25 Nov 2023
9 min read

What Is the Sales Tax in Ohio?

Decoding Ohio's Sales Tax: Navigating Rates, Exemptions, and Economic Impact
sales tax in ohio
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Sales tax is an important aspect of Ohio's personal and business finances. The state relies on sales tax to fund essential programs, services, and organizations. However, applying sales tax can be complex and confusing for many people. It's important to understand Ohio state sales tax, how it works, and how it affects you as a consumer or business owner in Ohio.

This article will dive into the specifics of Ohio's sales tax, including its rates, exemptions, and how it compares to other states. Keep reading to learn more.

History of Sales Tax in Ohio

History of sales tax in Ohio

The concept of a sales tax in Ohio can be traced back to the Great Depression era when the state was experiencing a dire need for revenue to fund its public services. The first sales tax, instituted in 1935, was a mere 3 percent, a modest rate by today's standards. Initially met with widespread resistance, it was perceived as a temporary measure. However, as economic realities set in and the requirement for public funding became evident, the sales tax returns became a permanent feature of the state's fiscal landscape.

Over the years, the rate has seen several adjustments in response to the state's changing economic conditions and policy priorities. For instance, in the mid-2000s, a substantial tax overhaul led to an increase in taxable services from 5% to 5.5% to offset reductions in income and property taxes. The rate has since fluctuated, demonstrating the state's dynamic approach to managing its public finances. Understanding this history is key to comprehending the current state of Ohio's sales tax system and its role in the state's economy.

Current Sales Tax Rates in Ohio

Ohio's statewide Ohio sales tax rate currently stands at 5.75%, one of the highest rates in the country. However, this is not a flat rate that applies to all purchases. Instead, it comprises a combination of state and local taxes.

The state imposes a base sales tax rate of 5.5%, supplemented by local sales taxes ranging from 0.25% to 2%. This means that consumers in different cities and localities may pay varying rates of up to 8%, with the average rate falling around 7%. Notably, these local taxes are imposed on top of the state's base tax, resulting in a cumulative effect.

Exemptions and Exceptions

Exemptions and exceptions

While Ohio's sales tax may seem high, it's important to note that not all goods and services are subject to this tax. Some items are exempt from sales tax law or qualify for a reduced rate. Here are the most common exemptions in Ohio:

Prescription Drugs and Over-the-Counter Medications

One of Ohio's most significant exemptions from sales tax is prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications. This means that when you go to the pharmacy to pick up your prescribed medication, you won't have to pay any additional sales tax on top of the cost of your medication. For example, if you have a doctor's antibiotic prescription that costs $10, you will only pay $10 at the pharmacy, with no additional sales tax.

This exemption helps to make healthcare more affordable for individuals and families in Ohio. So, next time you pick up your prescription medication, remember that it is exempt from collecting sales tax thanks to this important exemption in Ohio's sales tax system.


Another notable exemption from Ohio's sales tax is groceries, a feature common to the Ohio Department of Taxation. This exemption reduces the tax burden on necessities, especially those that greatly impact lower-income families. In Ohio, the grocery exemption is broadly defined to include most foods and beverages intended for home consumption, except for alcoholic beverages, dietary supplements, and prepared meals.

So, for example, if you walk into a supermarket in Ohio and buy a loaf of bread, a carton of milk, and a bag of apples totaling $20, you would only pay $20 at the checkout, with no additional sales tax. However, buying a hot, ready-to-eat rotisserie chicken from the same supermarket would be subject to Ohio sales tax rates because it falls under the category of prepared food. This exemption relieves Ohio consumers, lowering the overall cost of living and ensuring that essential food items are more affordable.


Like groceries, most clothing items and footwear are exempt from sales tax in Ohio. However, this exemption has its limits and exceptions. Clothing items must be priced at $75 or less to qualify for the exemption. Items above this price point will be subject to standard sales tax rates. Additionally, clothing accessories such as jewelry, purses, and umbrellas are not exempt from sales tax.

This exemption benefits consumers and retailers by making clothing more affordable for individuals and families while encouraging retail spending. It also helps to stimulate economic growth in the state's fashion industry.


