Why concealing sales tax is a nuisance for everyone visiting America

Angus Kidman 14 September 2016

USMoney_Shutterstock

Let's see the actual price of everything already.

Obviously, American money sucks. It all looks the same, it's filthy, it's crumpled, it's flimsy, it has an unpleasant smell. But that's not the most annoying thing about shopping in the US. That would be the ridiculous attitude to sales tax.

In Australia, it's illegal to advertise the price of any item without including the GST. If the price tag on the shelf in the supermarket says $5.70, then that's the price you're going to pay. In the US, the reverse is true. Prices in stores and on menus are never tax-inclusive, and the vast majority of states do charge sales tax (the five exceptions are Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon, none of which I have visited, though clearly I should). That means that when you go to pay for something, you have to mentally factor in the sales tax before you pull some of those filthy notes out of your wallet.

The lazy solution to this is to always mentally add 10%. No state actually charges a rate that high, but it's an easy calculation and means you can have enough money to hand over to the cashier. But the lack of transparency is still ridiculous. The price you see quoted is never the price you'll actually pay. How is that helpful to anyone?

Obviously, if you're paying with a card (and Australians really love doing that, you're not worrying about having the right change. But you still don't know what you're actually spending until it gets rung up on the till.

None of that is going to stop me shopping while I'm in the US, especially given how much cheaper many products are. But I'll be happy to get home and see the actual price of everything, and have a wallet full of notes that I can easily distinguish at a glance.

Angus Kidman's Findings column looks at new developments and research that help you save money, make wise decisions and enjoy your life more. It appears Monday through Friday on finder.com.au.

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