The United States tax code is anything but simple. The instructions for the standard 1040 tax form alone are more than 100 pages long, and good luck getting through them in one sitting. Tax rules and regulations at the state level provide no relief, riddled as they are with strange fees and exemptions, some of them decades out of date. Every state has odd and sometimes unbelievable state tax laws -- including a number of regulations that could save consumers money.
Strange But Real Tax Laws From All 50 States
Alabama taxes the proceeds from the sale of illegal drugs by requiring sellers to have tax stamps -- similar to the excise tax imposed on cigarettes. Anyone caught with large quantities of drugs and no stamps would face not only jail time but also prosecution for tax evasion unless they paid up.
Whaling captains recognized by the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission can deduct up to $10,000 for whaling-related expenses. The deduction is considered a charitable contribution, even if the money isn't paid to a charitable organization.
Several states, including Arizona, tax ice blocks and ice cubes differently. Since ice cubes are used in mixed drinks, and considered food, they aren't taxed by the state. Ice blocks, however, are subject to sales tax.
What do pet grooming, gutter cleaning, and body piercing have in common? In Arkansas, each of these services is subject to a 6 percent gross receipts sales tax -- a tax to the business providing the service.
There is plenty of fresh fruit to be found in the Golden State and a 33 percent tax if it is bought from a vending machine. The tax applies to other food items, as well, including hot drinks, although there is an exception for vending machines operated by educational institutions when the items are sold to students.
Consider this when taking a full cup to go and driving down a bumpy road in Colorado. Retailers in the Centennial State aren't taxed on the purchase of cups, but they are taxed when they buy lids and straws. Other items, such as toothpicks, portion dividers, cup sleeves, and bibs, are taxed as well.
Connecticut taxes children's disposable and reusable diapers, as they are considered clothing. Come July 1, however, diapers and feminine hygiene products will be exempt. Adult diapers already are exempt.
Delaware is one of five states with no sales tax. The state also has a low 8.7 percent flat income tax on corporations, which is probably why more than half of the country's publicly traded companies call the First State home.
Many states have tax exemptions for farmers and ranchers, but Florida's "greenbelt law" was vaguely worded and notoriously open to abuse -- at least, until being strengthened over the past couple of legislative terms. Property developers had rented cows to avoid paying taxes while preparing their land for building. Even Disney World took advantage of the loophole.
In 2014, Georgia became the first state to cap its income tax rate through a ballot measure. The tax rate cap of 6 percent is now part of the state's constitution. Last year, a bill was introduced in the state legislature that could replace the state's six income tax rates with a flat 5.4 percent tax.
Trees with historic or cultural value, and those that are otherwise deemed worthy of preservation due to their age, rarity, location, size, or aesthetic quality, come with a tax deduction of up to $3,000 a tree in Hawaii. The deduction can be used to cover the cost of maintaining the tree.
In 2014, Idaho changed its statute governing sales tax on cloud computing. The state no longer taxes purchases of cloud-based or downloaded computer software. Digital entertainment, such as ebooks and movies, is subject to sales tax if the purchase includes a permanent right to the work, meaning streaming or rental services may be exempt.
Pity the poor candy-store owner. In Illinois, Twix bars aren't taxed because they are made with flour, so they don't meet the state's definition of candy. Other Mars candy bars such as Snickers, though, are taxed, because they contain no flour. Similar laws are on the books in Washington, Colorado, and Connecticut.
The Hoosier State has several oddball food taxes. For example, marshmallow creme is tax exempt, but marshmallows are not. Icing in tubes and containers of frosting are also exempt, but cake decorations are not.
A use tax is assessed for the use, storage, or consumption of something in a state, regardless where the purchase was made. If a computer is bought while visiting a state that doesn't charge sales tax, the buyer may still need to pay a use tax when returning home. Iowa has use-tax exemptions for prescription drugs and medical devices, including catheter trays, oxygen equipment, when they're sold to the user (rather than a business).
