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Tennessee Sales Tax Decoded: Strategies for Success in the Volunteer State

Key Takeaways:

  • Understand and get a full explanation of  sales tax
  • Know more about the basics of Tennessee sales tax 
  • Learn which goods and services are taxable under Tennessee sales tax
  • Comprehend the role of Local Sales Tax in Tennessee

In this article, we will provide a brief overview of Tennessee sales tax, exploring its significance and impact on businesses and consumers. Tennessee sales tax is a crucial aspect of the state's revenue system and is vital in funding public services and infrastructure.

Tennessee imposes a sales tax on the retail sale of tangible personal property, specific services, and rentals. The current state sales tax rate is 7%, while some localities may impose additional taxes, resulting in varying total rates across the state. Businesses and consumers need to understand these tax obligations to ensure compliance and avoid potential penalties.

Understanding Sales Tax

Sales tax is a consumption tax imposed by the government on the sale of goods and services. It is typically calculated as a percentage of the purchase price and is collected by businesses from customers at the point of sale. The purpose of sales tax is to generate revenue for the government and fund public services.

How sales tax works generally

Sales tax rates vary depending on the jurisdiction and can range from state to state or even within localities. The sales tax rate is usually expressed as a percentage of the purchase price. For example, if the sales tax rate is 7% and a customer buys an item worth $100, they would pay an additional $7 as sales tax.

Tennessee Sales Tax Basics

Current standard sales tax rate in Tennessee

The current standard sales tax rate in Tennessee is 7%. This rate applies to most taxable goods and services sold within the state. It is important to note that cities, counties, and special districts may impose additional local sales taxes. Therefore, the total sales tax rate can vary depending on the specific locality within Tennessee.

History of sales tax in Tennessee

The sales tax history in Tennessee dates back to the early 20th century. In 1947, the Tennessee General Assembly enacted the Sales and Use Tax Act, establishing a statewide sales tax. This marked a significant change in the state's revenue system and provided a reliable funding source for essential public services.

Tennessee Sales Tax: What Goods and Services are Taxable?

Overview of taxable goods and taxable services

Tennessee imposes sales tax on a broad range of goods and services. Understanding what items are subject to sales tax is crucial for businesses and consumers to assess their tax obligations accurately. Here is an overview of taxable goods and taxable services in Tennessee:

Taxable Goods:

Tangible personal property is generally subject to sales tax in Tennessee. This includes electronics, clothing, furniture, appliances, and vehicles. Certain digital goods like software, e-books, and music downloads are also taxable.

Taxable Services:

Tennessee's sales tax extends to various services. Taxable services include repairs and maintenance, cleaning, lawn care, transportation services (such as taxis or ride-sharing), personal care services (such as hairstyling or spa treatments), and telecommunications services.

Explanation of tax exemptions

While Tennessee imposes sales tax on a wide range of goods and services, certain items are exempt from taxation. These exemptions aim to alleviate the tax burden on essential items or specific industries. Here are some common tax exemptions in Tennessee:


Food and food ingredients for human consumption are generally exempt from sales tax. This includes meat, dairy products, fruits, vegetables, and non-alcoholic beverages.

Prescription Drugs: 

Prescription medications are exempt from sales tax in Tennessee. This exemption applies to prescribed drugs and medicines used for medical treatment.

Agricultural Products:

Sales of agricultural products such as livestock, crops, seeds, and plants are typically exempt from sales tax.

It's important to note that exemptions may have specific criteria and limitations. Businesses and consumers should consult the Tennessee Department of Revenue or seek professional advice to ensure compliance with the applicable sales tax laws and exemptions.

Role of Local Sales Tax in Tennessee

Explanation of local sales tax

In Tennessee, local sales tax is an additional tax imposed by cities and counties on top of the state sales tax rate. Local governments can levy their own sales tax to fund local services and infrastructure projects. The local sales tax rates can vary depending on the specific city or county within Tennessee.

City Sales Tax:

Many cities in Tennessee have the authority to impose a local sales tax rate in addition to the state sales tax. This allows cities to generate revenue to support local initiatives, such as public transportation, parks, and community development projects.

County Sales Tax:

Similarly, counties in Tennessee can impose their own sales tax rate. County sales tax revenue is typically used to fund local services like law enforcement, road maintenance, and education.

Differences in sales tax across various tax jurisdictions in Tennessee

The sales tax rates can vary significantly across different tax jurisdictions in Tennessee due to the addition of local sales taxes. While the state sales tax rate remains consistent at 7%, the total sales tax rate can differ from one location to another. The variation in sales tax rates is primarily determined by the specific city and county where the transaction occurs.

Business Tax Obligations: The Impact of Tennessee Sales Tax on Businesses

Responsibilities of retailers for collecting, reporting, and ensuring tax compliance

As retailers in Tennessee, businesses have several tax obligations related to sales tax. It is essential for businesses to understand and fulfill these responsibilities to maintain compliance with the law. The critical tax obligations for retailers include:

Collecting Sales Tax:

Businesses are responsible for collecting the appropriate sales tax from customers at the time of sale. This involves determining the correct sales tax rate based on the location of the transaction, including any applicable state and local sales taxes.

