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Selling on eBay and Enriching the Taxman

John Conduitt

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I sell coins on eBay occasionally - if I upgrade or buy a bulk lot for one coin. I've never thought about the implications of the way I list them. It's hard enough deciphering all the different options. But as a buyer, I've found it can make quite a difference to what you pay.

I'm referring specifically to the category in which you place the coin. eBay's categories can be awkward - like attaching a country of manufacture to a coin struck by some Parthian court mint. When it comes to the Item Category, however, a little precision is required.

What's the difference between these categories?


The answer is about £30, for a coin worth £200. If you select 'Tudor coins' (or anything hammered) the Value Added Tax in the UK is 5%. For gold bullion it is 0%. For anything else less than 100 years old, it is 20%. eBay charge a rate automatically according to the category. If the buyer's unaware of the correct rate - and the payment request doesn't actually say what the rate applied is - they will end up paying too much tax. That may be noble, but surely should be a choice.

Even if the buyer is aware, the process for getting the difference back is arduous. You have to find out how to contact a human at eBay via chat and make your case (it's not easy either finding chat in the first place or getting past the bot). Don't let them call you back as there's no record of the conversation, and that will be needed so the hundreds of people you speak to can read about the problem.

The person you speak to first will have no idea what the answer is and has no authority to credit you anyway. This may also be true of their manager. You have to stick to your guns as you are right. It's then luck as to what happens next. You might get through to the correct department (the 'buying team', although this seems to be a rather loose term). They still might not know what they're talking about and demand links to the relevant tax legislation on your government's website, even though their own system has the correct rates in it under the correct categories.

You might be talking to someone who claims to be the 'last person in the chain', but they are not. Someone there does know their stuff and will credit you. Don't allow them to get away with saying they have already paid the tax and you have to claim it off your government - a process that takes months and will cost you (in the UK you have to send a snail mail letter to claim). eBay can and will credit you anyway.

All that - which can take a day or 3 months - for £30. Maybe even £5 if your coin was cheaper. Most people might not bother. It doesn't matter for £5. But you can bet the taxman wouldn't take the same attitude if they found out the seller listed all their coins as gold bullion and you paid £0 tax.

How much of a problem is this? I've ordered 5 coins from the US on eBay in the last 3 months and every single one was in a category so far off the mark I had to pay 20% tax and go through all the above. Not fun.

The moral of the story is, then, that it would really help to list your coins in the correct category. The irony is that eBay actually makes this quite easy for the seller - no effort at all, as long as you know what you're selling. A few more seconds can mean hours saved for the buyer, or cash that they could otherwise spend with you.

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The thing about bullion is that it can be sold for the dealer's precious metal value only. If an ancient gold coin is worth more than a little more as a collectible than as bullion, then the dealer runs the risk of future possible tax penalties if it is listed as bullion.

Edited by NathanB
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