Is there an easy way to find the lowest sales tax among nearby stores?
September 27, 2010 8:50 PM   Subscribe

Is there any easy way to find out the tax rate for different stores? For example, there are probably a dozen branches of some "big box" store within a 20 mile radius of where I live, but all are in different tax jurisdictions. For a big ticket item, finding the one where the tax rate is lowest could easily justify the trip. But how do you find it?

This is mainly just a theoretical question as I don't plan to make any purchases big enough to make it worthwhile, but for future reference...

One peculiarity about where I live (St. Louis) is that the limits of the city proper have been fixed by law for nearly 150 years. Consequently, St. Louis County has about 90 municipalities and many of these are further subdivided into special tax districts. A given store winds up charging state sales tax, county sales tax, city sales tax and potentially additional sales taxes.

Given that two states, three counties and 100 cities are within a 15 minute drive, is there any easy way to find out the total tax rate given an address?
posted by tomwheeler to Work & Money (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Why don't you call the stores and ask?
posted by custard heart at 8:54 PM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't know about a given address, but between gmaps and the applicable PDF on this page, you should be able to pin down a sales tax rate within the state of Missouri.
posted by carsonb at 8:57 PM on September 27, 2010


Why don't you call the stores and ask?

Well, that's an approach I'd considered but I hoped there might be something faster and easier.

Just reaching a human at a major retailer is going to take several minutes, finding one who knows the correct answer would really take some time. I figured — perhaps naively — that there might already be some online database out there for this purpose.
posted by tomwheeler at 9:04 PM on September 27, 2010


If don't like PDFs, here's a page for Sales & Use Tax in your state. (MO).
That should show all the county's sales tax rates.

Inquiring Californians: head to BOE.
posted by artdrectr at 9:06 PM on September 27, 2010


carsonb: that seems to answer the question for Missouri.
posted by tomwheeler at 9:08 PM on September 27, 2010


And here's a (sort of clunky) Tax Rate Finder for Illinois. I looked up Granite City pretty easily.
posted by carsonb at 9:15 PM on September 27, 2010


Keep in mind that the tax rate you technically owe is based on the location where you will use the product. That's why when you're in the market for a new/used car, it doesn't matter where you purchase your car. It matters where you register it.

You aren't talking tax arbitrage, you're talking tax evasion. It's common, it's flaunted. But I wouldn't necessarily broadcast it. It's just a matter of time before states start cracking down on consumers.
posted by politikitty at 9:45 PM on September 27, 2010


politikitty: "Keep in mind that the tax rate you technically owe is based on the location where you will use the product. That's why when you're in the market for a new/used car, it doesn't matter where you purchase your car. It matters where you register it.

You aren't talking tax arbitrage, you're talking tax evasion. It's common, it's flaunted. But I wouldn't necessarily broadcast it. It's just a matter of time before states start cracking down on consumers
"


I know many a jeweler in NYC that will ship (an empty box) to NJ as a means of establishing that is where it will be used in order to avoid NYC taxes. Many even "suggest" you use a relative or friends address if you are not a resident of NJ. At least that was back when I could afford jewelry and had someone on whom I wanted to spend and bestow.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:54 PM on September 27, 2010


I live in another major city bifurcated by Missouri state lines, and it's an interesting question. I probably drive through two or three different tax jurisdictions on the way to work, so it might identify the cheaper place to eat lunch on the way there.

I found a site taxwatch, that the State of Kansas links to, that claims to resolve addresses to tax rates. Given the amount of cooperation they need from the treasurers, I don't think they will let you search and sort by cheapest jurisdictions. Perhaps with a bit more digging you can scrounge up a GIS layer or something.
posted by pwnguin at 11:04 PM on September 27, 2010


Hey--it'd be interesting if this was the reason stores ask for your zipcode at checkout--they could automagically charge the correct tax.

But I'm sure they just want your zipcode for marketing.
posted by vitabellosi at 4:25 AM on September 28, 2010


I've heard that California has hundreds of different tax rates based on the localities. This sounds like an ideal iPhone style app to be location aware and tell you the current tax rate and compare with nearby localities.
posted by dgran at 7:50 AM on September 28, 2010


vitabellosi: "Hey--it'd be interesting if this was the reason stores ask for your zipcode at checkout--they could automagically charge the correct tax.

But I'm sure they just want your zipcode for marketing
"

Since I always say "No thanks" when asked my zipcode, I doubt it is for anything other than marketing and analytics.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:36 AM on September 28, 2010


And there are many people who are paid under the table. That doesn't mean that income taxes are optional. If the OP wants to take the risks of underpaying sales tax, that's perfectly within his right. I know the green takes a lax view on piracy and and other low-risk crimes.

I simply wanted to be clear that just because a company will sell it to him with a lower sales tax rate doesn't change the fact that he would owe the difference between that rate and the rate in his home jurisdiction. Even if it's unlikely that someone is going to be there with handcuffs.

As for finding a simple way to determine tax rate, there really isn't one that's cheap and available to the public. Especially in Missouri. There are stories of Wal-Marts that straddle jurisdictions, and have their registers spitting out different tax rates in the same store. City blocks get annexed into special purpose districts based on a vote of city council. The software companies use to maintain compliance is expensive, and kept fairly private to protect that potential income.

It's the sole reason internet sales are generally non-taxable. If compliance with all 9000 jurisdictions in the nation was cheap and easy, the Supreme Court would allow Alabama to demand a company in Minnesota to collect and remit taxes from their 5 Alabama customers. Kinda like New York is asking Amazon to collect and remit for all their New York customers. When it's cheap and easy to find out which Wal-Mart has the lowest tax rate, Missouri will turn around and make Wal-Mart ask for more detailed information on where you're planning on using that expensive bit of jewelry or technology. Same as they currently do with your registered vehicle.
posted by politikitty at 12:47 PM on September 28, 2010


Although I knew about use tax for cars, I didn't realize it applied to small purchases where sales tax has already been paid. As I said, it was really hypothetical.

It does bring up another interesting question: since the use tax for my location is far, far lower than sales tax for any of the nearby tax jurisdictions, does that mean I am entitled to a rebate of sales taxes paid in these other places? Furthermore, since nobody lives in these strip malls where they've set up special high tax zones to fund development, wouldn't anyone buying something there be overtaxed relative to the sales/use taxes where they do live? If so, then what's the point of having them?

I'll save those questions for a rainy day.
posted by tomwheeler at 9:07 PM on September 28, 2010


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