Over the past year, hundreds of you have asked Whistleblower for help. While we can’t investigate each tip, we want to share more of what you tell us. In 2009, we started publishing a few tips each week to stimulate online discussion and create ways for our readers to help each other. Unlike our news stories, we have not verified this information. If you have a tip, send it to whistleblower@startribune.com. 

The overcharge tax was only 29 cents, but paying sales tax on what she thought was food irked one Minneapolis woman enough that she’s warning other shoppers to check their receipts.

She told Whistleblower that she bought two bottles of cranberry juice cocktail in Brooklyn Center. Not until she left the big-box discounter did she realize she had been charged sales tax.

Lest you think sales taxes on beverages are a simple matter, the Minnesota Department of Revenue has a Web page devoted to the matter. Soft drinks are taxed. Drinks with less than 15 percent juice are taxed. Those with more juice aren’t. “Sparkling apple cider” is taxed, but “cranberry juice cocktail” isn’t.

The store in question offered to refund the 29 cents, she said.

How often do you find errors in your receipts?

UPDATE: A Whistleblower reader asked the very pertinent question: "What recourse does a consumer have when they KNOW they are being wrongly charged sales tax?"

I put the question to Kit Borgman of the Minnesota Department of Revenue. Here was Borgman's response:

The person can call us and we'll call the retailer. However, there is no provision for the consumer to get a refund from the Department of Revenue. The customer would have to approach the retailer for that. The retailer may file an amended return for the tax overpaid, but we would not refund without some assurance that the tax will go back to the customers whose money it is, a likely impossibility in this case.

Complaints can be directed to the Sales Tax Division. You can find email and phone numbers here:
http://www.taxes.state.mn.us/taxes/sales/tax_help/stquest.shtml.


UPDATE 2: It turns out the shopper was properly charged sales tax after all. Whistleblower reported about the way the state used to tax beverages until 2002. The Department of Revenue doesn't help the confusion by keeping its outdated, revoked guidance on its web site. Kit Borgman of the revenue department said those sites would be updated. Here's what the law currently allows:

Soft drinks are taxable. The exemption for food products does not apply to soft drinks. "Soft drinks" means nonalcoholic beverages in liquid form that contain natural or artificial sweeteners. “Sweeteners” includes corn syrup, dextrose, invert sugar, sucrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, molasses, evaporated cane juice, rice syrup, barley malt, honey, and artificial sweeteners. Soft drinks do not include beverages that contain milk or milk products; soy, rice, or similar milk substitutes; or greater than 50 percent vegetable or fruit juice by volume.
Product labels should be reviewed to determine if the product falls within the guidelines of a taxable soft drink.

Taxable soft drinks include:
bottled or canned water that contains sweeteners
coffee and tea drinks that contain sweeteners
fruit ades, drinks, or nectars that contain sweeteners and have 50 percent or less fruit juice or no fruit juice percent shown on label
nonalcoholic beer or near beer, such as O’Doul’s and Sharps (contains barley malt, a sweetener)
Pedialyte
sports drinks (Gatorade, Powerade, etc.)
soda pop
sparkling Catawba juice containing sweeteners and 50 percent or less fruit juice

Examples of nontaxable items:
apple cider
beverage powders or concentrates
bottled or canned water that does not contain sweeteners
coffee or tea beans, grounds, leaves, or powders
nutritional drinks that contain milk or milk substitutes
frappachino (contains milk)
fruit or vegetable juices that contain more than 50 per-cent juice by volume even if they contain sweeteners
milk and drinks that contain milk
 

 

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