Alameda County Treasurer-Tax Collector

1221 Oak Street, Room 131, Oakland CA 94612

Frequently Asked Questions

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Business License Taxes

A Business License is an annual tax you pay each calendar year for doing business within the unincorporated area of the County of Alameda.

The County Ordinance requires that you obtain a license for conducting any business activity within the unincorporated areas, even if your business is located OUTSIDE our limits or you have a Business License from another city.

The Business License is evidence only that your tax has been paid. Other permits may be required to open your business. And, a separate license is required for each branch location of your business.

Any person who conducts business in or is based from the unincorporated area of the County of Alameda must obtain a Business License. Conducting business in the unincorporated area of the County of Alameda without a license is a misdemeanor and can result in penalties, notice of violations, and finally, court action.

Check with the city's or county's Business License Bureau. You will need a Business License to conduct business in any other city or county.

Unfortunately, no. Each city has its own Business License requirements and you must have a Business License to conduct business in each one. Fortunately, you only pay the tax on the portion of gross receipts that is generated in each particular city or county.

It is important to know that most California cities and counties have a Business License tax ordinance. However, each city has its own tax rate, structure, and requirements. Check with the appropriate city or county for theirs.

It you own more than one business, you may be eligible to consolidate your Business License taxes. Call our staff for details and refer to Section 3.04.530 of the County Business License Ordinance.

It is important to know that most California cities and counties have a Business License tax ordinance. However, each city has its own tax rate, structure, and requirements. Check with the appropriate city or county for theirs.

By County Ordinance, the tax imposed through the taxing power of the County is solely for the purpose of obtaining general revenue. Business taxes help pay for services like roads, fire and police, and other community services within the unincorporated areas.

It is important to know that most California cities and counties have a Business License tax ordinance. However, each city has its own tax rate, structure, and requirements. Check with the appropriate city or county for theirs.

Your license is current for the license year in which you obtain it and must be renewed each January 1 as long as you are in business.

It is important to know that most California cities and counties have a Business License tax ordinance. However, each city has its own tax rate, structure, and requirements. Check with the appropriate city or county for theirs.

Yes. However, it is your responsibility to obtain a renewal license whether or not a renewal notice is received. Penalties are assessed for delinquent accounts, regardless of whether you receive a renewal notice or not. Business Licenses can be renewed online. If you do NOT receive a notice by January 1, contact our staff at (510) 670-6400 immediately.

The Business License costs $20.00 plus a $4.00 CASp fee.

Gross receipts are what you receive such as cash, credit, and/or property taken in lieu of cash payments for the goods or services that you sell. 

Some businesses, such as administrative offices, do not generate gross receipts. In these cases, use gross payroll to calculate your Business License tax. Again, call our staff at (510) 670-6400 for details.

If your gross receipts are less than $5,000 you do not pay a business tax. However, you must file and report your actual gross receipts even if your business generated zero revenue, and pay the license and CASp fee.

Yes. Even if you conduct business on a part-time or limited basis, you are required to obtain a current Business License.

The Business License Ordinance may grant an exemption to a business based on its type, however you must still apply for a business license and are responsible for the $4.00 CASp fee. An application for exemption statement must be filled annually with the Tax Collector. Depending on the type of exemption you are applying for, you must submit with your statement a proof of exempt status such as State or Federal or medical certification or other documents, if any. If you are mailing your application or stopping at our office, you must include a copy of your proof. Failure to submit proof may cause us to deny or delay processing of your application.

 

Section 3.04.590 (b) - General Exemption: a business license is not required for transacting and carrying on any business exempt by virtue of the Constitution or applicable statutes of the United States, or of the State of California. The following businesses currently are generally exempt:

Exempted by State Laws and Statutes

  • Amtrak
  • Railroads

Exempted by State Laws or Statutes 

  • Banks 
  • National banking companies
  • Insurance companies 
  • Blue Cross of California 
  • Bail bond agencies (Insurance Bonds) 
  • Title insurance companies (as opposed to Title guaranty co). 
  • Alcoholic beverage manufacturers and/or distributors
 

Section 3.04.620 - Non-Profit Organization Exemption: a business license is not required of any charitable or non-profit institution, corporation, or association organized or conducted for non-profit purposes only and having non-profit tax exempt status under State or Federal law, when the receipts derived are to be used for the benefit of such organization and not for the private gain of any person.

Section 3.04.630 - Agriculture Exemption: a business license is not required for carrying on the business of agriculture except for the retail of agricultural products not grown or produced by the agricultural business that is exempted.

Section 3.04.520 - Exemption for Physical Infirmity, Unavoidable Misfortune or Poverty: the Tax Collector may grant one annual free license to any person who merits exemption because of physical infirmity, unavoidable misfortune, or unavoidable poverty. The free license may be revoked whenever such conditions no longer exist for the exempt year.

If your business name is anything other than your surname or has more than one owner -- a partnership, association, or company -- you may need to file a fictitious Business name with the County Clerk's Office. Should you accidentally "infringe" upon another business you may face legal action and will have to pay to refile your Business License -- and that gets expensive. So, you must do this before you apply for the Business License.