Want to ride in a hot air balloon in Kansas? If it is tethered to the ground, passengers are taxed for the entertainment. But if the rope is untied, it's treated as air transportation and the ride is tax-free. Wisconsin and Missouri have had similar laws on the books.
Home to the world-famous Kentucky Derby, this state has a 6 percent sales tax on thoroughbred stud fees. The revenue has topped $15 million in some years, split among three horse breeder incentive funds.
Every September, Louisiana has a Second Amendment sales tax holiday. Hunting supplies, ammunition, and firearms are all exempt from state and local sales taxes, as well as use taxes.
Officially called the Maine Wild Blueberry Tax, this charge amounts to 1.5 cents per pound of wild blueberries sold. Businesses generally pass the tax on to consumers.
Homeowners with septic systems in Maryland have had to pay $5 a month, or $60 a year, with the money going to upgrade wastewater treatment plants and failing septic systems and reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.
Like many states, Michigan taxes prepared food but not unprepared food, and the law goes into detail about how to distinguish the two. Buying hot popcorn at a concession stand may be taxable, as that counts as prepared food, but a bag of chips isn't (unless it's heated or sold with an eating utensil).
Individuals and groups of "private nonindustrial landowners" have been able to get a tax credit for up to 50 percent of the costs associated with hardwood and pine reforestation. The credit had a cap of $10,000 a year and a lifetime limit of $75,000.
To encourage young men to marry, Missouri charged an annual tax of $1 to single men between the age of 21 and 50. The "bachelor tax" was passed in 1820, when $1 was equivalent to about $20 today, and it's no longer enforced.
In Montana, prescribed drugs and insulin count toward medical expenses for those who itemize deductions. Even with a valid medical marijuana card, though, the cost of buying or growing marijuana isn't deductible.
Like Alabama, Nebraska taxes the sale of illegal controlled substances. The state's law says drug dealers must buy drug tax stamps at a rate of $100 per ounce of marijuana, $150 per gram of controlled substances, or $500 per 50 dosage units of controlled substances that aren't generally sold by weight.
Since 1999, the Mr. Olympia bodybuilding competition has been held in Las Vegas. Like everyone else, bodybuilders can deduct ordinary and necessary business expenses. But it's one of the few professions that can count body oil among those expenses.
Several states, New Jersey included, have made a distinction between pumpkins used for food and pumpkins used for decoration. If they were painted, cut, or sold as decorations, the pumpkins were taxable.
Those flying into the Raleigh-Durham area and renting a vehicle might want to take a cab to a rental agency away from the airport. Durham County charges a car rental tax of 25.61 percent at Raleigh-Durham International Airport and 5 percent in the rest of the county.
Most states have property taxes, but several counties in Oklahoma stand out because they tax personal possessions that aren't used to generate income. Even basic household items, such as furniture, could be subject to the "tangible personal property" tax.
Oregon started issuing marijuana licenses to retailers and lowered the state sales tax for recreational marijuana to 17 percent from 25 percent in October 2016. Municipalities can add up to 3 percent local sales tax on recreational marijuana, but medical marijuana is exempt from local and state sales tax.
Hunters who also have a license or permit to operate as a meat packer, butcher, or processing plant could get a $75 tax credit per carcass they donate to charity. The deer has to be prepared for consumption and the taxpayer must have a contract with a nonprofit to qualify for the credit.
The bad news: South Dakota doesn't give tax breaks for contributions to in-state 529 college savings plans. The good news: It's because the state doesn't have an income tax.
Holiday greenery, such as wreaths, mistletoe, and Christmas trees, are all subject to sales tax in Texas -- but not when bought from a charitable organization. Another way to lessen holiday taxes is to hire a decorating service and provide the decorations. If the company supplies them, both materials and labor are taxable.
Like many states, Virginia has an annual back-to-school tax holiday weekend. But Virginia's list of tax-free goods has been known to include an odd array of items: fur coats, lingerie, garters and garter belts, wedding apparel, aprons, and corsets, to name a few, eligible with sale prices of $100 or less.
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