Sales tax

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A sales tax is a tax paid to a governing body for the sales of certain goods and services. Usually laws allow the seller to collect funds for the tax from the consumer at the point of purchase. When a tax on goods or services is paid to a governing body directly by a consumer, it is usually called a use tax. Often laws provide for the exemption of certain goods or services from sales and use tax.

A tax is a mandatory financial charge or some other type of levy imposed upon a taxpayer by a governmental organization in order to fund various public expenditures. A failure to pay, along with evasion of or resistance to taxation, is punishable by law. Taxes consist of direct or indirect taxes and may be paid in money or as its labour equivalent.

A use tax is a type of tax levied in the United States by numerous state governments. It is essentially the same as a sales tax but is applied not where a product or service was sold but where a merchant bought a product or service and then converted it for its own use, without having paid tax when it was initially purchased. Use taxes are functionally equivalent to sales taxes. They are typically levied upon the use, storage, enjoyment, or other consumption in the state of tangible personal property that has not been subjected to a sales tax.

Tax exemption is a monetary exemption which reduces taxable income. Tax exempt status can provide complete relief from taxes, reduced rates, or tax on only a portion of items. Examples include exemption of charitable organizations from property taxes and income taxes, veterans, and certain cross-border or multi-jurisdictional scenarios.



Cash register receipt showing sales tax of 8.5% Receipt California restaurant 2006.jpg
Cash register receipt showing sales tax of 8.5%

Conventional or retail sales tax is levied on the sale of a good to its final end user and is charged every time that item is sold retail. Sales to businesses that later resell the goods are not charged the tax. A purchaser not an end user is usually issued a "resale certificate" by the taxing authority and required to provide the certificate (or its ID number) to a seller at the point of purchase, along with a statement that the item is for resale. The tax is otherwise charged on each item sold to purchasers without such a certificate and who are under the jurisdiction of the taxing authority. [1] [2]

A consumer good or final good is any commodity that is produced or consumed by the consumer to satisfy current wants or needs. Consumer goods are ultimately consumed, rather than used in the production of another good. For example, a microwave oven or a bicycle that is sold to a consumer is a final good or consumer good, but the components that are sold to be used in those goods are intermediate goods. For example, textiles or transistors can be used to make some further goods.

Other types of sales taxes, or similar taxes

A securities turnover excise tax (STET) is a small tax on every stock, swap, derivative, or other trade. It has been levied historically in the United States and has been proposed more recently as a way to reduce speculation in financial markets.

The FairTax is a proposal to reform the federal tax code of the United States. It would replace all federal income taxes, payroll taxes, gift taxes, and estate taxes with a single broad national consumption tax on retail sales. The Fair Tax Act would apply a tax, once, at the point of purchase on all new goods and services for personal consumption. The proposal also calls for a monthly payment to all family households of lawful U.S. residents as an advance rebate, or "prebate", of tax on purchases up to the poverty level. First introduced into the United States Congress in 1999, a number of congressional committees have heard testimony on the bill; however, it has not moved from committee and has yet to have any effect on the tax system. In 2005, a tax reform movement has formed behind the FairTax proposal. Attention increased after talk radio personality Neal Boortz and Georgia Congressman John Linder published The FairTax Book in 2005 and additional visibility was gained in the 2008 presidential campaign.

A turnover tax is similar to VAT, with the difference that it taxes intermediate and possibly capital goods. It is an indirect tax, typically on an ad valorem basis, applicable to a production process or stage. For example, when manufacturing activity is completed, a tax may be charged on some companies. Sales tax occurs when merchandise has been sold.

Most countries in the world have sales taxes or value-added taxes at all or several of the national, state, county, or city government levels. [11] Countries in Western Europe, especially in Scandinavia, have some of the world's highest valued-added taxes. Norway, Denmark and Sweden have higher VATs at 25%, Hungary has the highest at 27% [12] [13] although reduced rates are used in some cases, as for groceries, art, books and newspapers. [14]

Western Europe region comprising the westerly countries of Europe

Western Europe is the region comprising the western part of Europe. Though the term Western Europe is commonly used, there is no commonly agreed-upon definition of the countries that it encompasses.