In Ohio, many services are exempt from sales tax, reflecting the state's objective to lessen the tax burden on consumers and stimulate economic growth in service-based sectors. A broad range of services, from personal care such as haircuts and manicures to professional services like legal advice and accounting, aren't subject to sales tax. For example, if you hire a plumber to fix a leak in your home, the service fee charged by the plumber would be exempt from sales tax.

This exemption extends to contractors and subcontractors who perform home improvements or repairs. However, any tangible goods that provide these services, like plumbing parts or construction materials, would be subject to sales tax. This distinction between goods and services is a key aspect of Ohio's sales tax system.

Preschool and Childcare Services

In Ohio, preschool and childcare services also enjoy an exemption from sales tax, a respite designed to ease the financial burden on families, particularly those with young children who require daily care. These services span a broad range, including but not limited to traditional childcare facilities, home-based daycare, nursery schools, as well as licensed preschool programs. To illustrate how this exemption operates, consider a working couple in Columbus, Ohio, who enroll their toddler in a local preschool. If the monthly fee for the preschool is $800, the couple will pay only this amount without any additional sales tax.

This exemption not only improves the affordability of early childhood education and care but also encourages labor force participation by reducing the cost of childcare for working parents. It is another example of Ohio's sales tax system working to improve equity and balance within the fabric of the state's economy and society.


Ohio's sales tax system also provides exemptions for energy costs, helping to alleviate the financial burden on individuals and families. This exemption includes electricity, natural gas, fuel oil, propane, kerosene, coal, and wood used for residential purposes. For example, if an Ohio resident pays $100 for their monthly electricity bill, they will only pay $100 without additional sales tax.

This exemption recognizes the essential nature of household energy and aims to make it more affordable, especially during periods of high energy usage, such as winter. Additionally, this exemption supports environmental sustainability by encouraging individuals and families to use alternative forms of energy like wood or solar power.

Newspapers and Magazines

Newspapers and magazines are also exempt from sales tax in Ohio, recognizing the importance of access to news and information for citizens. This exemption includes print and digital publications providing general news, opinion pieces, feature articles, or other informational content. So whether you buy a local newspaper or subscribe to an online news outlet, you won't have to pay sales tax in Ohio.

This exemption promotes the accessibility of information and encourages civic engagement by making it more affordable for individuals to stay informed about their community and the world around them. It also supports media outlets, boosting the state's journalism industry.

Factors That Contribute to Ohio's Sales Tax System

Factors that contribute to Ohio’s sales tax system

Ohio's sales tax system continually evolves and adapts to changing economic and social conditions. Here are key factors that significantly contribute to shaping the state's sales tax system:

Tax Exemptions

Tax exemptions play a significant role in Ohio's sales tax system, serving as a tool by which the state seeks to stimulate economic growth, alleviate financial burdens on consumers, and promote social equity. These exemptions, a result of deliberate policy choices, can be found across many goods and services, from groceries and clothing to energy and childcare. They are, in essence, a means of tailoring the sales tax system to align with the state's broader economic and social objectives.

For instance, consider the exemption on groceries. Ohio makes basic sustenance more affordable by excluding from sales tax most food and beverages intended for home consumption, easing its residents' cost of living. Simultaneously, this policy bolsters consumer spending power, potentially spurring economic activity in other sectors. Tax exemptions are not simply about what's not taxed; they reflect Ohio's policy priorities and contribute significantly to the shape and impact of the state's sales tax system.

Tax Rates and Thresholds

Tax rates and thresholds are crucial elements of Ohio's sales tax system as they determine how much tax individuals and businesses pay on their purchases. In the state, sales tax is calculated at a flat rate of 5.75% for most goods and services, with an additional county-level tax ranging from 0.75% to 2.25%. However, certain purchases are subject to a lower rate of 2.25%, such as sales of foods sold through vending machines and the first $1,600 of the purchase price for vehicles.

These thresholds help ease the financial burden on low-income individuals and families, ensuring they pay less tax on necessary goods and services like food and transportation. This system aims to balance generating necessary revenue for the Ohio department and not overburdening its citizens with high sales tax rates.

