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What's bugging you? California's sales tax

May 25, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Getting a meal cold is a steal, but order it hot, and the deal is off. Do hidden fees on fast food bug you? Here are the hidden quirks in California's sales tax that could save you money.Carolyn Martinez sent ABC7 an e-mail after she and her coworker Larry Lowe realized they were getting charged different prices for the same sandwich at Subway.

"I got the same BLT that you got, but mine was, you know, 50 cents or 75 cents more than yours, and then we found out the difference was primarily in the fact that I got mine warmed up or toasted, versus she got hers completely cold," said Larry Lowe.

Carolyn and Larry thought it was an extra charge from Subway, but it's actually California sales tax.

"The whole sales tax law is very complicated," said accountant Dan Brenner. Brenner said warming up your sandwich means Sacramento gets more money.

"If you have hot food purchased at a restaurant, then for the most part, it is subject to tax. Now for cold food, and not consumed on the premises, is not subject to tax," he said.

Carolyn said what bugs her is the fact that they don't tell you.

"It is confusing, and I never thought about it before, but it just seems like we're overpaying for things that we think we're getting a bargain on," she said.

But if you know the law, you can use it to your advantage. On cold foods sold to-go, there is no sales tax.

But another twist, hot coffee is not taxable either. Some places, such as the Coffee Bean, always ask you if it's to eat there or to-go.

"They always ask. And I've had friends who have worked at (Coffee Bean), and I've always known, they've always told me, always ask for to-go because it's cheaper," said Brian Budworth.

But doing all of this means extra accounting work for the business, and that's why a number of them just don't bother with it.

"I suspect a lot of them just say, 'I'm just going to charge sales tax and stay out of trouble,' and that's the easiest way for them to do it - not necessarily the correct way," Brenner said.

Correct or not, you're paying for it, so even if it's only a few cents here and there, it pays to know the quirks in the tax law. Maybe next time you'll order a cold sandwich and save nearly 10 percent in sales tax.


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