Scandinavia Region in Northern Europe

Scandinavia is a region in Northern Europe, with strong historical, cultural, and linguistic ties. The term Scandinavia in local usage covers the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. The majority national languages of these three, belong to the Scandinavian dialect continuum, and are mutually intelligible North Germanic languages. In English usage, Scandinavia also sometimes refers to the Scandinavian Peninsula, or to the broader region including Finland and Iceland, which is always known locally as the Nordic countries.

Norway constitutional monarchy in Northern Europe

Norway, officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic country in Northern Europe whose territory comprises the western and northernmost portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula; the remote island of Jan Mayen and the archipelago of Svalbard are also part of the Kingdom of Norway. The Antarctic Peter I Island and the sub-Antarctic Bouvet Island are dependent territories and thus not considered part of the kingdom. Norway also lays claim to a section of Antarctica known as Queen Maud Land.

In some jurisdictions of the United States, there are multiple levels of government which each impose a sales tax. For example, sales tax in Chicago (Cook County), IL is 10.25%, consisting of 6.25% state, 1.25% city, 1.75% county and 1% regional transportation authority. Chicago also has the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority tax on food and beverage of 1% (which means eating out is taxed at 11.25%). [15]

Chicago City in Illinois, United States

Chicago, officially the City of Chicago, is the most populous city in Illinois, as well as the third most populous city in the United States. With an estimated population of 2,716,450 (2017), it is the most populous city in the Midwest. Chicago is the principal city of the Chicago metropolitan area, often referred to as Chicagoland, and the county seat of Cook County, the second most populous county in the United States. The metropolitan area, at nearly 10 million people, is the third-largest in the United States, and the fourth largest in North America and the third largest metropolitan area in the world by land area.

Cook County, Illinois County in Illinois, United States

Cook County is a county in the U.S. state of Illinois. It is the second-most populous county in the United States after Los Angeles County, California. As of 2017, the population was 5,211,263. Its county seat is Chicago, the largest city in Illinois and the third-most populous city in the United States. More than 40% of all residents of Illinois live in Cook County.

For Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the tax is 10%, which is 5% each of state & local. [16] In Los Angeles it is 9%, which is 7.25% state, 1.5% county & 0.25% city.

Louisiana State of the United States of America

Louisiana is a state in the Deep South region of the South Central United States. It is the 31st most extensive and the 25th most populous of the 50 United States. Louisiana is bordered by the state of Texas to the west, Arkansas to the north, Mississippi to the east, and the Gulf of Mexico to the south. A large part of its eastern boundary is demarcated by the Mississippi River. Louisiana is the only U.S. state with political subdivisions termed parishes, which are equivalent to counties. The state's capital is Baton Rouge, and its largest city is New Orleans.

In California, sales taxes are made up of various state, county and city taxes. The state tax is "imposed upon all retailers" for the "privilege of selling tangible personal property at retail". [17] Strictly speaking, only the retailer is responsible for the payment of the tax; when a retailer adds this tax to the purchase price, the consumer is merely reimbursing the retailer by contractual agreement. When consumers purchase goods from out-of-state (in which case the seller owes no tax to California) the consumer is required to pay a "use tax" identical to the sales tax. Use tax is levied upon the "storage, use, or other consumption in this state of tangible personal property". [18] Consumers are responsible for declaring these purchases in the same filing as their annual state income tax, but it is rare for them to do so. An exception is out-of-state purchase of automobiles. Then, use tax is collected by the state as part of registering the vehicle in California.

The trend has been for conventional sales taxes to be replaced by more broadly based value-added taxes. Value -added taxes provide an estimated 20% of worldwide tax revenue and have been adopted by more than 140 countries. The United States is now one of the few countries to retain conventional sales taxes. [19]


Economists at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development studied the effects of various types of taxes on the economic growth of developed nations within the OECD and found that sales taxes are one of the least harmful taxes for growth. [20]

Because the rate of a sales tax does not change based on a person's income or wealth, sales taxes are generally considered regressive. However, it has been suggested that any regressive effect of a sales tax could be mitigated, e.g., by excluding rent, or by exempting "necessary" items, such as food, clothing and medicines. [21] Investopedia defines a regressive tax as "[a] tax that takes a larger percentage from low-income people than from high-income people. A regressive tax is generally a tax that is applied uniformly. This means that it hits lower-income individuals harder".

