California levies a statewide 7.5 percent tax on retail sales but local governments and other agencies can add surtaxes for various purposes. The overall rate reaches as high as 10 percent in some localities.
That means that the tax on an identical transaction can vary considerably, depending on where the money changes hands, but knowing what tax rate applies at which retail location has been almost impossible.
If it matters, however, a new interactive, on-line tool can tell the consumer what rate will apply.
The new Board of Equalization website allows the user to plug in an address and instantly learn the applicable rate. A purchase in downtown Sacramento, for example, would generate an 8.5 percent sales tax, but across the Sacramento River in West Sacramento it would be just 8 percent.
The highest rate of 10 percent is found in several small cities in Los Angeles County.
Board of Equalization member George Runner said he requested that the on-line tool be developed because even some retailers don't know what rates to charge because they change frequently.
PHOTO: Lead cashier Ashley De Antonio, left, and cashier Danielle Harvey practice at the cash register at the Sunflower Farmers Market in Sacramento on Friday, May 4, 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton