Sales tax is confusing. First of all, it is really the Transaction Privilege Tax (TPT), which is what the government entities in our state charge retailers doing business in Arizona. Those businesses are allowed to pass that charge along to customers, and we consumers usually just call that the sales tax.
Some retailers might include the tax in the advertised price of an item. They still have to pay the state, and -- trust me on this -- the price does take into account that they have to pay it. Have you ever encountered a sale where the ad claims no sales tax? That just means that the store is having a sale with discounts of 9% or 10% or whatever the rate at the time is. They are still paying the required TPT.
Sales tax often causes confusion for other reasons. It varies significantly from state to state. In Arizona, we have the amount that the state charges, but then we also have the amount that counties charge and the amount that cities charge. So, every time we buy toilet paper or a smartphone (two basic essentials of life, in my opinion) the tax that we are charged has those three components. But not everything in Arizona is taxed the same way. Services, like hotel stays and car rentals, are taxed at different rates than retail products.
And even retail products vary. Higher priced products, like that Maserati that I drive (I wish) might not have the same sales tax rate as my dog's favorite stuffed animal. Food ordered at restaurants are taxed, but food purchased for home consumption from the grocery store might not be taxed in your city. If it is taxed, you should probably be paying only the city portion (usually 2% or less), since the State of Arizona and Maricopa County don't charge tax on food intended for home consumption.
What about the pharmacy store that sells aspirin, cosmetics, and socks, but also sells cereal, ice cream, and fruit juice? In theory, in most Maricopa County cities, they should be charging you different tax rates on the different products.
So, to sum up, sometimes it is tough to tell what kind of sales tax you should be paying when you shop. On the other hand, sometimes it is easy. If you go to a hardware store, and you buy a hammer, you pay the total combined tax rate for the State of Arizona, the county, and the city. If you eat in a restaurant, you likewise pay the total combined tax rate.
Let's say you eat at fast-food restaurants often, and you always frequent those places within the same city limits. You know, by looking at this Maricopa County sales tax chart, how much tax you should be charged. Example: the sales tax rate in the imaginary City of Blabberville, located in Maricopa County, is 9.3%. Everywhere you eat your burgers and fries in Blabberville, they charge 9.3% tax. Except for this one place. Yes, they are definitely located in Blabberville, but they are charging you 9.8% tax.
You ask the sales clerk why, and you get a glazed look. The staffer tells you that it's built into the system and they can't change it. What do you do? You have four choices. You can:
- Shrug your shoulders and ignore it. It was probably only four cents, or some other small amount, more than you should have been charged. Move on.
- Go ballistic in the store, yelling at the manager and demanding a refund of your four cents. While overcharging is always totally inappropriate -- how many customers are they overcharging four cents on a daily basis? -- I don't recommend this option.
- Contact the corporate headquarters of the restaurant and request clarification.
- Submit an inquiry to the Arizona Department of Revenue (AZDOR).
How to File a Complaint or Submit an Inquiry with AZDOR
- call and report by phone. You may or may not be able to speak with a human representative at this line. When I called, I got a recording asking me to leave a message.
- send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. This is your best bet. If you are computer savvy and can scan your receipt and attach it to your email, that's even better. Please provide the name and address of the retailer, as well as your own contact information in the email.
AZDOR tries to respond every inquiry that they receive, but they will not disclose their findings on a complaint due to confidentiality issues. The Department does not guarantee a specific time frame that an inquiry will be addressed or a complaint will be investigated.