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Dear Jon: It’s a land of confusion when it comes to sales tax on newspapers

By Jon K. Brent, Anchor, jonkbrent@kionrightnow.com
Published On: Feb 12 2014 03:12:17 PM CST
Dear Jon newpapers 1

Charging sales tax on newspapers can create confusion

When you should be charged sales tax in California seems to be more confusing than not on several different fronts. So let me help out a bit, Betty wrote to me and asked, “Dear Jon, is there tax on a newspaper? Some stores charge me tax and others not. There's not tax in the paper vending machine.”

In July 1991, the State of California ruled that newspapers can be taxed by third-party retailers. So according to sales and use tax regulations for the State Board of Equalization, article 1590, if you buy a newspaper over the counter, you will pay tax on that sale.

But let’s say you buy a newspaper out of a vending machine, where you put in the correct change for the newspaper. I checked with the Board of Equalization and they tell me that machine should have a sign that says tax is included on the price of that paper.

Or let's say you buy the newspaper from a guy out on the street hawking a newspaper. Tax is supposed to be added to the price he's asking for the paper.

What if you subscribe to the newspaper that comes everyday or several times of week to your home or business? You pay the agreed upon prepaid subscription rate and that's it. Tax would be included in that subscription rate.

Newspapers for nonprofits are not taxed and beyond this the rules get a bit more confusing.

In the final analysis, I recommend if you don't want to be “nickel and dimmed” to death, buy the paper by prepaid subscription or in the vending machine, not over the counter. This will avoid any confusion on whether sales tax should be charged.

If you have a question for me, you can email me at on the link above. Feel free to call our newsroom and ask for me as well. I’m also on Facebook and Twitter.