Starting a company

Hawaii Sales Tax: Understanding the Taxation Paradise of the Aloha State

Key takeaways-

  • Recognize the purpose and importance of Hawaii sales tax.
  • Learn about the distinctive General Excise Tax (GET) in Hawaii.
  • Find out how GET affects customers and companies.
  • Understand the GET payment procedure in detail.
  • Learn about the debates and ongoing issues surrounding GET.

A brief overview of Hawaii

Hawaii, located in the center of the Pacific Ocean, is a stunning tropical paradise known for its exceptional natural beauty, welcoming people, and rich cultural history. It is a collection of captivating islands, including the well-known tourist hotspots of Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island, providing discriminating travelers with various engaging experiences. 

Explanation of sales tax in general

A crucial part of many economies is played by sales tax, a standard consumption tax imposed on the sale of goods and services. The final customer often pays this tax as a percentage of the purchase price. 

Introduction to Hawaii's unique General Excise Tax (GET)

Hawaii's enchantment is distinguished from other states' typical sales taxes by a unique tax structure called the General Excise Tax (GET). By including a comprehensive tax on the gross revenue of firms involved in various activities inside the state, the GET, unlike its predecessors, has a broader reach.

Understanding the General Excise Tax (GET)

Explanation of how GET differs from traditional sales tax

Hawaii's General Excise Tax (GET) differs significantly from the standard sales tax. The GET continues beyond the final sale of goods and services, whereas typical sales taxes only apply at that point. Businesses must pay the GET on all of their receipts, including those from sales, rents, and other types of commercial activity, as it covers various production and distribution phases. 

The rate of GET and circumstances under which it applies

The General Excise Tax rate might change depending on the type of company activity and the county in which it operates. The typical rate is currently 4% for the majority of transactions. However, a lower fee of 0.5% is available for some operations, such as wholesale trades. Also crucial to remember is the possibility of additional surcharges on top of the GET in some counties. This extra charge goes towards supporting specific neighborhood projects.

Several activities are subject to the general excise tax. It encompasses the sale of tangible things, expert services, building contracts, and even rental revenue. 

Examples to illustrate how GET works

Let's look at a few instances to understand how Hawaii's General Excise Tax (GET) functions.

  • Consider a dress for $100 at a neighborhood clothes store in Honolulu. Applying the 4% GET rate results in the consumer paying $104 total, which includes the $4 GET. The retailer then pays the state the tax.
  • A graphic design firm in Maui bills $1,000 for a job. The client pays $1,040 with the 4% GET, which includes $40 in GET. Taxes are reported and paid by the agency.
  • Consider a homeowner on Kauai who charges $200 a night to use their home. The guest pays $208 after applying a 4% GET, which includes $8 as GET. Homeowners file tax returns and make payments.

Impact of GET on Consumers and Businesses

How GET affects pricing for consumers

The General Excise Tax affects how much products and services cost for Hawaii customers. Businesses include the tax while calculating the final price, which might lead to higher expenses than regions with conventional sales taxes. The precise effect, however, will depend on the nature of the firm and the price elasticity of the products or services.

The implications of GET for businesses, including businesses located outside of Hawaii that sell to Hawaiian residents

The GET likewise impacts businesses operating in Hawaii since they must understand the tax code, compute the tax correctly, and submit it depending on their gross revenue. Suppose they satisfy certain requirements, such as maintaining a sizable economic presence in the state. In that case, even companies outside of Hawaii that sell to Hawaiian citizens may need to consider the GET. For many organizations, this increases complexity and regulatory requirements.

The pass-through practice of GET to consumers

It is significant to note that companies frequently consider the GET an expense of doing business. As a result, they can decide to raise their pricing to pass the tax burden on to customers. Companies can recuperate the tax they paid on their inputs and continue to be profitable using this pass-through method. As a result, although the extent may change depending on market factors, consumers ultimately shoulder the financial burden of the GET.

Goods and Services Subject to GET

Overview of taxable goods and services

Hawaii's General Excise Tax (GET) is levied on various products and services. Tangible products, including clothing, electronics, furniture, and automobiles, are among the taxable goods in Hawaii. Additionally, a variety of services are covered by the GET, including personal services like hair styling and spa visits, as well as professional services like accountancy, architecture, and other professional services. The GET captures a sizable amount of economic activity in the state because of the wide range of taxable products and services.

Details about exempt or excluded goods and services

The GET applies to most products and services, although there are several exceptions and limitations. Prescription medicine sales, some medical services, and some educational services, for instance, are all excluded from the tax. Additionally, for some transactions, the GET may not apply to certain entities, including government bodies and NGOs. Businesses must grasp these tax exemptions and exclusions to calculate their tax obligations effectively. Exploring the available Hawaii tax exemptions is crucial for businesses seeking to maximize their financial benefits and minimize tax obligations in the state.

Special rates for certain types of products or services

Several rates are available in addition to the regular GET rate of 4% appropriate for particular categories of goods or services. For instance, a lower fee of 0.5% is applied to wholesale transactions. Agriculture-related operations are subject to a lesser 1.5% tax, including locally farmed produce sales. Additionally, the county of Honolulu levies a 0.5% extra levy to pay for transportation-related programs. These discounted prices demonstrate the complex GET and the changes that might occur based on the circumstances of the transaction and the location.

