How to Obtain a Wholesale License in California

by Tom Streissguth; Updated September 26, 2017

You are required to get a seller's permit or a use tax account, depending on the nature of your wholesale operation and your turnover amount, in California. Forms and instructions are available through the California Board of Equalization.

Seller's Permit

If you're dealing in wholesale goods subject to sales tax at the retail level, you need a California seller's permit. This rule holds for corporations, partnerships, limited liability companies and sole proprietors. There's no fee charged for a seller's permit, but the BOE may require a deposit to be applied to due and payable taxes. You must have a permit for each place of business, unless the agency approves you for a consolidated permit, which is a seller's permit that covers operations at multiple locations within the state.

Use Tax Accounts

California requires a use tax if your business collects a minimum of $100,000 in gross receipts from all operations, you're not required to hold a seller's permit, you're not registered for direct payment of use taxes to the state, and you're not otherwise registered with the BOE for payment of use tax. This tax applies if you're not subject to sales tax; in effect, the state will charge you use tax on those items you deal in that have avoided sales tax charges. Use tax may arise, for example, because an out-of-state seller is not required by his home state to charge you sales tax, or you're dealing in goods purchased online for which no California sales tax was charged.

Business Licenses

The city or county where you establish operations may require a business license, which is entirely separate from state-issued seller and use-tax permits. Additionally, you may need to register the business with the Franchise Tax Board, which is the California state income tax agency. To thread your way through this licensing maze, a good place to start is the Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development site, also known as GO-Biz, and the Cal-Gold page which will list all required state and local permits depending on your location.

Online Registration

The state Board of Equalization provides online registration for a use tax account or seller's permit. The business registration system requires that you identify your business by one or more criteria: "Employing 10 or more people," or "Selling items or goods in California." After you've selected the appropriate descriptions, the system then directs you to additional screens to get you to the appropriate applications for licenses and permits. Selling certain items, such as alcohol, tobacco products, tires, vehicles, construction equipment, electronics, fuel and lumber, requires additional licenses.

In-Person Registration

If you prefer face-to-face registration, you may visit a Board of Equalization field office. These offices are in major cities throughout the state. To open an account and to obtain the required certificates, you must provide your name, Social Security number, state ID number, date of incorporation if applicable, the name of your bank, your business name, business address and an email address. The BOE also wants information on your suppliers, your average monthly sales numbers and personal references.

About the Author

Founder/president of the innovative reference publisher The Archive LLC, Tom Streissguth has been a self-employed business owner, independent bookseller and freelance author in the school/library market. Holding a bachelor's degree from Yale, Streissguth has published more than 100 works of history, biography, current affairs and geography for young readers.