The Best Places in the U.S. With the Highest and Lowest Sales Tax

Find out which places are more likely to make your daily costs add up.

By Devon Thorsby, Editor, Real Estate |Oct. 19, 2018, at 3:08 p.m.

The Best Places in the U.S. With the Highest and Lowest Sales Tax

Slideshow

Where do sales tax rates make the biggest difference?

A woman is paying at a coffee shop.  The cashier is a young man.  They are smiling at each other.

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Whether you’re buying holiday gifts for family members, reviving your wardrobe or simply shopping at the grocery store, sales tax can make spending feel like it goes from reasonable to over budget with the ding of the cash register. Because sales tax varies by state, county and even municipality, where you shop can mean the difference between a couple cents and few dollars extra. Sales tax rates aren’t a part of the calculation for the U.S. News Best Places to Live rankings, but they can play a part in how to budget and plan for a move. We’ve compiled the 20 metro areas out of the 125 most populous in the U.S. that make up the Best Places to Live with the highest and lowest combined sales tax rates for regular, store-bought goods.

Markets with the highest sales tax

Markets with the highest sales tax

Woman signing payment terminal in grocery store

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These metro areas often not only have a sizable state sales tax, but in each case they also have county and city taxes that increase the total of a retail purchase. We determined the places with the highest sales tax based on local taxes levied by the biggest city by population in each market, as that’s where the most residents are likely to spend their money. In outer suburbs, the local sales tax may be slightly higher or lower as a result of different municipal policies. All tax rates come from tax information company Avalara and its subsidiary TaxRates.com. The following places with high sales tax are listed from lowest to highest rate.

Highest: San Jose, California

Highest: San Jose, California

San Jose, USA - March 3, 2015: Downtown San Jose California, featuring the hotel DeAnza, Office towers, traffic light and Almaden Bl road sign. Photographed on a sunny day with clear blue sky. No traffic on the street.

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Best Places 2018 Rank: 17
Metro Population: 1,943,107
Combined Local Sales Tax Rate: 9.25 percent

California collects just 6 percent sales tax for the state. But a 0.25 percent sales tax for both Santa Clara County and the city of San Jose plus a 2.75 percent special tax – which is often voted for by local residents to fund specific projects – add up to 9.25 percent.

Highest: Knoxville, Tennessee

Highest: Knoxville, Tennessee

Knoxville

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Best Places 2018 Rank: 64
Metro Population: 857,111
Combined Local Sales Tax Rate: 9.25 percent

Knoxville doesn’t charge residents additional sales tax in the city, but Knox County levies a 2.25 percent sales tax in addition to Tennessee’s statewide 7 percent sales tax rate.

Highest: Chattanooga, Tennessee

Highest: Chattanooga, Tennessee

Sunrise, Tennessee Aquarium, Road Bridge, Chattanooga, Tennessee, America

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Best Places 2018 Rank: 72
Metro Population: 544,522
Combined Local Sales Tax Rate: 9.25 percent

Similar to Knoxville, Chattanooga’s high sales tax rate comes from the state tax of 7 percent and Hamilton County’s 2.25 percent tax rate.

Highest: Salinas, California

Highest: Salinas, California

Strawberry fields in the Salinas Valley of central California juxtapose with urban residential housing in the adjacent foothills.

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Best Places 2018 Rank: 114
Metro Population: 430,201
Combined Local Sales Tax Rate: 9.25 percent

Salinas adds a combined 3.25 percent sales tax rate from Monterey County (0.25 percent), the city of Salinas (1.5 percent) and a special tax (1.5 percent) to California's state tax of 6 percent.

Highest: Memphis, Tennessee

Highest: Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis, TN, USA - August 5, 2015: View of Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee

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Best Places 2018 Rank: 117
Metro Population: 1,341,339
Combined Local Sales Tax Rate: 9.25 percent

Sales tax rates for Memphis are based on the state’s 7 percent tax combined with the 2.25 percent sales tax for Shelby County.

Highest: New Orleans

Highest: New Orleans

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Best Places 2018 Rank: 111
Metro Population: 1,250,247
Combined Local Sales Tax Rate: 9.45 percent

While Louisiana has a low state sales tax of just 4.45 percent, Jefferson Parish, where New Orleans is located, charges an additional 5 percent sales tax on purchases.

Highest: Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Highest: Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Baton Rogue at sunset

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Best Places 2018 Rank: 100
Metro Population: 824,667
Combined Local Sales Tax Rate: 9.45 percent

For Baton Rouge, on the other hand, the 5 percent sales tax to accompany the state’s 4.45 percent sales tax comes from the city.

Highest: St. Louis

Highest: St. Louis

St. Louis, Missouri

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Best Places 2018 Rank: 89
Metro Population: 2,803,449
Combined Local Sales Tax Rate: 9.679 percent

St. Louis charges a very specific sales tax rate – to the third decimal. The state of Missouri levies a 4.225 percent sales tax, and the city of St. Louis charges an additional 5.454 percent sales tax, which includes a 0.5 percent tax for public safety funding.

Highest: Fayetteville, Arkansas

Highest: Fayetteville, Arkansas

Fayetteville

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Best Places 2018 Rank: 5
Metro Population: 503,642
Combined Local Sales Tax Rate: 9.75 percent

The state of Arkansas, Washington County and city of Fayetteville all levy a sales tax. Arkansas’s statewide tax tops out at 6.5 percent, while the county charges 1.25 percent and Fayetteville charges 2 percent in sales tax.

