Sales Tax Rate (Detailed Guide for Online Businesses)

People often think that the sales tax rate is a fixed percentage of the purchase price. However, sales tax rates can vary not only by location but also by the type of item being sold. Some items may be subject to different tax rates or exemptions, while others may be subject to a higher or lower rate. For example, groceries and prescription medications are often taxed differently than luxury goods; some states charge sales tax on SaaS while others don’t. .

For small to medium-scale business owners in the US, comprehending sales tax rates is paramount. In this comprehensive guide, we will demystify the complexities surrounding sales tax rates, explore the associated concepts, and empower you with the knowledge you need to effectively figure out sales tax, especially this critical area of sales tax.

Before we delve into the intricacies, let’s start with the fundamentals:

What is a Sales Tax Rate

A sales tax rate is the percentage of the sale amount that a business collects as tax and remits to the government. This tax is usually applied at the point of sale, whether it’s a brick-and-mortar store or an online purchase.

Types of Sales Tax Rates

1. State Sales Tax Rates

State sales tax rates refer to the percentage of a purchase price that a state government charges as a tax on the sale of most tangible goods and some services within its jurisdiction. These rates vary significantly from one U.S. state to another and can also include additional local sales taxes imposed by cities, counties, and other municipalities within the state.

Here are some key points to understand about state sales tax rates:

i. State-Level Tax Rates

Each U.S. state has the authority to set its own sales tax rate. These rates are typically expressed as a percentage of the sales price. For example, if a state has a 6% sales tax rate and you purchase an item for $100, you would pay an additional $6 in sales tax.

ii. Sales Tax Exemptions

States often exempt certain types of items from sales tax. Common exemptions include groceries, prescription medications, and sometimes clothing. The specific exemptions and thresholds can vary by state.

iii. Taxable Services

While sales tax typically applies to the sale of tangible goods, some states also impose sales tax on certain services. The services subject to tax can vary by state and may include things like dining at restaurants, accommodations, and entertainment services.

iv. Registration and Compliance

Businesses that sell taxable items or services are generally required to register with the state taxing authority, collect sales tax from customers, and remit the collected taxes to the state. Failure to comply with sales tax laws can result in penalties and fines.

v. Variances and Changes

It’s important to note that sales tax rates and rules can change over time due to legislative actions or changes in state budgets. Keeping up-to-date with these changes is essential for both businesses and consumers.

State sales tax rates are a fundamental component of the tax landscape in the United States. These rates vary from state to state and play a significant role in your financial calculations.

To find your state’s sales tax rate, consult your state’s Department of Revenue or Taxation. Keep in mind that rates can change, so regular checks are essential. To avoid the stress with consulting the Department of Revenue, you can check your state and other states sales tax rate with this software, sales tax rate lookup tool

2. Local Sales Tax Rates

Local sales tax rates, often referred to as “local tax rates” or “local sales taxes,” are additional taxes imposed by cities, counties, municipalities, or other local jurisdictions within a state on top of the state’s base sales tax rate. These local taxes are collected on the sale of tangible goods and, in some cases, certain services within the boundaries of the specific locality.

Local sales tax rates can vary significantly from one area to another, even within the same state. This is because local governments have the authority to set their own sales tax rates based on their budgetary needs and priorities. The revenue generated from local sales taxes is typically used to fund local infrastructure projects, public services, education, and other community needs.

For example, if you are in a city or county with a local sales tax rate of 2%, and the state’s base sales tax rate is 4%, the total sales tax rate for that locality would be 6%. When a consumer makes a purchase subject to sales tax within that specific city or county, they would pay the 6% sales tax rate on top of the purchase price.

Businesses that operate in areas with local sales taxes must collect and remit these taxes to the appropriate local tax authorities. It’s important for businesses to be aware of the local sales tax rates in the areas where they operate to ensure compliance with tax laws and to accurately calculate the total sales tax owed on each transaction.

Local sales tax rates can change over time due to decisions made by local governments, so it’s essential for businesses to stay informed about these rates to avoid any compliance issues. Businesses often rely on sales tax software or services to help them keep track of and calculate the correct sales tax rates for each transaction based on the customer’s location.

