California’s New Ruling for Bundled Cell Phones

In a recent court case, the California Court of Appeal for the Third Appellate District ruled that purchasing “discounted” cell phones bundled with wireless services requires paying sales tax based on the cell phone’s full price.  

The case in question, Bekkerman-v-CDTFA, was initiated by consumers who purchased discounted cell phones bundled with wireless services yet were charged tax on the full price of the phones. The consumers argued that the discounted price of the phones should have been used to calculate the sales tax owed.

During the hearing, the court specifically analyzed Regulation 1585. The regulation defines a “bundled transaction” as the retail sale of a wireless telecommunication device that contractually requires the retailer’s customer to activate or contract with a wireless telecommunications service for periods greater than one month as a condition of that sale.  

Based upon this definition, the court sided with the CDTFA, holding that the phone’s full price should be used when calculating the sales tax owed. The court reasoned that retailers were effectively selling the phones at a discount to induce consumers to purchase wireless service and that the full price of the phones was, therefore, part of the consideration for the purchase of the wireless service.  

This ruling was a significant win for the State and has important implications for California retailers. Retailers must be mindful of the taxation requirements of bundled sales, whether involving cell phones or any other type of products and services, and should seek guidance from a tax professional to ensure compliance with state and local tax laws. 

Thompson Tax specializes in sales and use tax across many industries. Contact us today for all of your multistate and local sales and use tax needs. We are your Trusted Tax Advisor.