How much is the sales tax and why does it vary so much?
Sales tax varies from state to state and can be under 1%, but also 10% or higher in some areas. It’s been administered on the state level and food is usually a lot lower than other goods. States determine a base rate and the individual counties in that state can then add even more on top of that. Charlotte, NC for example is in Mecklenburg County and even though the North Carolina sales tax is only 4.75%, Mecklenburg county adds another 2% like most counties plus an additional 0.5% for the new light rail system (public transportation). Counties can increase that amount to pay off public facilities and transportation.
Goods that are for resale or further manifacture are excempt from sales tax. Also, if you buy online at a store that doesn’t have a physical presence in the state you live in, you probably won’t have to pay sales tax at all. You will usually see that in the summary of your online order before you hit the submit button. If there’s no sales tax listed, you won’t have to pay any.
One pitfall that new expats and first time USA tourists often stumble into, is that the price tag in stores don’t include the sales tax like in other countries. So it can easily become a nasty surprise when you expect to pay a certain amount, just to find out that it’s a lot more expensive after sales tax has been added at the cash register.
Some states are having sales tax holidays before the new school year begins, which allows parents and students to buy computers and school supplies without having to pay sales tax. Connecticut, Maryland and Virginia are even running these tax holidays for a whole week.
Why do most Americans drive cars with automatic transmission?
Ever since an automatic drivetrain was introduced back in the late 1940′s, Americans started to like the automatic transmission. Probably because of convenience. A lot of Americans don’t even know how to drive stick aka. manual transmission and are therefore a little helpless with rental cars during vacations abroad. Today, over 80% of new cars in America are being sold with automatic. If you buy a new car and want to save some money, choose one with manual transmission. It’s usually about $1,000 less. Whenever you see a great price on a certain new car, it’s usually a model with stick shift and no power windows and other features. Dealerships like to order one single base model, just to be able to advertise the very low price for this version as bait for customers.
Personally, I used to drive stick shift for many years, but started to really like automatic ever since I moved to the US. Now, even my Dad back in Germany is driving an automatic, because he liked it so much when he was visiting me in America. Convenience wins and fuel efficiency for automatic cars improved so much over the last decade, that it’s not an issue anymore.
What to do if you get pulled over by the police?
While you might be used to getting your speeding tickets in the mail, it’s a little more hands-on here in America. State troopers, Sheriffs and local police will personally pull you over in traffic to write you a ticket, if you were going too fast or broke the rules in any other way in traffic. The correct behaviour in case you are being pulled over is to stop your car at the earliest opportunity without endangering other cars in traffic. You should turn off the engine, pull down the driver’s window and leave your hands on the steering wheel, so that the law enforcement officer can see them. There have been too many incidents of drivers pulling a gun, so the police is extremely cautious when they are approaching your vehicle. You’ll be asked for your driver’s license and registration, so have it ready. It’s a good idea to tell the officer what you are going to do, if you need to reach into your pocket or the glove box. Sudden moves should be avoided and would just make the situation even more tense. As a general rule you should not argue with the officer, becaues it won’t do you any good. Instead, be understanding and polite. You might get away with a warning if you respect the officer. However, if the law enforcement officer does write you up, they will go back to their vehicle to run your drivers license and registration before they give you the ticket. So be patient and wait until the officer comes back with your documents.