Effects on local economies

Higher sales taxes have been shown to have many different effects on local economies. With higher taxes, more consumers are starting to reconsider where they shop, [22] according to a study conducted in Minnesota and Wisconsin, [23] where the sales tax was raised on cigarettes. Effects of higher sales tax were not shown immediately in sales, but about six months after the taxes were raised. [23] High sales taxes can be used to relieve property taxes but only when property taxes are lowered subsequently. [24] Studies that have shown this correlation were conducted in Georgia by cities raising sales tax and lowering property taxes. To combat sales loss, a city must be able to import consumers to buy goods locally. [23] If local sales taxes are too high, consumers will travel to other areas to purchase goods.

Enforcement of tax on remote sales

In the United States, every state with a sales tax law has a use tax component in that law applying to purchases from out-of-state mail order, catalog and e-commerce vendors, a category also known as "remote sales". [25] As e-commerce sales have grown in recent years, noncompliance with use tax has had a growing impact on state revenues. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that uncollected use taxes on remote sales in 2003 could be as high as $20.4 billion. Uncollected use tax on remote sales was projected to run as high as $54.8 billion for 2011. [26]

Enforcement of the tax on remote sales, however, is difficult. Unless the vendor has a physical location, or nexus, within a state, the vendor cannot be required to collect tax for that state. [25] This limitation was defined as part of the Dormant Commerce Clause by the Supreme Court in the 1967 decision on National Bellas Hess v. Illinois. An attempt to require a Delaware e-commerce vendor to collect North Dakota tax was overturned by the court in the 1992 decision on Quill Corp. v. North Dakota. [26] A number of observers and commentators have argued, so far unsuccessfully, for a Congressional adoption of this physical presence nexus test. [27]

The Internet Tax Freedom Act of 1998 established a commission to study the possibility of internet taxation, but the commission did not make any formal recommendations. In a report issued in 2003, the Congressional Budget Office warned of the economic burden of a "multiplicity of tax systems, particularly for smaller firms". [26]

In an effort to reduce the burden of compliance with the tax laws of multiple jurisdictions, the Streamlined Sales Tax Project was organized in March 2000. Cooperative efforts in this project by 44 state governments and the District of Columbia eventually produced the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement in 2010. [28] This agreement establishes standards necessary for simplified and uniform sales tax laws. As of December 2010, 24 states had passed legislation conforming with the agreement. Whether the Streamlined Sales Tax can actually be applied to remote sales ultimately depends upon Congressional support, because the 1992 Quill v. North Dakota decision determined that only the U.S. Congress has the authority to enact interstate taxes. [29]

Effect of Electronic Commerce

Electronic commerce business can also be affected by consumption taxes. [30] It can be separated into four categories: retail. intermediaries, business-to-business and media (Goldfarb 2008). These categories were affected varying degrees. The intermediaries was affected by the retail sales tax since it provide platforms for transitions between different parties (such as the Amazon marketplace). Business-to-Business transactions will be placed in different circumstances by whether the case will be taxed in the USA. Electronic commerce goods are usually not taxed the same especially across the stats in the USA. Different states has their own sales tax regulation, for example, some states use their standard sales taxes law for the digital goods, and some of the states have specific laws for them. It is difficult to enforce the taxes on electronic commerce especially for digital goods that trade across different countries.

The effect that a sales tax has on consumer and producer behavior is rather large. The price elasticity of demand for online products is high, meaning that consumers are price sensitive and their demand will significantly change with small changes in price. This means that the tax burden lies primarily with the producer. To avoid altering demand, the producer will either avoid the tax if possible by location their fulfillment centers in areas without a high sales tax or they will internalize the cost of the sales tax by charging consumers the same price but paying for the tax from their profits. [31]


Early examples

A tax imposed on the sale of goods is depicted on the walls of ancient Egyptian tombs, which have been dated as far back as 2000 BC. These paintings describe the collection of tax for specific commodities, such as cooking oil. [32]

Sales tax amounts, measured in drachmas at a rate of one percent, were recorded in a separate column of a record prepared for the auction of 16 slaves in Piraeus, Greece in 415 BC. [33] Nearby Athens collected duties on the import and export of commodities, recorded at a rate of two percent in 399 BC. At that period of time, Athens did not rely on government agencies to collect its taxes; the responsibility was delegated to the highest bidder, a practice known as tax farming. [34]

The Roman emperor Augustus collected funds for his military aerarium in AD 6 with a one percent general sales tax, known as the centesima rerum venalium (hundredth of the value of everything sold). [35] The Roman sales tax was later reduced to a half percent (ducentesima) by Tiberius, then abolished completely by Caligula. [36]

In the United States

Although the United States government has never used a general sales tax, an excise tax on whiskey enacted in 1791 was one of its first fund raising efforts. The unpopularity of this tax with farmers on the western frontier led to the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794.

