It doesn’t matter if it’s an actual store or an online store. It is your responsibility to pay taxes like everyone else,” Mr. Lumagui said.

In a press conference last week, Mr. Lumagui told reporters that the measure will help the BIR better gauge the impact of the digital economy.

“We gave the online platforms a grace period of 90 days. With that, we are still checking on which are already capable of complying… During our discussions with online platforms, they’re cooperative. With this development, we’re hoping to get the entire picture on online transactions,” he said.

In 2022, the digital economy contributed P2.08 trillion or equivalent to 9.4% of the gross domestic product.

A report by Google, Temasek Holdings and Bain & Company showed that the Philippines’ digital economy is projected to reach as high as $150 billion by 2030.

The BIR also earlier clarified that the withholding tax is not a “new” tax as it is just a measure that will allow for an advance payment of income tax.

“The BIR has a friendly and approachable stance as regards the taxation of online sellers. We know that most of our online sellers do not have the intention to evade taxes. They just need guidance in the registration and pay-ment processes,” Mr. Lumagui said.

He also said the BIR is working to provide guidance to online sellers and online platforms on their tax obligations. — Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson