Avalara Releases Free Tax Rates API

Each year around this time our thoughts turn to taxes. Many of us struggle to understand our own individual tax obligations, let alone staying current on changes in the tax code. Multiply that struggle many times over, and you can begin to understand the complexities online retailers and other sellers face as they navigate this rocky terrain through the year. That’s a headache Avalara is looking to ease with its new Tax Rate API.

With an increasingly global customer base, online sellers deal with tax complexities on every transaction. And sellers aren’t just the Amazons and the eBays of the world. Do you sell whitepapers on your site? Do you conduct transactions when customers sign up for your service? You, too, are an online seller.

With such a huge need for up-to-date and accurate tax rate information, tax rate APIs have become more and more important. Tax rate APIs ease the headache of figuring out (and abiding by) constantly changing tax codes by doing all that work for you. In addition to Avalara, major players in this space include ZipTax, TaxJar, TaxCloud and Xero. In this evaluation we will focus on the former two in comparison to Alavara’s new offering. Potential users should note that ZipTax supports both XML and JSON responses, while Avalara and TaxJar are JSON only.

Straightforward Setup

During our evaluation, the Avalara API setup was straightforward. Online signup required only a name and email address, and, after we provided the proper information, the site quickly generated an API key. ZipTax and TaxJar both offer similarly easy signups.

The Avalara Tax Rate API Documentation was clean and simple. It offers examples for both HTTP and cURL, with a full explanation of how to make requests and expected responses on a single page.

The documentation provided two quick examples. One was for a cURL that passes the key in the header, and the other showed how to pass the key as a parameter. These are the two main methods of working with an API, so it is smart to focus on them. I also liked how Avalara put the examples front and center, as examples are all too often hidden in documentation. The ZipTax documentation was equally straightforward. The TaxJar API’s documentation offered just cURL examples. Passing parameters through a GET request is possible, according to TaxJar support, but an example is not  provided in the documentation.

In terms of support, Avalara hosts a forum with a list of answered questions and the ability to ask  a new question. TaxJar and ZipTax don’t provide forums, but both have a support email.

Where Avalara really stands out against these close competitors is price: The Avalara Tax Rate API is a free service, while TaxJar and ZipTax both charge for their services. TaxJar plans range in price from $9 to $90, based on calls per month; TaxJar does include sales tax reports and tax filing functionality. ZipTax plans range from $9 to $50 per month, based on a larger number of calls.

Taxing Tasks Made Simpler

Using Avalara’s new Tax Rate API, we were able to quickly access tax rates for a variety of text situations. While TaxJar and ZipTax provide only ZIPcode- and city-level lookup, Avalara also enables users to look up rates according to address (street, city and state).

If you’re looking to figure out the sales tax rates for items being shipped, both Avalara and TaxJar can help. Avalara offers the AvaTax API, while TaxJar provides the Smart Sales Tax API; both services come at a cost. ZipTax does not provide the ability to figure out sales tax for items being shipped.

In a Nutshell In conclusion, the Avalara Tax Rate API is a great new addition to the tax API space. It offers a free sales tax API that is comparable, and in some ways better, than other services currently available for a cost. It is a solid addition to the marketplace and definitely worth taking for a test drive.

Example Responses

Avalara:
{
	totalRate: 9.5,
	rates: 
	[
	
	{
		rate: 3,
		name: "SEATTLE",
		type: "City"
		},
		
{
		rate: 6.5,
		name: "WASHINGTON",
		type: "State"
		}
	]
}

TaxJar:
{
  "location":{
    "state":"NJ",
    "zip":"07446",
    "state_rate":"0.07",
    "city":"RAMSEY",
    "city_rate":"0.0",
    "county":"BERGEN",
    "county_rate":"0.0",
    "combined_district_rate":"0.0",
    "combined_rate":"0.07"
  }
}
ZipTax:
{
version: "v20",
rCode: 100,
results: [
	{
		geoPostalCode: "90265",
		geoCity: "MALIBU",
		geoCounty: "LOS ANGELES",
		geoState: "CA",
		taxSales: 0.090000003576279,
		taxUse: 0.090000003576279,
		txbService: "N",
		txbFreight: "N",
		stateSalesTax: 0.064999997615814,
		stateUseTax: 0.064999997615814,
		citySalesTax: 0,
		cityUseTax: 0,
		cityTaxCode: "",
		countySalesTax: 0.0099999997764826,
		countyUseTax: 0.0099999997764826,
		countyTaxCode: "19",
		districtSalesTax: 0.014999999664724,
		districtUseTax: 0.014999999664724
	}
	]
}
Patrick Poulin Patrick's background is in building eCommerce sites and apps for the world's largest brands. He dabbled in ad tech, but has since settled firmly in the API space. He is the Founder of API Fortress - a visual API testing and monitoring platform that requires no coding. API testing and monitoring made easy... finally.

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