Federal and state sales taxes in the United States remained selective, rather than general, through the 19th century. However, excise taxes were applied to so many specific commodities during the Civil War that they functioned collectively as a general sales tax. [32]

The first broad-based, general sales taxes in the United States were enacted by Kentucky and Mississippi in 1930, although Kentucky repealed its sales tax in 1936.

The federal government's per-gallon tax of gasoline (beginning at .01 cent per gallon in 1932) and per-package tax of cigarettes ($1.01 per package since 2009) are the most well-known current sales taxes administered by the federal government.

Twenty-two other states began imposing general sales taxes later in the 1930s, followed by six in the 1940s and five in the 1950s. Kentucky re-enacted its sales tax law in 1960. Eleven more states enacted sales tax laws during the 1960s, with Vermont as the last in 1969. Only five states currently do not have general sales taxes: Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon. [32]

The 2010 health care reform law imposed a 10 percent federal sales tax on indoor tanning services, effective July 1, 2010. Unlike previous federal excise taxes, this tax is collected directly from the consumer by the seller and based on the sale price rather than a quantity. However, the new tax is selective rather than general, applying only to a specific service. [37] [38]

In Canada

Canada uses a value-added federal Goods and Services Tax (GST) with a rate of 5 percent, effective since January 1, 2008. Every province in Canada except Alberta has either a Provincial Sales Tax (PST) or the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), which is a single, blended combination of the GST and PST.

Sales tax avoidance

Businesses can reduce the impact of sales tax for themselves and their customers by planning for the tax consequences of all activities. Sales tax avoidance often includes the following:

In the United States, online retailers without physical presence in a given state may ship goods to customers there without collecting that state's sales tax because as of 2011, there is no federal sales tax. has been criticized for not collecting sales tax and has intentionally disaffiliated itself from businesses in certain states to continue doing so legally.

See also

Related Research Articles

Taxation in the United States taxes are imposed in the United States at each of levels; taxes on income, payroll, property, sales, capital gains, dividends, imports, estates and gifts, as well as various fees

The United States of America has separate federal, state, and local governments with taxes imposed at each of these levels. Taxes are levied on income, payroll, property, sales, capital gains, dividends, imports, estates and gifts, as well as various fees. In 2010, taxes collected by federal, state, and municipal governments amounted to 24.8% of GDP. In the OECD, only Chile and Mexico are taxed less as a share of their GDP.

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) is a multi-level value added tax introduced in Canada on January 1, 1991, by then-Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and his finance minister Michael Wilson. The GST replaced a hidden 13.5% manufacturers' sales tax (MST); Mulroney claimed the GST was implemented because the MST was hindering the manufacturing sector's ability to export competitively. The introduction of the GST was very controversial. The GST rate is 5%, effective January 1, 2008.

The list price, also known as the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP), or the recommended retail price (RRP), or the suggested retail price (SRP), of a product is the price at which the manufacturer recommends that the retailer sell the product. The intention was to help to standardize prices among locations. While some stores always sell at, or below, the suggested retail price, others do so only when items are on sale or closeout/clearance.

A fuel tax is an excise tax imposed on the sale of fuel. In most countries the fuel tax is imposed on fuels which are intended for transportation. Fuels used to power agricultural vehicles, and/or home heating oil which is similar to diesel are taxed at a different, usually lower rate. The fuel tax receipts are often dedicated or hypothecated to transportation projects so that the fuel tax is considered by many a user fee. In other countries, the fuel tax is a source of general revenue. Sometimes, the fuel tax is used as an ecotax, to promote ecological sustainability. Fuel taxes are often considered regressive taxes.

Excise tax in the United States is an indirect tax on listed items. Excise taxes can be and are made by federal, state and local governments and are not uniform throughout the United States. Some excise taxes are collected from the producer or retailer and not paid directly by the consumer, and as such often remain "hidden" in the price of a product or service, rather than being listed separately.