3. Special Taxing Districts

Special Taxing Districts, also known as special districts, encompass a variety of local entities established to fund specific projects or services within a designated geographic area. These districts have the authority to levy taxes or assessments on properties and, in some cases, sales transactions that occur within their boundaries.

For online businesses, this means that even though they may not have a physical presence, such as a brick-and-mortar store, in a particular location, they can still be subject to special district taxes if they make sales or have customers within the boundaries of these districts.

Factors That Determine Sales Tax Obligations

Several factors come into play when determining whether an online business is subject to special district taxes:

  1. Customer Location: Many special districts base their taxation on the location of the customer. If a customer resides within the boundaries of a special district, any sales made to that customer may be subject to the district’s tax rate.
  2. Product or Service Type: Some special districts target specific industries or types of products or services. For instance, a special district focused on tourism might levy taxes on businesses that provide accommodations or services to tourists.
  3. State Laws: State laws regarding special district taxation vary, and businesses must be aware of the regulations in the states where they operate.

How to Navigate Special District Sales Taxation

For online businesses, the challenge lies in identifying which special districts apply to their operations and ensuring compliance with varying tax rates and regulations. Here are some steps to navigate special district taxation effectively:

  1. Tax Jurisdiction Research: Conduct thorough research to identify the special districts that may affect your business. This involves understanding the geographic boundaries of these districts and their specific tax rules.
  2. Sales Tax Software: Consider investing in sales tax automation software that can help you determine tax rates based on customer locations. Many e-commerce platforms offer integration with such software, making it easier to collect and remit the correct taxes.
  3. Tax Reporting and Filing: Keep detailed records of your sales transactions and tax collection. Ensure you file the necessary tax returns and remit taxes to the appropriate special districts on time.
  4. Consult Tax Professionals: Given the complexity of special district taxation, it’s advisable to consult with tax professionals who are well-versed in e-commerce tax compliance. They can provide valuable guidance on navigating the intricacies of these taxes.

Sales Tax Rate Formula

The formula for calculating sales tax is straightforward:

Sales Tax Amount = Total Sale Amount x Sales Tax Rate

This formula is crucial for determining the tax amount to add to your product or service price.

Sales Tax Rate Calculator

To simplify this calculation, various sales tax rate calculators are available online. These tools allow you to input the sale amount and the applicable tax rate, providing you with the precise tax amount to collect. Try out our sales tax rate calculator for free 

Sales Tax Rate Lookup

Finding the current sales tax rate for your business location is essential. You can typically find this information on your state’s Department of Revenue website or through online tax rate lookup tools. Check out different states sales tax rate with Atomic Tax sales tax rate lookup software

How to Calculate Sales Tax Rate

1. Simple Percentage Method

The simplest way to calculate sales tax is by using the percentage method. It involves multiplying the total sale amount by the applicable sales tax rate. The formula looks like this:

Sales Tax Amount = Total Sale Amount x Sales Tax Rate

2. Destination-Based Sales Tax

Destination-based sales tax rates take into account where the sale occurs rather than where the business is located. For businesses with multiple locations or online sales, this method can be more complex but ensures accurate calculations.

Sales Tax Rate Formula

For those interested in the mathematical underpinnings, the sales tax rate formula is:

Sales Tax Rate = (Total Tax Collected / Total Sales) x 100

This formula allows you to calculate the sales tax rate based on the total tax collected and the total sales. It can be helpful for businesses that need precise calculations.

Factors Affecting Sales Tax Rates

  1. Legislative Changes: Sales tax rates can change due to new laws or regulations.
  2. Economic Conditions: Economic fluctuations can influence tax rates.
  3. Special Taxing Jurisdictions: The creation of special taxing districts can lead to changes.
  4. Industry-Specific Factors: Certain industries may face unique tax rate considerations.

