Have you ever gotten a receipt back from a grocery store and wondered why you were charged more than you expected? Or filed your tax return only to find that your earnings were subject to more than investment and income taxes? Little-known bizarre taxes may be the culprit.
Tax codes are filled with “creative” ways to part taxpayers from their hard-earned money.
A few tax laws date back to the 19th century and have yet to be taken out of the books, while others were created more recently in response to societal changes and consumer preferences.
From playing cards to buying vending machine fruit, here are some of the most ridiculous taxes across the USA.
Foolish Food Taxes
Indiana’s got it out for your s’mores and hot cocoa. This state levies a “candy tax” on marshmallows. Marshmallow cream, however, is tax free. You can rest easy knowing your fluffernutters are safe.
Maine’s oddly specific “mahogany quahog (clam) tax” means seafood lovers will have to pay an extra $1.20 per bushel of clams. If you’re ever out in Maine, maybe opt for the lobster instead.
Clams aren’t the only food subject to weird taxes in Maine. As the country’s main distributor of blueberries, Maine takes a cut from anyone who grows, purchases, sells, or handles blueberries within the state—to the tune of an extra 1.5 cents per pound.
Choose your sweets wisely in Illinois. The state’s 6.25% “candy tax” only applies to confectionary treats without flour. Sorry, Skittles. We’re opting for Twix in Illinois.
5) Sliced Bagels
You’ve heard of BYOB, but what about BYOBC? Bring your own bagel cutter. New Yorkers are subject to the “bagel cutting tax”—an extra 8 cents for a pre-sliced or ready-to-eat bagel. Sliced bagels are taxed as a prepared “restaurant food.” Hold the cream cheese and lox!
6) Vending Machine Fruit
The only thing more absurd than buying a banana from a vending machine is paying taxes on a banana from a vending machine—which is exactly what you’ll do in California. The golden state has a 33% tax on vending machine items, including apples and fruit cups. Stick to grocery stores instead, where the fruit is not subject to these weird taxes.
7) Coffee Lids
The next time you pick up a cup of joe, consider whether or not you need that coffee lid—at least if you’re in Colorado. Colorado taxes all “nonessential packaging” an extra 2.9%. This means straws, stir sticks, cup sleeves, and lids will cost a little bit more. Save the environment (and your money) by bringing coffee from home in a reusable mug.
Effed-Up Entertainment Taxes
Alabama is the only state that previously levied a tax on playing cards. The “card tax” meant that whenever you wanted to play a game of Crazy Eights with friends, you’d have to pay a crazy 10 cents to buy a deck of cards. Luckily, this ridiculous tax was suspended in 2015.
Looking for your next getaway? You might want to cross Georgia off the list. The state charges a $5-per-night fee for hotel rooms. The only way around this tax is time. If you stay longer than 31 days, you’re in the clear. The hotel is then classified as an “extended stay rental” and therefore does not incur tax.
States love their “sin taxes.” In New Mexico, that 0.5% tax extends to any game that relies on chance rather than skill—including bingo and raffles.
11) Decorative Pumpkins
New Jersey just can’t seem to get into the Halloween spirit. When used as food, pumpkins are tax-exempt. However, if a pumpkin is “painted, varnished or cut and sold as decorations,” it incurs sales tax.
Loony Lifestyle Taxes
12) Flushing the Toilet
Even going to the bathroom isn’t safe from absurd taxes. Maryland’s “toilet flush tax,” known as the “Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fee,” costs state residents roughly $60 per year.
13) Being Single
Getting married has its tax perks—joint filing, for example. But Missouri takes it one step further with this state tax. In 1821, the state imposed a “bachelor tax” on single men aged 21 to 50. The price of freedom is a dollar every year. The law is still technically on the books even if it is rarely enforced.
14) Buying Diapers
Babies, you can put away your wallets. In Connecticut, baby diapers used to be classified as “clothing” and therefore incurred tax. Adult diapers, however, were exempt. This tax law was reversed in 2018.
15) Getting a Tattoo
You might want to think twice before getting inked—at least in Arkansas. This state charges a 6% sales tax on tattoos, body piercings, and electrolysis.
Taxes with a Side of Self-Incrimination
16) Illegal Drugs
Illegal drug taxes exist in multiple states. In Nebraska, the burden lies on the drug dealers, who must buy a tax stamp for their contraband. Tennessee spreads the burden by requiring anyone in possession of illegal drugs to buy a drug stamp as part of the Unauthorized Substances Tax (also known as the “crack tax”).
The same applies in Alabama, but with higher stakes: those caught with illegal drugs but no record of buying the tax stamps could be charged with tax evasion (in addition to possession).
17) ANY Illegal Activity
Continuing the trend of ridiculous taxes cashing in on illegal activity, the IRS requires that taxpayers declare any ill-begotten income, too. Per Publication 17 instructions for preparing your tax return, “Income from illegal activities, such as money from dealing illegal drugs, must be included in your income on Form 1040, line 21, or on Schedule C or Schedule C-EZ (Form 1040) if from your self-employment activity.”
Of course, if you went through all the trouble of dealing drugs, stealing property, or embezzling funds, it’s unlikely you’ rat yourself out to the government anyway.
This list is by no means exhaustive. There are tons of crazy taxes that exist all over the world.
To avoid paying taxes for any of the above, be attentive to any unusual tax charges on your most common activities. See if you can modify your behavior to avoid additional taxes—like buying bagels at the grocery store and a container of cream cheese rather than a New York bagel with schmear or opting for strawberry shortcake over blueberry pie in Maine.
Janine Perri is a freelance writer and marketing professional with experience writing about business, marketing, education, travel, and language services.