Benjamin Franklin famously said, “In this world nothing can be certain, except death and taxes.” What we can also be certain of is that strange, sometimes archaic taxes will always endure. For whatever reason, the following tax laws still exist, and they continue to bewilder the average taxpayer. (See also: The 11 Oddest Things America Has Ever Taxed)
1. The coffee cup lid tax
Colorado has a strange idea of what is essential packaging, and what is superfluous to requirements. As it turns out, the disposable cup that holds your morning coffee or tea is required, but the lid that stops it splashing everywhere (especially in the car) is “nice to have.” As it’s a nonessential, it is subject to an additional 2.9 percent tax. If you drink a $4 coffee every day, that adds up to an extra $40 every year.
2. The candy tax
Willy Wonka would be no fan of the Prairie state. For some reason, Illinois has decided that any sweet candy or other sugary treat is liable for an additional 5 percent sales tax, on one condition — that the snack contains no flour. So, something like a Kit Kat or Milky Way bar will not be subject to the tax, whereas a 3 Musketeers bar or chocolate covered raisins come with that extra charge.
3. The fur coat tax
First thoughts on this tax? Good. With advances in fabrics and science, there’s no need to kill an animal purely for its fur. However, it still happens. While many clothing items are exempt from sales tax in Minnesota, garments that have three times more fur than any other material are subject to an additional 6.875 percent sales tax. If you want the fur look, faux fur is just as good and is exempt from the tax. Also, if the garment has only a little fur, perhaps on the collar or cuffs, it also escapes the tax.
4. Drug dealers and thieves must report their income
Mark this one down as very strange but true. You may think that a drug dealer or thief wouldn’t care too much about reporting their income on a tax return, however, let’s not forget that taxes, not murder or racketeering, sent Al Capone to Alcatraz. According to the IRS, “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.”
5. The arrow excise tax
If you hunt with a bow and arrow, or partake in the sport of archery, your wallet could be getting hit with a hefty fee of 43 cents per arrow. The tax goes back to 1937’s Wildlife Restoration Act, with the proceeds from the tax going to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. If your arrows are longer than 18 inches, or are used with a specific kind of bow with a certain amount of draw, you’ll get hit with the tax. Shorter arrows, and certain arrows for children’s bows, are exempt.
6. The tattoos and piercings tax
Hey there body-modders of Arkansas, this one stings. Did you know that since 2002, your state has added an additional tax on any tattoos or piercings you get? It amounts to a 6 percent sales tax, which may not seem like a lot, but can add up over time. So, why did Arkansas impose this strange tax? To discourage people from getting them done, of course. However, anyone who is ready to endure hours of pain or the burn of a tattoo is probably not going to be put off by a sales tax.
7. The starving artist tax break
Are you a performing artist? A busker perhaps, or someone that sketches tourists on the streets of your city? Well, you’re in luck … if you’re broke. That’s the irony of the starving artist deduction, which has some bizarre specifications. First, you must have worked for at least two employers and received at least $200 in income from each one during the year. Second, your expenses must be more than 10 percent of the income you receive from performances. And finally, your adjusted gross income must be less than $16,000. If you qualify, you can deduct paints, brushes, dancewear, or anything else you need to ply your trade.
8. The hot air balloon tax
Here’s an odd one form the state of Kansas, which can have an impact on anyone that makes a living from hot air balloon rides. If you use the hot air balloon to do sightseeing jaunts, soaring high above the landscape for miles, you don’t get taxed. But, if the balloon just goes up and down, staying tethered at all times, it stops becoming a mode of air transportation and is instead considered an amusement ride. In Kansas, that’s subject to an amusement tax of 6.5 percent.
9. The 100th birthday tax break
In England, if you manage to stay alive long enough to hit triple digits, you actually get a congratulatory card from the Queen. In New Mexico, you get an even better gift. Providing you have resided in the state for at least six months, are a resident on December 31, and are not listed as a dependent on someone else’s taxes, you will become completely exempt from state income taxes. Now that’s worth a party in itself.
10. The vending machine fruit tax
If you’re looking for a tax to make you scratch your head in disbelief, this is a contender. California, which considers itself a healthy state, incentivized fresh fruit purchases by exempting them from tax. Great, right? Well, there’s a loophole. And wherever there’s a loophole, there’s a way to make money. If that fruit is sold from a vending machine, it somehow loses its healthy status, and gets taxed at a whopping 33 percent of the sale price.
11. The flush tax
When you gotta go, you gotta go. But the folks in Maryland are paying a little more than the rest of us to do so. In fact, the “flush tax” that was established in 2004 doubled from $30 per year to $60 per year in 2012, meaning every resident of the Old Line State is paying around $5 per month more than the rest of us just to go to the bathroom. However, it’s all for a good reason. The local CBS affiliate reported last year that additional money raised by the tax has lead to state of the art upgrades that reduce nitrogen and solid waste by millions of pounds per year.
12. The belt buckle tax
If you had to take a wild guess on which state would impose a tax on belt buckles, Texas would probably be last on your list. After all, ornate, decorative, and patriotic belt buckles are as much a part of the Texan wardrobe as boots and hats. However, it’s perhaps this predominance of buckles that made one lawmaker see dollar signs. So, get ready to pony up the dough, because you’ll get taxed an additional 6.25 percent sales tax on every belt buckle you buy in Texas.
13. The sexually explicit business tax
Utah has a tax that doesn’t go over well with adult service providers. According to the Utah State Tax Commission, the sexually explicit business tax is an additional tax on “admission and user fees, retail sales of tangible personal property including food and drinks, and services occurring in a business with nude or partially nude individuals.” How much is it? An additional 10 percent tax on top of regular sales and use taxes. In short, if you’re going to do naughty things in Utah, you have to have a slightly bigger wallet.
14. The exceptional tree tax break
Do you live in Hawaii? Do you have a magnificent specimen of a tree in your backyard or front lawn? Well, congratulations. A strange but perfectly legitimate tax break still exists that allows you to write off up to $3,000 in qualified costs and expenditure on your tree maintenance. Exceptional doesn’t mean, “Wow, my tree looks awesome!” In this case, the state takes into account age, rarity, location, size, aesthetic quality, endemic status, and if it is, in fact, worthy of preservation. If you check all those boxes, you get the write-off.
15. The blueberry tax
The state of Maine is the largest producer of wild blueberries in the world. Whether you’re eating blueberry pancakes, blueberry pie, or blueberry muffins, chances are the delicious fruits came from Maine. Not only that, but they were helped along by the Maine Wild Blueberry Tax. This tax imposes 1.5 percent tax on every pound of wild blueberries sold. The money is used for investment and research that keeps Maine’s hugely successful blueberry business thriving.