Convenience stores overcharge in SC sales tax confusion

By: Lynnsey Gardner
By: Lynnsey Gardner

October 2, 2006

A trip to the convenience store cost some people in South Carolina more than it should have today, because of some confusion over a new law changing the sales tax on food which took effect yesterday.

The tax break applies to any food that we can take home to eat. That includes snacks, candy, and cold drinks found at convenience stores. Out of the five stores News 12 visited, only one taxed correctly.

"Sorry for the inconvenience for tax difference," Biren Patel said. He works at 1st Stop Clearwater, one of three stores that overcharged us.

Under the new change, you get a 2 percent tax break when you buy any snacks, cold drinks or candy. You'll still pay the same tax on hot beverages, medicine, and merchandise.

Here's what we found out when we put it to the test:

We made the same purchase, Nacho Cheese Doritos and a Diet Dr Pepper, at five different convenience stores. Only one store, 4 Seasons Food and Fuel, charged us correctly.

"We will have someone down tonight or tomorrow to fix the computers," said Patel.

Six percent was the old tax in Aiken County. We paid that at 1st Stop and Curgin's Corner. That owner said he was unaware of the change and would fix it.

On the other hand, a BP charged us too little...only three percent sales tax.

"The owner,he loves the customers, but not that much. He loves customers but doesn't want to lose money," said a worker at the BP. "I can't wait for the morning to see what he says."

The last store, a BP on Martintown Road, charged six percent last night and five percent today. Still one percent too high. The owner says she is looking into the error.

The errors in four out of five stores are costing both businesses and customers hard-earned money.

And even though we are talking pennies here and there, the big picture tells a different story.

In California, a drop in tax by one fourth of a cent was not followed by many convenience stores...which if not changed for an entire year would equal $1.1 billion in surplus taxes.

From what News 12 can find, South Carolina hasn't experienced something like this before.

However, other states have experienced this tax confusion, and in cases where customers were overcharged, the surplus was either turned over to the state or refunded to customers.

Here's what you need to know about what is considered an unprepared food.

They are generally for home consumption and preparation, items like milk, bread, and raw meats.

The new reduced tax does not apply to prepared foods like hot foods and beverages and household goods.

And if you're not already confused, other counties in South Carolina will charge 3 percent, but Aiken County has a one-cent sales tax--so they're now at 4%.

For more on all this, you can visit the South Carolina Department of Revenue's website at www.sctax.org.


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