The actual process to obtain the Business License takes only a few minutes. However, a newly established business must register and pay a registration fee of $20.00 and a $4.00 CASp fee within 15 days from the date of commencement of business activity to avoid a penalty.

You may apply in person, by mail, or by using the online application on the county's website. However, if you use the mail, take care in calculating your tax or call our staff for assistance. Calculation errors delay the process because we may either request additional or refund overpaid tax. If you are not sure of your calculations, give us a call.

If you use the online application, please note that a non-refundable convenience fee of $3.00 will be charged for all credit card payment options and this fee will be added to your tax amount. Also, be advised that neither the Tax Collector nor Alameda County benefits from any part of the convenience fee as it is imposed by the credit card companies and cannot legally be absorbed by the County.

Every business must meet zoning and building requirements to ensure that its business category and site are compatible BEFORE SIGNING any leases and moving in.

You will also be required to obtain County Zoning/Planning Department clearance to make sure you locate your business at an address where it is allowed and that it does not heavily impact the neighborhood or require special parking consideration.

As your business address will appear on all filing documents, make sure it is accurate and legal to save you the trouble and expense of refiling changes later. If you need assistance in determining the legal address, contact the County's Planning Division.

You must check with the Planning Department before using or installing ANY type of sign: wall, window, banners, even balloons. Temporary signs require review and approval prior to issuance of permits and installation.

Yes. Businesses operated from the home also require payment of a Business License tax. The Zoning Ordinance regulates the type of business operations that may be done in the home. You must also adhere to any Homeowner CC&R restrictions as those are not enforced by the Zoning Department but may result in fees from your Homeowner's Association.

Yes, if you are not an employee, you are considered an Independent Contractor. Providing services to, or on behalf of a business, may be of an employee/employer or an independent contractor relationship depending on the nature of the work and span of control involved. Determining the relationship between you and your employer (or employee) can sometimes be confusing. However, simply put, if you are not paid as an employee, you are considered an Independent Contractor and are required to have a Business License.

Fortunately, the State Department of Employment Development (EDD) has a very helpful booklet highlighting specific guidelines to follow in determining the correct relationship between you and your employer or employee.

Contact EDD if you are unsure of the relationship. Once a determination has been made that your relationship is not that of an employee/employer, then by default, it is that of an independent contractor subject to a Business License.

Any person licensed as a contractor by the State Contractor's Board must obtain a Business License if 1) conducting business in the unincorporated areas of the County, whether based in or outside of this area, or 2) if based in the unincorporated area of the County, whether conducting business in or outside this area.

Every business intending to sell tangible goods -- wholesale or retail, commercial or home based, sales or repair oriented -- requires a California Seller's Permit. To apply, contact the Board of Equalization.

Contact the Employment Development Department for their requirements regarding State Withholding Taxes, Disability and Unemployment Insurance.

If you have NO EMPLOYEES, contact the Franchise Tax Board regarding Withholding Taxes, and Corporate State Taxes.


Utility User Taxes

The utility users tax is a tax imposed on the users of the following utility services in an unincorporated area of the County:

  • Intrastate, interstate and/or international telephone, cellular or wireless communication services.
  • Electrical energy services.
  • Gas services delivered through mains, pipes, or mobile transport.
  • Video and cable services.

The utility users pay the tax to the utility services suppliers. The utility service suppliers collect the tax and remit it to the Tax Collector's Office.

Federal, state, and local government departments, bureaus and agencies.

  • Persons qualifying for the Low Income Rate Assistance Program (LIRA) offered by the Pacific Gas & Electric Corporation (PG&E).
  • Persons on life support systems who do not already qualify for the LIRA program (gas and electric charges).
  • Agricultural users for that portion of charges separately billed and metered electrical energy and gas provided by the service supplier as agricultural service use and non-residential agricultural business use.
  • Telephone companies, from the telephone tax only.
  • Gas and electrical companies such as, PG&E, from the electricity and gas tax only.

The tax is 6.5% of the charges made to the utility user by the service supplier.

  1. To register the business with the Tax Collector's Office by obtaining a business license;
  2. To collect the Utility Users Tax from the users;
  3. To file a return and remit the tax collected to the Tax Collector's Office; and
  4. To keep for seven (7) years all records necessary to determine the amount of such tax that the service supplier may have been required to collect and remit.

The service supplier must remit the full amount of the tax collected for each month to the Tax Collector, on or before the last day of the following month. The return must be on the form provided by the Tax Collector.

The utility supplier will be liable for the tax and for penalties and interest. The County of Alameda Tax Collector's Office will determine and assess the utility users tax due, plus penalties and interest. The penalty is 5% of the tax due. If the tax due is not remitted within 10 working days after the date of delinquency, the utility supplier shall pay a total penalty of 20% of the amount of tax owed. In addition, the utility supplier shall pay 1½% interest per month on the amount of tax owed exclusive of penalties, from the date on which the tax first became delinquent until paid.

Every person required to collect and remit utility users taxes must keep all records for a period of 7 years. The Tax Collector has the right to inspect these records at all reasonable times.

For more information on the utility users tax, refer to:

Alameda County General Ordinance Code (Chapter 2.12 Utility Users Tax)