The Process of Paying GET

How businesses should calculate GET

Businesses must establish their gross income from taxable operations to compute the General Excise Tax. This category falls under sales proceeds, rental income, and payment for rendered services. The relevant GET rate is then applied after determining the gross income. For instance, the usual rate of 4% is typically used if the company is located in Oahu. According to the particulars of the transaction, special rates are imposed. The resultant tax amount then increases the price charged to the consumer.

The registration process for businesses to pay GET

Businesses that satisfy the GET registration criteria must register with the Hawaii Department of Taxation.When establishing a business in Hawaii, registering for the General Excise Tax (GET) is a necessary step to comply with the state's taxation requirements. This entails completing the required paperwork, offering pertinent company data, and acquiring a GET license. Businesses are given a particular GET identification number when they register, which they will use to report and pay the tax. 

Filing periods and due dates for tax returns

Periodic Hawaii tax returns that detail a company's GET liabilities must be filed.Businesses operating in Hawaii must fulfill their tax obligations by timely and accurately filing their tax returns, adhering to the state's regulations for Hawaii tax return filing. The filing intervals often change according to the company's yearly gross income. For instance, Businesses with more than $4 million in gross annual revenue must file monthly filings, while those with a lesser income can file quarterly or semi-annual forms. 

Penalties for Late or Incorrect Filings

General Excise Tax (GET) returns must be filed correctly and on time in Hawaii. Hawaii Tax Penalties may apply if you don't follow the rules. The main facts are as follows:

Penalties for Late Filing: Companies that fail to submit their GET returns on time may be subject to fines determined as a proportion of the tax payable. For detailed details, speak with a tax expert or the Hawaii Department of Taxation.

Penalties for Late Payment: Penalties for late tax payments, often determined as a percentage of the outstanding balance, are another possibility.

Penalties for erroneous Filing: Penalties for Underreporting or Misreporting Tax Liability may apply if GET returns are submitted erroneously or inaccurately. Businesses should keep correct records and seek competent advice to reduce the danger of such fines.

Recent Changes and Controversies

Discussion of any recent changes to GET regulations

Hawaii's GET laws are subject to regular revisions and adjustments. Recent alterations may include tax rate increases, changes to exclusions or exemptions, and updates to reporting requirements. 

Overview of any controversies or issues related to GET, such as its impact on Hawaii's cost of living

There has been constant controversy and discussion about the general excise tax, mainly how it affects the Hawaii cost of living. The GET's regressive character has drawn some criticism since low-income households may be subjected to a disproportionately greater cost. Critics contend that the levy unfairly burdens fundamental needs and critical services, potentially raising citizens' living costs.

Comparison of Hawaii's Sales Tax With Other States

Comparison with traditional sales tax states

Hawaii's General Excise Tax (GET) is very different from the standard sales tax in other states. While most states only levy sales tax at the point of final consumer sale, the GET in Hawaii applies to various commercial operations, including sales, rents, and other commercial transactions. This all-encompassing strategy produces a different tax system with repercussions for enterprises and consumers.

Comparison with other unique sales tax situations

Alaska: There is no statewide sales tax in Alaska. Instead, it depends on other funding sources for state services, such as taxes on oil and gas. However, different municipal governments in Alaska may impose sales taxes. Alaska's tax structure differs from typical sales tax states and Hawaii's GET because it lacks a statewide sales tax.

Oregon: Like Alaska, Oregon does not levy a statewide sales tax. The state instead depends on income taxes, property taxes, and other revenue streams. Oregon is another unusual instance regarding sales tax systems due to the absence of a statewide sales tax.

Possible Future Changes to Hawaii Sales Tax

Potential changes on the horizon for GET

The future of Hawaii sales tax is subject to ongoing discussions and potential legislative changes, as policymakers assess the economic landscape and explore options to meet the state's revenue needs.Hawaii's General Excise Tax may change in the future, just like any other tax system. Numerous elements, including governmental actions, public opinion, and economic situations, might impact these developments. Hawaii tax rates, exemptions, exclusions, and changes to the range of taxable activities are all potential amendments to the GET.

Potential impacts of these changes

Depending on the precise nature of the modifications made, the effects of prospective changes to the GET would vary. For instance, adjustments to tax rates may directly impact how much tax consumers and corporations pay. The sectors or activities subject to the tax may change due to changes to exemptions or exclusions, which may impact business operations and consumer behavior.

Any GET modifications would need to have their economic, social, and economic effects carefully assessed. In evaluating the prospective impacts of these changes, factors including revenue implications, justice, administrative viability, and economic competitiveness are crucial.


Hawaii is different from states with a standard sales tax because of its extensive tax structure covering various commercial operations. Firms must manage the GET's complexity appropriately. Businesses may satisfy their commitments and avoid fines by comprehending the taxable items and services, exemptions, and special rates and calculating and paying taxes in Hawaii. 

We can help!

At Levy, we help early-stage founders streamline and automate regulatory and legal ops, HR, and finance so you can focus on what matters most — your business.

Like our content?

Subscribe to our blog to stay updated on new posts. Our blog covers advice, inspiration, and practical guides for early-stage founders navigating their start-up journeys.

Note: Our content is for general information purposes only. Levy does not provide legal, accounting, or certified expert advice. Consult a lawyer, CPA, or other professional for such services.

Get content like this, and more, sent directly to your inbox once a month.

Thank you for subscribing us!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.


Stressing the details?

Let levy handle this for you.
Learn more
No items found.