Monday, December 7, 2015

Holiday shopping can be very taxing

This is the time of year when people shop for gifts in the malls, downtown shopping districts and on the Internet.  They’re in spending mode, searching for the perfect gift for everyone on their list. 

Many economists are forecasting deep discounts for a variety of reasons, but the bottom line is that it there will be a lot of bargains out there.  I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that a good many gift packages are going to contain cell phones.  Or as I like to call them, outboard brains. 

As with everything else in our great nation, there are taxes on cell phones.  Lots of them.  Taxes that I guess most people are unaware of, and if they even were, would likely not understand them without doing some research. 

Frequent travelers have become accustomed to unanticipated taxes.  The kind you see at airports and hotels, for example.  You aren’t aware of them until you get to the airport or check out of the hotel. 

In the financial services industry, I have to pay a licensing fee to each state where I’m licensed.  The licensing fees in most states are generally around $50 to $100.  And for the most part I have no objection to such fees.  I consider them to be reasonable.  

The state of Tennessee, however, is an exception.  For the privilege of buying a $50 state license, you have to pay a Tennessee privilege tax.  That means ponying up $500.  Every year.

The good news for Michigan residents is that, although we pay plenty of taxes on cell phones, thirty-six other states pay more.  We rank thirty-seventh nationally, one of those rare circumstances where being near the bottom of the list is a good thing.

In total, the combined tax rate comes to 14.74 percent.  The breakdown is as follows: six percent sales tax; state wireless 911 comes in at .41 percent; county wireless is 1.45 percent; the Intrastate switched toll restructuring statement -- whatever that is -- is a mere .43 percent; and the Federal Universal Service Fund comes to a whopping 6.46 percent.  Check my math, but I’ve got the grand total at 14.74 percent. 

If fifteen percent appears to be somewhat excessive, be thankful you don’t live in the state of Washington.  The tax there is more than 25 percent.

I don’t want to put a damper on giving cell phones as a gift, but they do cost more to own than just the advertised price.  And while I don’t want to be a Scrooge either, I do want to point out that there’s a fine line between being generous and putting your finances at risk.  Not to mention the gift recipient’s finances.

Cell phones and tablets are certainly a part of our nation’s landscape.  But, they’re not inexpensive.  And with all the taxes factored in, they just might be more than you initially realize. 

According to Investor’s Business Daily, consumers with cell phones are paying $5.8 billion in excessive state and local taxes, and another $5 billion goes to Uncle Sam.  That’s a lot of money for those “little” items that many don’t even notice on their bill. 

If you do look, don’t be surprised to see even more taxes added in the very near future.

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