To navigate or figure out sales tax rate complexities effectively, consider the following tool

Sales Tax Automation Tool

Automated software solutions can streamline tax rate calculations and reporting. They offer benefits like accuracy and time savings. To stay updated on sales tax rate changes, regularly check for legislative updates and use resources like the Sales Tax Rate Lookup tool.

Sales Tax Rate Frequently Asked Questions

To find the sales tax rate in your area, you should do the following: 

  • Check Your State's Website: Visit the official website of your state's Department of Revenue or Taxation.
  • Locate the Tax Rate Information: Look for a section that provides information on sales tax rates for different regions within your state.
  • Verify Local Taxes: If applicable, also check your local government or city's official website for municipal sales tax rates.
  • Use Online Tools: Some online tools and calculators can help you find the sales tax rate for your specific location.
  • Consult with Local Authorities: You can reach out to your local tax authorities or Department of Revenue for any specific questions or clarifications.

  • Calculating the sales tax rate is relatively straightforward.
  • Gather Information: Collect the sales receipt, invoice, or statement for the transaction you want to calculate the sales tax rate for.
  • Identify Sales Tax Amount: Look for the sales tax amount listed on the document. This is the total tax you paid on the purchase.
  • Determine Purchase Price: Find the purchase price before tax. This is the initial cost of the item or service.
  • Divide Tax Amount by Purchase Price: Divide the sales tax amount by the purchase price. This calculation will give you the sales tax rate as a decimal.
    • Convert to Percentage: To express the rate as a percentage, multiply the result from step 4 by 100.

    For example, if you paid $7 in sales tax on a $100 purchase:

    Sales Tax Rate = ($7 / $100) * 100

    Sales Tax Rate = 7%

    So, the sales tax rate for the transaction is 7%.

To figure out the sales tax rate, as a business owner, here are the steps to follow:

  1. Check Your Sales Receipt: Review the sales receipt or invoice for a recent transaction. The sales tax amount should be itemized.
  2. Determine the Purchase Price Before Tax: Identify the total purchase price before the sales tax was applied. This amount should also be on the receipt.
  3. Calculate the Tax Rate: Divide the sales tax amount by the purchase price before tax. Multiply the result by 100 to express it as a percentage.

For example: If the sales tax is $7 on a purchase of $100, the calculation is: ($7 / $100) x 100 = 7%.

This will give you the sales tax rate for that specific transaction. If you want to find the average rate for multiple transactions, you can calculate the average of the rates for those transactions.

Let's illustrate how to find the sales tax rate for a specific transaction and then calculate the average rate for multiple transactions with an example


Example 2

Imagine you own a retail store, and you want to determine the sales tax rate for three different transactions. Here are the details of each transaction:

Transaction 1
Sales Tax Amount: $6
Purchase Price Before Tax: $120


Transaction 2
Sales Tax Amount: $9
Purchase Price Before Tax: $150


Transaction 3
Sales Tax Amount: $5
Purchase Price Before Tax: $80


Step 1: Find the Sales Tax Rate for Each Transaction

Transaction 1
($6 / $120) x 100 = 5%

Transaction 2:
($9 / $150) x 100 = 6%

Transaction 3:
($5 / $80) x 100 = 6.25%

Now, you have the sales tax rates for each of the three transactions.


Step 2: Calculate the Average Sales Tax Rate

To find the average sales tax rate for these transactions, add up the individual rates and divide by the number of transactions:

Average Sales Tax Rate = (5% + 6% + 6.25%) / 3
Average Sales Tax Rate = (17.25%) / 3
Average Sales Tax Rate ≈ 5.75%

So, the average sales tax rate for these three transactions is approximately 5.75%. This means that, on average, you collected a sales tax of 5.75% on the total purchase price for these transactions.

The total sales tax rate typically includes state, local, and any additional special district taxes. You can find the total rate by adding up these individual rates. 

To find the total sales tax rate, let's walk through a practical example of how to calculate the total sales tax rate if you are a business that sells online to customers in different locations in the US. In this example, we'll consider a business selling a $100 product to customers in two different states: California and New York.


Step 1: Determine Customer Locations

Identify where your customers are located. In this case, we have customers in California and New York.


