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Kevin Hunt - The Bottom Line
The Bottom Line
June 22, 2013
Let's see if more than 6.35 percent of readers can correctly guess the answers to two sales-tax mysteries in today's edition of "Is It Just Me?," where no question is too small for The Bottom Line.
Q: "Recently I have been told when returning a clothing item in both TJ Maxx in Vernon and Marshalls in Avon that without a receipt I would be given a store credit for only the item price and not the sales tax.
"Note that both items in both stores were returned with no receipt but new with tags attached and both were current merchandise. Is it legal for a store to charge you sales tax at time of purchase but not refund you sales tax at time of return without a receipt?"
Maria Rumore, East Windsor
A: Yes. But don't blame the store. It's the law in Connecticut. Without a receipt, a customer might get a cash refund or credit for returned merchandise, but the state keeps the sales tax. If the merchandise is returned within 90 days of purchase and the customer presents a dated receipt showing the tax paid, sales tax will be refunded.
"It basically comes down to the shopper being able to prove they paid the sales tax on the item," says Sarah Kaufman, a state Department of Revenue Services spokeswoman. "They could have bought it during tax-free week or even out of state and not paid Connecticut sales tax."
Even with a receipt, a customer will not get a sales-tax refund on any merchandise returned after 90 days from the purchase date.
"When returns are made in accordance with our return policy and with a store receipt, we return sales tax on taxable items," says Doreen Thompson, vice president of corporate communications for The TJX Companies, parent of both TJ Maxx and Marshalls. "When returns are made without a store receipt, we follow applicable guidelines regarding these matters."
TJ Maxx and Marshalls customers with questions on the stores' return policy should call 1-888-627-7425.
Q: "I got into it with DirecTV because they were charging sales tax on the full monthly bill before the promo rebate. The monthly rate was $29.99 and they charged sales tax on that. Then they rebated $9.99 (a month) for the first year of the two-year year contract.
"It would make me very happy to confirm that is improper. Are rebates treated differently?"
Randall McLellan, Deep River
"Coupons reduce the taxable price of an item," says the Department of Revenue Services in a statement from its legal division. "The sales tax is applied based upon the purchase price (selling price less coupon). In the case of a rebate, the tax is based on the full sales price even though the purchaser may later obtain a cash rebate from the manufacturer or other third party."
The state Department of Consumer Protection last month cited Wal-Mart and BJ's Wholesale Club, both in West Hartford, after a Bottom Line reader noticed improper unit pricing at the two stores. (Read the column at bit.ly/15Eaes1.)
State law requires all qualifying retailers selling a consumer commodity to post the unit price and total price of that commodity. Unit pricing has helped consumers throughout the United States, even beyond:
"I visited Connecticut in 2007 during a study tour of unit pricing in the USA and Europe which contributed to the introduction of compulsory unit pricing in Australia in December 2009. . . . I continue to campaign for the widespread provision of unit pricing in shops that is easy for shoppers to notice, read, understand and use. This is relevant to many parts of the USA, especially the many states where, unlike in Connecticut, provision is not compulsory.
"It was interesting to me that your story was mainly about the units of measure used to show unit prices, not about how they are displayed which is often inadequate when, unlike in Connecticut, the display requirements are not clearly specified in legislation or voluntary codes."
Ian Jarratt, Queensland Consumers Association, Australia
Remember, it's not just you. Other people want to know, too. Send appropriately benign questions to The Bottom Line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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