However, anyone who lives in a state that charges sales tax is obligated to pay that sales tax -- including for purchases made online -- even if the online merchant doesn't collect it. Collecting sales tax for the states is an enormous logistical hassle that merchants would like to avoid because each state has its own rules about what gets taxed and how much. Thus, merchants only do it when they have to, but getting consumers to tally up these purchases and their respective taxes at the end of the year has been a bit of a hopeless situation for the states, who, nonetheless, would very much like to have that money. Sales tax is second only to income tax as a revenue source for the states.
Naturally, the states would like merchants to collect that tax. In fact, the states would like to find any way to milk a bit of money from the Internet. Earlier this year, Web publishers in North Carolina lost a significant source of income when Amazon terminated that state's affiliate marketers after the state instituted an advertising tax it hoped would help flesh out its coffers. Despite this backfire, Alabama, California, and Colorado are currently considering similar taxes. (You can read more about that at the Performance Marketing Alliance.)
To help clean up this sales tax mess, the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax was created in 1999 to simplify sales tax collection for merchants. Forty-four states are currently part of this cooperative effort, and to date, 23 have passed conforming legislation.
My point? This is still one gigantic confusing mess for merchants no matter how motivated the states are to get what they feel is their due and in spite of efforts to clean up the mess. Thus, I would tend to agree with Ken that his mystery fee is very likely the result of confusion brought about by this rat's nest of rules and regulations.
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