What every business needs to know about personal property tax

Understand how personal property taxes apply to your business.

by Stephen Sylvester
updated May 11, 2023 ·  3min read

Personal property tax applies to many businesses, despite the confusing name. Neglecting business personal property tax can lead to compliance issues, tax penalties, and missed planning opportunities.

This guide defines business personal property, lists states without a business personal property tax, and gives a broad overview of how business personal property taxes work.

smiling woman taking inventory using a tablet

What is business personal property?

Business personal property includes all property not permanently attached to a physical location. This includes:

  • Business equipment
  • Machinery
  • Inventory
  • Supplies
  • Office furniture
  • Business vehicles

This definition excludes real property such as land and buildings. Also, some states define business personal property more narrowly.

Many states only tax physical assets—known as tangible personal property. These states exempt intangible assets such as software, licenses, trademarks, and patents.

Some businesses—from yoga studios to small software companies—tend to have relatively little tangible personal property. Examples of companies that usually own extensive tangible personal property include manufacturers and shipping companies. Locations with favorable property tax rules can significantly reduce the tax burden for such businesses.

Which states have a business personal property tax?

Most states tax business personal property, but exceptions exist. The following eight states don't tax business personal property:

  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania

Four states only tax the personal property of select industries that affect few private businesses. These states include:

  • Minnesota
  • New Hampshire
  • North Dakota
  • South Dakota

Many states that tax business personal property offer exemptions for property below a certain value or businesses with total personal property under a given amount. Additionally, states sometimes exempt entire industries.

Some states offer few or no exemptions—meaning most businesses in those states will have to pay personal property tax.

Unlike federal income tax, business personal property tax varies widely between jurisdictions. Some states handle taxation themselves. Other states have local jurisdictions—such as counties or cities—assess and collect the tax. As a result, different rules and rates sometimes apply to different localities in the same state.

This can make dealing with property taxes burdensome for businesses with many locations. Such companies may have to file personal property tax returns and pay the related tax in many localities. Each jurisdiction may have its own definition of personal property, calculation method, due date, and tax rate.

How states and localities tax business personal property

Business personal property tax involves both an assessor and a collector.

Businesses typically file personal property tax returns with the assessor. Each jurisdiction provides tables to help the company determine depreciation on applicable assets, which often differs from the federal income tax amount. The assessor then multiplies the property's market value by the jurisdiction's assessment ratio to get the property's assessed value. This ratio ranges from 100% to a small fraction, depending on the jurisdiction and type of property.

Businesses can appeal the assessment. They usually do so to contest the method of determining fair market value—called the valuation methodology. The exact valuation methodologies allowed and appeal process depends on the jurisdiction.

The collector usually sends companies a property tax bill for their property's assessed value multiplied by the property tax rate.

Determining which jurisdiction allows the most favorable business personal property tax rules often proves difficult. Merely comparing rates gives an incomplete picture. Businesses must also consider assessment ratios, exemptions from the tax, and definitions of business personal property.

Business personal property tax software can help companies manage the tax assessment and collection process. Businesses with a substantial compliance burden often hire a certified tax professional familiar with each jurisdiction's rules.

Studying each relevant jurisdiction's rules in detail—or hiring a qualified tax expert to do so—allows businesses to stay compliant and legally minimize their tax burden.

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Stephen Sylvester

About the Author

Stephen Sylvester

Stephen Sylvester, CPA helps CPA and finance firms turn expertise into new clients. By transforming esoteric technical i… Read more

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.