Are you breaking the law every time you purchase a pumpkin?

A Twitter post on Oct. 15 by the state Division of Taxation reminded Garden State consumers that pumpkins used for decoration are subject to the state's sales tax — 6.625%. But no tax must be paid for pumpkins used as food or in food preparation.

This raised the question: What exactly are we taxed on when shopping at the local market or department store? The state actually lays out, quite clearly, which items are subject to the state sales tax, and which are exempt, in its New Jersey Sales Tax Guide.

Most food sold as grocery items, along with most clothing and footwear, are not taxable in New Jersey. The same goes for prescription and over-the-counter drugs, and disposable paper products — in most cases.

There are few items — like pumpkins — that can be confusing.

For example, regular sweetened ice tea is taxed. But unsweetened ice tea is not.

Lemonade is taxed. But not the kind that comes in powder.

Chocolate chips are taxed. But the bitter, unsweetened kind are not.

If you buy already-popped pop corn, you'll pay tax. Want to avoid it? Buy the kind you pop at home.

Supermarket/Drugstore items

Most food and drink purchased at these establishments, along with dietary supplements, are not subject to sales tax. Candy and soft drinks, though, are taxable. Most household and toiletry items appear to be taxable as well.

Here's a list of TAXABLE items you may encounter on your weekly trip to the store:

  • Acne products — cleansers or soaps (creams or lotions are exempt)
  • Air fresheners
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Aluminum foil
  • Ammonia
  • Antiperspirants, deodorants
  • Baby bath soaps, lotions, powder, shampoos
  • Bags (Plastic, cloth)
  • Baking cups — foil (paper cups for household use are exempt)
  • Balloons
  • Bandages/Band Aids
  • Bar mixes — sweetened (unsweetened mixes are exempt)
  • Bath beads, oils, sachets
  • Bathroom cleaners
  • Batteries
  • Bed linens
  • Bird food
  • Blankets (except for baby receiving blankets)
  • Bleach
  • Books (except certain textbooks)
  • Bottled water — sweetened (unsweetened is exempt)
  • Breast cream
  • Breath freshener
  • Bubble bath
  • Calling cards (the initial sale and additional minutes)
  • Candy (unless it contains flour or requires refrigeration)
  • Canes
  • Car wash and wax
  • Carpet cleaners
  • Carpet deodorizers
  • Cat food
  • CDs, Cassettes, DVDs
  • Chewing gum
  • Chewing tobacco
  • Chocolate chips — sweetened (unsweetened chips are exempt)
  • Christmas trees
  • Christmas tree skirts
  • Cigarettes/filters/papers
  • Cigars
  • Cleaning liquids, powders
  • Clotheslines
  • Clothespins
  • Coffee pot cleaners
  • Combs
  • Condoms
  • Confections
  • Contact lens cleaner, care products
  • Copper cleaner
  • Corn and callus pads
  • Cosmetics
  • Cotton balls
  • Crepe paper
  • Crutches (unless sold pursuant to doctor's prescription)
  • Cups — plastic, foam (paper cups, for household use, are exempt)
  • Cuticle remover
  • Dandruff/Seborrhea shampoo
  • Decorations
  • Dental floss
  • Dental rinse
  • Denture adhesives, preparations
  • Depilatories
  • Detergents
  • Dinnerware — plastic, foam (paper items, for household use, are exempt)
  • Disinfectants
  • Dog food
  • Doilies
  • Douches — cleaning, deodorizing (antiseptic/anti-infectious are exempt)
  • Drain openers, cleaners
  • Drawer liners
  • Dyes
  • Electrical supplies
  • Epsom salt — garden use (medical use is exempt)
  • Eyeglass cleaner tissues
  • Fabric softeners
  • Fiberglass cleaner
  • Film, film processing
  • First Aid kits
  • Fishing bait
  • Flags (for all except NJ and US)
  • Flashlights
  • Flatware
  • Flea collars
  • Floor cleaners, coverings, wax
  • Furniture/polishes and cleansers
  • Garbage bags, pails
  • Garden supplies
  • Gatorade
  • Gift wrap, bows, boxes, tags
  • Greeting cards
  • Conditioners/Shampoos
  • Halloween masks
  • Hand cleaners, lotion
  • Health/Fitness equipment (weights, exercise balls, etc.)
  • Ice buckets
  • Ice cream comes
  • Iced tea — liquid, sweetened (unsweetened liquid, and all powdered, are exempt)
  • Insecticides, repellents
  • Jewelry cleaners
  • Juice drinks (containing 50% or less juice)
  • Keys
  • Lawn bags
  • Lemonade — liquid (powdered is exempt)
  • Light bulbs
  • Liners for garbage cans or shelves
  • Lint removers
  • Lipstick
  • Lunch bags — plastic (paper lunch bags, for household use, are exempt)
  • Lye
  • Magazines (sold as single copies)
  • Makeup/remover
  • Marshmallows
  • Matches
  • Medal cleaners and polishes
  • Mildew remover
  • Mops
  • Mouthwash
  • Nail-biting deterrents
  • Nail polish/remover
  • Nicotine gum, patch
  • Nursing bottles, nipples
  • Oven cleaners
  • Ovulation testing kits
  • Paint remover
  • Paper towels
  • Pet foods, medicine, shampoo, supplies
  • Pillows
  • Place mats — cloth and plastic (paper mats, for households use, are exempt)
  • Plants
  • Plastic wrap
  • Popcorn — popped, sweetener added (unpopped is exempt)
  • Sweetened beverages (containing no milk products and 50% or less juice)
  • Pregnancy testing kits
  • Pumpkins — used for decoration (if used for food, exempt)
  • Rock salt
  • Scouring pads
  • Seeds
  • Shaving cream
  • Shoe polish
  • Shower caps
  • Soap
  • Sparklers and other non-aerial fireworks
  • Sponges
  • Static remover
  • Stationery
  • Steel wool
  • Stirrers
  • Straws — plastic (paper straws, for household use, are exempt)
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreens
  • Table covers — plastic (paper covers, for household use, are exempt)
  • Tape
  • Tobacco
  • Toilet bowl cleaners, deodorizers
  • Toothbrushes
  • Toothpaste
  • Toothpicks
  • Towels — cloth
  • Wheelchairs (unless sold pursuant to doctor's prescription)
  • Wigs
  • Window cleaning liquids
  • Windshield washer solution
  • Wrapping paper

Clothing and footwear

Only specific categories of clothing and footwear are taxable. They include: fur clothing; accessories or equipment; and sport or recreational equipment.

From cap to shoes, as long as they're not made of fur, your clothing receipts are most likely free from a sales tax charge. Items such as bathing suits, belts, coats and gloves are exempt.

Sport or recreational equipment that's only worn for that reason, and not to perform a job, is taxable. These items include cleats, ice skates, mouth guards, shoulder pads, scuba masks and wetsuits. Exempt items include athletic supporters, jogging or running shoes and ski masks.

The rules

By law, if no sales tax is paid on a taxable item, the purchaser owes that money to the state of New Jersey.

This is most likely to occur in connection with purchases made outside New Jersey's borders. If you buy an item in a different state, that would be taxed here but is not taxed there, or is taxed at a lower rate, you're technically on the hook in New Jersey for the difference between the two rates. This is known as a "use tax," which is the same rate as the sales tax rate.

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