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How sales tax is calculated when rebates are involved: Money Matters

how sales tax is calculated

The Question: I bought about $3,000 worth of new furniture and the store was offering a $250 instant rebate for each $1,000 spent. I got my rebate but the store insisted I pay sales tax on the higher amount. I thought the sales tax should be calculated based on the price I actually paid.

This cost me about $60 in sales tax. Why would the state collect sales tax on money I didn't spend?

-- G.E. Sagamore Hills

The Answer: Whether sales tax is due depends on whether the rebate was from the store or from the furniture manufacturer.

If the rebate was from the manufacturer, the state of Ohio considers that transaction as a $250 discount given to you after the $1,000 sale is completed. It's not the store's price that's been changed. So the sales tax is calculated on the full $1,000.

But if it was a store rebate, the state considers that to be a price adjustment up front. The state says the true cost of the item is the lower amount ($750 in this case,) so the sales tax should be calculated on the lower amount after the rebate.

You didn't ask, but coupons work the same way: If you use a manufacturer's coupon on a product like laundry detergent, you pay sales tax on the full price of the item. If you use a store coupon, you pay sales tax on the lower price, after the value of the coupon is deducted.

The Question: My husband and I want to refinance our $220,000 mortgage, which is at 6.125 percent. We've been trying to save up for the closing costs, which will be several thousand dollars. We know rates are around 4.75 percent but just

saw a deal for 5.25 percent with no closing costs. Are we better off waiting until we can pay closing costs and get a rate below 5 percent?

-- A.K. Independence

The Answer: Paying your closing costs would be good if you had no other higher-rate debt and could afford it.

In your case, rates have got to be near their bottom (experts keep saying that, and yet we hit another new average low this week at 4.54 percent for a 30-year loan).

But a loan at 5.25 percent (the offer you saw was from U.S. Bank) is still a good deal since your current rate is 6.125. This should take your monthly payment from about $1,340 to $1,210. That's a chunk of change. If it feels right, do it and you can always use the money you already set aside for closing costs to pay down credit card debt, build your rainy day fund or simply pay down your mortgage principal.

The Question: I received a check for our homeowners' association and the person wrote one amount in the numbers box and a different amount in the part where the value is spelled out. Can I deposit it?

-- P.G. Brunswick

The Answer: The Uniform Commercial Code says that if a check contains contradictory information, then spelled-out words take precedence over numbers. I suppose that's because numbers can be altered easier, and check-writers are likely to concentrate more on the spelled-out portion.

There's no guarantee the bank will accept a check like this, though. To avoid the potential hassle, I'd go back to the homeowner and get a new check.

Murray is The Plain Dealer's personal finance writer. She cannot assist everyone who contacts her.

Category: Taxes

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