Sales Tax Reporting: 

Retailers must accurately record and report their sales tax activities to the Tennessee Department of Revenue. This typically involves filing regular sales tax returns, reporting the total sales made and the corresponding sales tax collected during a specific period.

Remitting Sales Tax:

Businesses must remit the sales tax collected from customers to the appropriate tax authorities within the specified timeframe. This ensures the sales tax revenue is appropriately allocated for public services and infrastructure development.

Consequences for non-compliance

Failure to comply with the sales tax obligations can result in various consequences for businesses. These consequences can include:

Penalties and Interest:

Non-compliance with sales tax obligations may lead to penalties and interest charges imposed by the Tennessee Department of Revenue. The amount of penalties and interest can increase over time if the non-compliance continues.

Audits and Investigations: 

The Tennessee Department of Revenue has the authority to conduct audits and investigations to ensure businesses comply with sales tax regulations. Audits can be time-consuming, resulting in additional penalties or legal actions if non-compliance is discovered.

Loss of Reputation and Trust:

Non-compliance with sales tax obligations can harm a business's reputation and erode customer, supplier, and partner trust. It can create a negative perception of the business's integrity and professionalism.

Legal Consequences: 

In severe non-compliance or deliberate tax evasion cases, businesses may face legal consequences, including fines, criminal charges, and potential legal action.

Interplay of Online Sales and Sales Tax in Tennessee

Overview of sales tax on online and out-of-state purchases

In Tennessee, collecting sales tax on online purchases has become increasingly important as e-commerce thrives. Online sales tax refers to the tax levied on purchases made online retailers or platforms. Additionally, out-of-state purchases, where goods are bought from sellers outside Tennessee, may also be subject to sales tax.

Concept of nexus and its implications

The concept of nexus plays a significant role in determining whether a business has a sufficient connection to a state to be required to collect sales tax. Nexus refers to a physical or economic presence in a state that triggers tax obligations. In the context of online sales, if an out-of-state seller has a substantial nexus in Tennessee, they must collect and remit sales tax on transactions made by Tennessee residents.

Tax-Free Holidays in Tennessee: A Break for the Consumers

Brief description and timing of tax-free holidays

Tax-free holidays are periods during which certain goods are exempt from sales tax. These holidays allow consumers to make purchases without paying sales tax, thereby offering a temporary break on costs. In Tennessee, there are two main tax-free holidays:

Sales Tax Holiday: 

This holiday typically occurs over a weekend in late July or early August. Certain clothing, school supplies, and computers are exempt from sales tax during this period, allowing families to save money on back-to-school shopping.

Energy-Efficient Appliance Sales Tax Holiday: 

This holiday focuses on energy-efficient appliances and occurs annually in late September. Consumers can purchase qualifying Energy Star-rated appliances without paying sales tax.

What goods are typically exempt during these periods

During the sales tax holiday, various goods are exempt from sales tax, including clothing items priced under a specific threshold, school supplies, and computers. Clothing items exempt from sales tax include clothing, footwear, and certain accessories with individual items priced at $100 or less. School supplies, including pens, notebooks, and backpacks, are exempt as long as each item is priced at $100 or less. Computers and tablets with a purchase price of $1,500 or less are also eligible for the sales tax exemption.

Consumer Perspective: How Tennessee Sales Tax Affects Buying Power

Impact of sales tax on purchasing power

Sales tax directly affects consumers' purchasing power by increasing the cost of goods and services. When sales tax is added to the purchase price, consumers must allocate additional funds to cover the tax amount. This can reduce the overall affordability of goods, especially for low-income individuals and families.

Comparison of Tennessee's sales tax with other states

When comparing Tennessee's sales tax with other states, it's important to consider the state sales tax rate and any additional local sales taxes. Tennessee has a state sales tax rate of 7%, which is relatively high compared to some other states. However, Tennessee does not impose a state income tax, which can offset the impact of sales tax for residents.

Looking Ahead: The Future of Sales Tax in Tennessee

Recent legislative changes or debates impacting sales tax

In recent years, discussions and debates have surrounded potential changes to Tennessee's sales tax laws. Some of the key areas of focus include:

Remote Sales Tax Collection:

With the rise of e-commerce, ongoing efforts have been to streamline the collection of sales tax on remote and online purchases. Tennessee continues to refine its approach to ensure fair and effective tax collection from out-of-state sellers.

Sales Tax Exemptions and Incentives: 

There may be ongoing discussions regarding expanding or revising sales tax exemptions for certain goods or services. Lawmakers often review these exemptions to assess their effectiveness and impact on the state's revenue.

Potential future changes, including changes to tax brackets

The future of sales tax in Tennessee may involve potential changes to tax brackets, rates, and exemptions. Legislative bodies regularly review tax codes to ensure they align with the state's economic goals and revenue needs. Any changes to the tax structure would likely be driven by factors such as economic conditions, budgetary considerations, and public policy objectives.


In this article, we explored various aspects of Tennessee sales tax. We discussed the definition of sales tax, its application to tangible goods and services, and the impact of local sales tax. We also examined the interplay of online sales and sales tax, including the concept of nexus. Businesses and consumers must stay updated on changes in sales tax laws, rates, and exemptions in Tennessee. By staying informed, individuals can make informed financial decisions, ensure compliance with tax obligations, and effectively manage their finances.

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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.

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