An ad valorem tax is a tax whose amount is based on the value of a transaction or of property. It is typically imposed at the time of a transaction, as in the case of a sales tax or value-added tax (VAT). An ad valorem tax may also be imposed annually, as in the case of a real or personal property tax, or in connection with another significant event. In some countries a stamp duty is imposed as an ad valorem tax.

A tax holiday is a temporary reduction or elimination of a tax. It is synonymous with tax abatement, tax subsidy or tax reduction. Governments usually create tax holidays as incentives for business investment. Tax holidays have been granted by governments at national, sub-national, and local levels, and have included income, property, sales, VAT, and other taxes. Some tax holidays are extra-statutory concessions, where governing bodies grant a reduction in tax that is not necessarily authorized within the law. In developing countries, governments sometimes reduce or eliminate corporate taxes for the purpose of attracting foreign direct investment or stimulating growth in selected industries.

Indirect tax tax collected by an intermediary

An indirect tax is a tax collected by an intermediary from the person who bears the ultimate economic burden of the tax. The intermediary later files a tax return and forwards the tax proceeds to government with the return. In this sense, the term indirect tax is contrasted with a direct tax, which is collected directly by government from the persons on whom it is imposed. Some commentators have argued that "a direct tax is one that cannot be charged by the taxpayer to someone else, whereas an indirect tax can be."

Sales taxes in the United States

Sales taxes in the United States are taxes placed on the sale or lease of goods and services in the United States. Sales tax is governed at the state level and no national general sales tax exists. Forty-five states, the District of Columbia, the territories of the Puerto Rico, and Guam impose general sales taxes that apply to the sale or lease of most goods and some services, and states also may levy selective sales taxes on the sale or lease of particular goods or services. States may grant local governments the authority to impose additional general or selective sales taxes.

The Streamlined Sales Tax Project (SSTP), first organized in March 2000, is intended to simplify and modernize sales and use tax collection and administration in the United States. It arose in response to efforts by Congress to permanently prohibit states from collecting sales tax on online commerce. Because such a ban would have serious financial consequences for states, the SSTP began as an effort to try to minimize the many differences between the states' sales tax policies and practices. The SSTP was dissolved once the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement (SSUTA) became effective on October 1, 2005.

Tax-free shopping (TFS) is the buying of goods in a foreign country and obtaining a refund of the sales tax which has been collected by the retailer on those goods. The sales tax may be variously described as a sales tax, goods and services tax (GST), value added tax (VAT), or consumption tax.

In 1996, several U.S. states and municipalities began to see Internet services as a potential source of tax revenue.

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A gross receipts tax or gross excise tax is a tax on the total gross revenues of a company, regardless of their source. A gross receipts tax is similar to a sales tax, but it is levied on the seller of goods or service consumers. This is compared to other taxes listed as separate line items on billings, are not directly included in the listed price of the item, and are not a factor in markup or profit on company sales. A gross receipts tax has a pyramid effect that increases the actual taxable percentage as it passes through the product or service life-cycle.

Excise tax that taxes the consumption of certain goods

An excise or excise tax is any duty on manufactured goods which is levied at the moment of manufacture, rather than at sale. Excises are often associated with customs duties ; customs are levied on goods which come into existence – as taxable items – at the border, while excise is levied on goods which came into existence inland.

Marketplace Fairness Act

The Marketplace Fairness Act is proposed legislation pending in the United States Congress that would enable state governments to collect sales taxes and use taxes from remote retailers with no physical presence in their state. Identical versions were introduced into both the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate during the 113th United States Congress. During the previous, 112th Congress, a bill was considered but expired without enactment.

A value-added tax (VAT), known in some countries as a goods and services tax (GST), is a type of tax that is assessed incrementally, based on the increase in value of a product or service at each stage of production or distribution. VAT essentially compensates for the shared services and infrastructure provided in a certain locality by a state and funded by its taxpayers that were used in the elaboration of that product or service. Not all localities require VAT to be charged and goods and services for export may be exempted. VAT is usually implemented as a destination-based tax, where the tax rate is based on the location of the consumer and applied to the sales price. Confusingly, the terms VAT, GST, consumption tax and sales tax are sometimes used interchangeably. VAT raises about a fifth of total tax revenues both worldwide and among the members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). As of 2018, 166 of the 193 countries with full UN membership employ a VAT, including all OECD members except the United States, which uses a sales tax system instead.


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