Today, I only bought groceries at Walmart and noticed that there is no tax on groceries in California (Google tells me that this is perhaps true for whole of the US?)

So far I have always paid tax at Walmart for my grocery purchases, but that also included items like crackers, shampoo etc

Did Walmart charge me then only for the items that were not groceries, or if your cart has groceries + non-grocery items, you get charged tax on all of them?

Or is this a policy that varies by store, or cashiers' knowledge/discretion, etc?

Would people recommend for me to break down a single mixed purchase into two: one only having groceries and the other with the rest, or is this being paranoid?

My grocery purchases, every two weeks, amount to around $100+. I pay 8.25% tax, so that is enough to get me free gas if I can figure this out!

  • 2
    Some states have no sales tax on different things: I believe Pennsylvania has no sales tax on clothes. – corsiKa Sep 11 '11 at 21:29
  • I live in State College pa. I have been charged 6% tax on non taxable items. I brought a bag of Indiana Kettle corn for 2.98 and was charged .18 tax. three times. each time I went to customer service and was refunded the .18 cent tax charged with an applogy. Wallmart is very aware of the problem but has yet to correct the problem. This is not the first time this has happened. – user22459 Nov 12 '14 at 1:20
  • I bought milk today at Walmart in fla for 3.65 and was debited 3.69 – user35350 Nov 30 '15 at 21:28

You do not need to separate your purchases. These things are handled by the point of sale (POS) system, not the cashiers. (That is, the cash register and related systems.)

This should be detailed on the receipt, with codes next to the items. On the receipts I received from Walmart it seems like this:

To the right of the item's price:

T or X means that it was taxed
N or O means that it was not taxed

Also, grocery items will have an F to the right of the item's (SKU?) number which appears in the center column.

Note that this is based on my interpretation of my receipts and the receipts may be different in California. Someone at Customer Service should be able to provide information on how to interpret the receipts.

  • +1. I have noticed similar receipt details in Virginia, where I have been charged sales tax for some items but not others. – jprete Sep 11 '11 at 15:36
  • This is a very detailed answer! I appreciate the amount of research you put into this, thank you. Are all stores guaranteed to have such a "cashier proof" system when it comes to taxing items (for eg. required by law?) or can some merchants have cashiers "press a button" to make an item taxable or not? My question is "is there any need for me go into the hassle of splitting up my purchases anywhere, or can I trust the POS". – f1StudentInUS Sep 12 '11 at 16:47
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    @f1StudentInUS I don't believe that there is a requirement to detail it on receipts, but they are required to collect taxes properly. You shouldn't ever have to split your purchase. If you are ever in doubt, simply do the math. The receipt will display the tax rate and the amount of tax applied. Apply that tax rate to the pre-tax total (subtotal) and compare the result to the amount of tax applied. If you have purchased items which are not taxed, that calculation should result in a higher tax amount than what was applied. – George Marian Sep 12 '11 at 21:46
  • Has anyone ever seen a "D" used as well? I have a receipt where it's used both in conjunction with a "T", which means the item was taxed, and stand-alone on a non-taxable item (a deposit for something I needed to return). It does not stand for deposit, because there was also a D next to several bags of ice, which I obviously was purchasing and not putting a deposit down on. – Adam Wuerl Sep 28 '14 at 21:32
  • "This answer was great for what I was looking for. Another code I found was H appended to the 12-digit code for Systane Gell. Apparently for a Health item." - Anonymous – George Marian Jul 2 '17 at 16:04

Sales taxes are set on a state by state basis (or in some places, a locale by locale basis). So the types of 'groceries' you get taxed on will depend on where you are. I suspect most, if not all, exempt certain food purchases and basic necessities. But the actual cut-off between what is and isn't a basic necessity varies - some states tax clothing and some don't, for example.

When you are checking out with a mixed collection of taxed and non-taxed items, the tax you see is only on those items that are taxable. You don't need to manually separate them into two purchases.

  • 1
    I know Kansas charges sales tax for groceries. I believe Texas does not. Some states (at least Monatana, IIRC) don't charge sales tax at all on anything. And in many places, the sales tax rate (if not the list of taxable goods) varies even by city or county. – Flimzy Sep 10 '11 at 21:01
  • Right, in CA the sales tax rate varies by city with the same county having different rates. This can be exploited when doing an item return, esp one with a high price. – f1StudentInUS Sep 10 '11 at 23:34

Typically, in a grocery store, there are distinctions between food and non-food. Non-food items for the most part are taxed. Food items vary by state, with 'prepared foods' getting taxed. In NYC, for example, one might buy a bagel, nothing on it, (i.e. not a sandwich, no butter or cream cheese, etc.) but if it were sliced, it was deemed "prepared" and therefore taxed. This created quite a ruckus when it first was implemented.

  • Yes, in my local grocery with the hot bar and sit-down cafe area... you scoop up a plate of food fixing to eat there... the cashier will cover it and tape it up to-go, because that's untaxed. – Harper Jan 13 '17 at 22:18

FWIW, here's a great example of Walmart receipt from another question. Highlights are from that question.

It certainly illustrates why it's confusing. The person was charged 10% tax on $45.20 worth of goods, but the ticket is only $18.50. It appears the difference is coupons; the item is taxed at full value and the value of the coupon does not remove the tax.

enter image description here

  • Tax is charged on the pre-coupon total, as you stated. This looks right. Or at least close, at first glance. – JoeTaxpayer Jan 13 '17 at 22:08

protected by Chris W. Rea Nov 30 '15 at 22:04

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