The United States, despite its own quirks and complications, can seem fairly normal when compared to other countries. Take taxes — even when it comes to the most mundane of topics, our neighbors overseas can devise some truly bizarre charges and fines (take Sweden’s Stripper Tax).
But what about here at home? It’s not just distant foreigners who are coming up with strange tax laws — we Americans are just as creative. The following is a list of the weirdest taxes states have charged in the past or currently levy:
1. Alaska: Whaling Captain Deduction
Whaling boat captains can write off $10,000 for anything they spent on boat repair or other whaling expenses. Unfortunately, this deduction is only available to Alaska residents, otherwise I would have changed my profession years ago.
2. Alabama: Playing Card Tax
Don’t count on your Jokers to get you out of this one. Alabama charges a 10 cent tax on any pack of cards that contains 54 or fewer in the deck. The seller must also pay $1 and an annual license tax of $3.
3. Arkansas: Tattoo Tax
It’s unlikely any rebellious teens got in trouble for coming home hairless, but electrolysis treatments are taxed an extra six percent in sales tax along with tattoos and body piercings.
4. California: Vending Machine Fruit Tax
If you’re stuck with nothing but fresh fruit from the grocery store or farmers market, at least you don’t have to pay extra taxes on it. However, if you have a hankering for fruit from a vending machine, it will cost you.
5. Hawaii: Exceptional Tree Deduction
If you have an “exceptional tree” growing on your Hawaiian front lawn, congratulations. You can write off up to $3,000 in qualified expenditures you made to maintain your triumphant timber. Now the only question is, how does a tree become exceptional?
6. Illinois: Candy Tax
What is candy exactly? According to Illinois lawmakers, there’s a very specific definition. Whoppers? No. Lemondrops? Yes. Apparently, it all comes down to flour. If your snack falls under the candy category, you will pay a five percent higher sales tax on it.
7. Maine: Blueberry Tax
This tax probably isn’t going break your bank, but if you grow, purchase, sell, handle or process blueberries in the state of Maine, prepare to pay 1.5 cents per pound.
8. Massachusetts and Virginia: Amusement Tax
If you want to have fun, you have to pay for it! Massachusetts and Virginia are among the states charging an amusement tax on admission fees for local activities. Maryland also charges this tax, but as you’ll see, they’re known for an equally perplexing tax law that’s all their own.
9. Maryland: Flush Tax
In an attempt to protect the Chesapeake Bay, the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Restoration Fund is supported by a $2.50 a month fee on sewer bills and an equivalent $30 annual fee on septic system owners.
10. Minnesota: Fur Tax
Lookin’ good and staying warm will apparently cost you big. If an item of clothing is comprised of three times more fur than the next most valuable material used to make it, businesses are required to pay a 6.5 percent tax on whatever they receive for the sale, shipping and other charges (this extra cost in likely passed on to customers).
11. Nebraska: Dating Tax
They’re still working on this one, but Nebraska is looking to tax anything and everything in an attempt to generate more state revenue. Included in this list are garbage, bowling night, haircuts, clowns and dating services.
12. New Mexico: Centenarian Deduction
People over who are nearing the age of 100 now have something to look forward to in New Mexico. Anyone 100 years and older is exempt from income tax (who’s working at 100?), but they can’t be claimed as a dependent, unfortunately.
13. New York: Bagel Tax
New York residents might want to switch to toast for breakfast. Any bagel that has been sliced or prepared with toppings (like cream cheese) is subject to a sales tax. If it’s whole, however, you can eat it tax free… unless, that is, you eat it while you’re still in the store — then it’s also taxed.
14. North Carolina: Pet Tax
Local Durham County pet owners must list their pets as personal property and pay taxes on them. It’s one more reason to spay and neuter: Cats or dogs aged four months and older will cost $10 if fixed, $75 if not.
15. Oklahoma: Wager Tax
Most people are aware that you’re expected to pay taxes on any money you win gambling, but in some states (like Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Oklahoma), casino and track owners must pay a wagering tax. Even if you don’t gamble, you’ll foot the cost through higher priced amusements while you’re there.
16. Pennsylvania: Air Tax
Anything that comes out of a compressed air vending machine or vacuuming vending machine is subject to a sales and use tax. Why? Good question.
17. South Carolina: Charity Meat Deduction
You thought the act of giving was rewarding enough, but South Carolina wants to repay you further. Every deer carcass prepared by a licensed meat packer, butcher or processing plant you donate to charity results in a $50 tax credit.
18. Tennessee: Litigation Tax
Just to add insult to injury, a tax of up to $25 may be levied on residents involved in criminal and civil court proceedings. Juvies are generally exempt.
19. Utah: Sex Tax
Utah residents aren’t exactly known for their inhibitions, but this tax was fought hard. In 2004, Utah legislature passed a 10 percent tax on admission and sales of merchandise, food, drink and services for sexually explicit businesses.
20. West Virginia: Sparkler Tax
Sellers of sparklers and other “novelties” must pay an additional fee on top of the state’s six percent sales tax.
This is a pretty exhaustive catalog of taxation oddities, but there are many states we haven’t covered. Please, if you live in a state with a ridiculous tax law, let us know and we’ll add it to the list.
Photo credit: 401(K) 2012