Step 2: Check State-Level Sales Tax Rates

Research the state-level sales tax rates for California and New York. 

California's statewide sales tax rate is 7.25%.

New York's statewide sales tax rate is 4.00%.


Step 3: Explore Local Tax Rates

Next, investigate if there are additional local sales tax rates in the specific areas your customers are located. For the purpose of this example, let's assume the customers are in Los Angeles, California, and New York City, New York. In Los Angeles:

The local sales tax rate is 1.25%.


In New York City:

The local sales tax rate is 4.875%.


Step 4: Account for Special District Taxes

In some cases, there may be special taxing districts within certain areas. For our example, we won't consider any special district taxes.


Step 5: Use Sales Tax Software

 Use sales tax software: Invest in sales tax calculation software or service. These tools can automatically calculate the total sales tax rate based on the customer's location, including state, local, and any special district taxes. When integrated with your online store's checkout process, it will ensure that the correct total sales tax rate is applied to each customer's purchase based on their location.


For the customer in Los Angeles, California, the total sales tax rate would be:

State tax (7.25%) + Local tax (1.25%) = 8.50%.


For the customer in New York City, New York, the total sales tax rate would be:

State tax (4.00%) + Local tax (4.875%) = 8.875%


The sales tax rate on Amazon varies based on your shipping address, and it is calculated automatically during the checkout process. To find out the specific rate for your purchase:

  1. Add items to your Amazon shopping cart.
  2. Proceed to the checkout.
  3. Enter your shipping address.
  4. Amazon will calculate and display the applicable sales tax rate for your location before you confirm your order.

This amount is collected and remitted to the appropriate tax authorities on your behalf.

To change the sales tax rate in QuickBooks, go to your "Taxes" settings. Update the tax rate for your specific products or services. QuickBooks allows you to set different tax rates based on your business needs, and you can modify these rates as necessary.

The state with the highest combined state and local sales tax rate is Tennessee, with a rate exceeding 9%. However, tax rates can change so frequently, so it's important to check the latest information from the respective state's Department of Revenue.

As of 2022, Alaska had no state-level sales tax, making it the state with the lowest sales tax rate. 

The average sales tax rate in the United States varies based on state and local rates. On average, it's approximately 7%.

New Jersey's statewide sales tax rate is 6.625%. Nonetheless, verify the current rates with the New Jersey Division of Taxation.

Ohio's state sales tax rate is 5.75%. Local jurisdictions in Ohio may add additional taxes, so check with the Ohio Department of Taxation for the most current rates.

Missouri's state sales tax rate is 4.225%, but local sales taxes can increase the total rate. Verify the latest rates with the Missouri Department of Revenue.

North Carolina's state sales tax rate is 4.75%, but local taxes can raise the total rate. Confirm the current rates with the North Carolina Department of Revenue.

Massachusetts' state sales tax rate is 6.25%. Some local jurisdictions in Massachusetts may also impose additional sales taxes.

Pennsylvania's state sales tax rate is 6%. Local sales taxes may also apply. For the most up-to-date information, check with the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue.

Florida's state sales tax rate is 6%. Local option sales taxes can add to the total rate in certain areas.

Michigan's state sales tax rate is 6%. Local taxes may further increase the overall rate. For precise information, consult the Michigan Department of Treasury.

In Virginia, some specific goods and services, such as prepared food, may be subject to a higher sales tax rate than the general sales tax rate. To determine the exact rates for different items, it's best to check with the Virginia Department of Taxation.

You may love to check out our detailed and researched filled post on the following topics;
1. How sales tax work
2. Sales tax audit (a comprehensive guide on sales tax audit and tips to reduce audit triggers)
3. Sales tax compliance
4. How to Calculate sales tax


In conclusion, grasping the intricacies of sales tax rates is a critical aspect of running a successful business in the US. With the knowledge of how sales tax rates are calculated, the availability of helpful calculators, and access to reliable tax rate lookup resources, you can navigate the complexities of sales tax with confidence. Remember that rates can vary widely between states and localities, so staying informed and using available tools is key to compliance and financial success.