Interstate Sales and E-commerce

In recent years, e-commerce has revolutionized how individuals purchase tangible personal property, creating significant challenges for state sales tax systems. In Ohio, sales made by out-of-state sellers to Ohio residents are subject to local sales tax rates, intended to ensure consumers pay the same amount regardless of where they make their purchases. However, the state has also implemented a voluntary use tax for individuals to declare and pay on these out-of-state purchases.

The rise of e-commerce has led to ongoing discussions and debates about sales tax fairness, with some arguing that traditional brick-and-mortar retailers face an unfair disadvantage as they must collect and remit sales tax while online sellers may not have the same obligations. To address this issue, Ohio is a member of the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement (SSUTA), an effort to simplify sales tax administration across states and create a more level playing field for all businesses.

Local Government Revenue Sharing

One of the unique aspects of Ohio's sales tax system is its local government revenue-sharing program. This system distributes a portion of the state's sales tax revenue to county and municipal governments based on population and economic indicators. This allows for a more equitable allocation of resources within the state and provides vital funding for local governments to provide essential services such as infrastructure maintenance, public safety, and education.

For example, in 2020, the state distributed over $1 billion to local governments through this program, significantly impacting their ability to meet the needs of their communities. This revenue-sharing system highlights Ohio's commitment to supporting its local communities and ensuring they have the resources necessary for growth and development.

Tax Holidays

Periodically, Ohio implements tax holidays, exempting specific goods from sales tax for a limited time to stimulate consumer spending and support businesses. These holidays often coincide with significant events or holidays, such as back-to-school shopping or the holiday season.

For instance, in 2020, the state implemented a three-day sales tax holiday on clothing and school supplies to help families save money preparing for the new school year. Additionally, in response to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ohio also implemented a one-time sales tax holiday on qualifying purchases made during the first weekend of August 2020. This measure aimed to provide financial relief to individuals and businesses while promoting economic recovery.

Tax Compliance and Enforcement

Ensuring tax compliance and enforcing tax laws is integral to Ohio's sales tax system. This requires a delicate balance between fostering voluntary compliance through taxpayer education and implementing enforcement measures to deter and penalize tax evasion. Ohio's Department of Taxation undertakes numerous initiatives to educate taxpayers about their obligations, providing resources to help individuals and businesses understand and comply with tax laws.

Simultaneously, the department employs audits, fines, and legal action to address non-compliance. Effective tax enforcement ensures fair taxation and protects the state's revenue base, enabling Ohio to fund vital public services. A robust example is the Ohio eBusiness Center, which provides online services to taxpayers, making it easier for them to file returns, make payments, and stay compliant. Ohio encourages voluntary compliance by actively educating taxpayers and leveraging technology, making tax enforcement more efficient and effective.

Benefits of Ohio's Sales Tax System

Benefits of Ohio’s sales tax system

Ohio's sales tax system has various benefits, making it a critical source of revenue for the state while balancing the interests and well-being of its residents. These include:

  • Fairness: By utilizing exemptions and thresholds, Ohio's sales tax system ensures low-income individuals pay less tax on necessary goods and services, promoting equity in taxation.
  • Economic growth: The local government revenue-sharing program and tax holidays stimulate economic growth by providing resources for local governments and incentivizing consumer spending.
  • Simplicity: With a flat state sales tax rate and streamlined administration through the SSUTA, Ohio's sales tax system is relatively straightforward and easier for businesses to comply with.
  • Flexibility: Ohio can adjust its sales tax rates, thresholds, and exemptions to meet changing economic conditions and budgetary needs.


Ohio's sales tax system is vital to the state's overall revenue structure, providing funding for essential public services while balancing fairness and economic growth. With its unique features, such as local government revenue-sharing and periodic tax holidays, Ohio's sales tax system aims to benefit its residents and businesses while promoting compliance and efficiency. Through ongoing efforts to balance revenues, reduce burdens on low-income individuals, and support economic growth, Ohio continues to evolve its sales tax system to meet the changing needs of its citizens.
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