Guide to Sales Tax
you see isn't what you pay
It doesn't help that sales tax consists of different components, representing the state tax plus county and city taxes, and so knowing exactly what price you'll be charged can sometimes be very difficult.
To add to the confusion, different states have different rules on what is exempt from sales tax, and if you buy mail order goods in the US there are complicated rules about whether or not you have to include sales tax (it depends on the states and the company involved). One principle is that if the company you're buying from has a presence in the state you're ordering from, it will attract sales tax - otherwise it won't.
The table below lists the states and their basic rate of sales tax. This is as accurate as I can get (January 2007), but bear in mind that tax rates may have changed since it was prepared. City and county taxes aren't included, but can vary from 0% up to an additional 5% or so, and states vary in what categories of items are exempt or are subject to special tax rates.
If you want more details, the Sales Tax Clearinghouse has a Web site giving much more information (down to county level if you need it). Although you can have a look around, there is limited access to detailed data without a subscription. However, the site does provide links to the state Web sites where you may find additional information..
Even if you shop at two nearby stores, you could find the tax rate is different as I did in a small town in California. In one store I paid 6.25% tax ... but a couple of stores down the street it was 6.5%. The second store was in a different district, and an additional 0.25% school-board levy was charged.
Buying goods over the Internet is another can of worms. In all states where sales tax is applied, any goods bought over the Internet are subject to sales tax ... except if those "goods" are downloaded software or information. Some states charge sales tax on both items, some on neither, and some charge it only on software but not on information.
And if you're buying Internet access in some states you will be charged sales tax, in others you won't. In Nebraska you'll get charged tax on any setting up costs if software is provided, in Ohio you'll only pay tax if you're a commercial user, and if you're in Texas, the first $25 of any costs in each month will be tax exempt.
But there are two conditions. The first is that you can only do this at a store operating the scheme, and the second is that you can only do it if you're leaving from an International airport in the same state that you made the purchase.