Highest: Mobile, Alabama

Highest: Mobile, Alabama

Downtown and Midtown aerial photos of Mobile, Alabama

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Best Places 2018 Rank: 122
Metro Population: 414,291
Combined Local Sales Tax Rate: 10 percent

Mobile is one of three places out of the 125 most populous metro areas in the U.S. that charges 10 percent or more in sales tax. The state of Alabama charges just 4 percent in sales tax, while Mobile County collects an additional 1 percent and the city of Mobile takes 5 percent.

Highest: Seattle

Highest: Seattle

High dynamic image of Seattle skyline in dramatic sunrise colors across pier-66 waterfront

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Best Places 2018 Rank: 10
Metro Population: 3,671,095
Combined Local Sales Tax Rate: 10.1 percent

Washington’s state sales tax is 6.5 percent, while the city of Seattle places an additional 3.6 percent sales tax on top of that.

Highest: Chicago

Highest: Chicago

Chicago skyline

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Best Places 2018 Rank: 87
Metro Population: 9,528,396
Combined Local Sales Tax Rate: 10.25 percent

Illinois collects a sales tax rate of 6.25 percent, while Cook County adds 1.75 percent, the city of Chicago charges 1.25 percent and a special tax tacks on 1 percent to make sales tax in Chicago a whopping 10.25 percent.

Markets with the lowest sales tax

Markets with the lowest sales tax

Businessman holding money in his hands

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While some places fund their local projects and improvement efforts with sales tax, others get rid of it entirely. As with the places with the highest sales tax rates, these rates are based on the combination of state, county and local sales tax rates in each metro area's largest city, so it’s possible the rate varies in smaller municipalities. The following eight metro areas are the only ones out of the 125 most populous in the U.S. that have combined sales tax rates of less than 6 percent, presented in descending order of sales tax rate.

Lowest: Milwaukee

Lowest: Milwaukee

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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Best Places 2018 Rank: 70
Metro Population: 1,571,730
Combined Local Sales Tax Rate: 5.6 percent

Milwaukee is just a couple hours north of Chicago, but the sales tax rate is nearly half that of the Windy City. Wisconsin’s sales tax rate is 5 percent, while Milwaukee County charges 0.5 percent and a special tax adds 0.1 percent.

Lowest: Madison, Wisconsin

Lowest: Madison, Wisconsin

A vivid, photo taken from an airplane of downtown Madison, Wisconsin in spring.

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Best Places 2018 Rank: 16
Metro Population: 634,269
Combined Local Sales Tax Rate: 5.5 percent

Without any special tax added to the sales tax rate, Madison has a slightly lower combined sales tax than Milwaukee, with just Wisconsin’s 5 percent sales tax and Dane County’s 0.5 percent sales tax.

Lowest: Portland, Maine

Lowest: Portland, Maine

Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth, Maine is one of the best Maine lighthouses

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Best Places 2018 Rank: 27
Metro Population: 523,874
Combined Local Sales Tax Rate: 5.5 percent

As the largest city in Maine, Portland maintains a low sales tax rate by keeping the rate determined by the state – 5.5 percent – without adding any local taxes.

Lowest: Richmond, Virginia

Lowest: Richmond, Virginia

USA, Virginia, Richmond, Cityscape at evening

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Best Places 2018 Rank: 54
Metro Population: 1,258,158
Combined Local Sales Tax Rate: 5.3 percent

Virginia’s sales tax of just 4.3 percent and the city of Richmond’s additional tax of 1 percent combine for a low sales tax rate of 5.3 percent for the state capital.

Lowest: Honolulu

Lowest: Honolulu

Sunrise at Waikiki Beach, Hawaii

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Best Places 2018 Rank: 35
Metro Population: 986,999
Combined Local Sales Tax Rate: 4.5 percent

Hawaii keeps its state sales tax low at just 4 percent. With the addition of Honolulu County’s 0.5 percent sales tax rate, the city of Honolulu sees a total sales tax rate of 4.5 percent.

Lowest: Manchester, New Hampshire

Lowest: Manchester, New Hampshire

Manchester is the largest city in the state of New Hampshire and the largest city in northern New England. Manchester is known for its industrial heritage, riverside mills, affordability, and arts & cultural destination.

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Best Places 2018 Rank: 37
Metro Population: 404,948
Combined Local Sales Tax Rate: 0 percent

Manchester is one of three places out of the 125 most populous metro areas in the U.S. that has no sales tax at all. New Hampshire is one of five states – the others being Alaska, Delaware, Montana and Oregon – with no sales tax.

Lowest: Salem, Oregon

Lowest: Salem, Oregon

Capitol Mall

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Best Places 2018 Rank: 93
Metro Population: 404,997
Combined Local Sales Tax Rate: 0 percent

There may be five states that levy no sales tax, but only two other places out of the 125 most populous metro areas keep the sales tax rate at zero for local taxes as well. Salem is one of two Oregon metro areas with no sales tax.

Lowest: Portland, Oregon

Lowest: Portland, Oregon

Portland, OR, USA - July 16, 2015: People ordering food from the multi-ethnic fast-food vendors in downtown Portland, Oregon

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Best Places 2018 Rank: 6
Metro Population: 2,351,319
Combined Local Sales Tax Rate: 0 percent

Portland is similar to Manchester and Salem in that there’s no sales tax, but it’s also significantly larger in population. The Portland metro area is home to nearly 2.4 million people and still manages to keep its sales tax at zero.

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Devon Thorsby is the Real Estate editor at U.S. News & World Report, where she writes consumer-focused articles about the homebuying and selling process, home improvement, tenant rights and the state of the housing market.

She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.

Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at dthorsby@usnews.com.

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