Internet Sales Tax or Not — 5 Ways to Save Money Shopping Online

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In a rare moment of bipartisan collaboration this week, the Senate passed the Marketplace Fairness Act, a bill that brings us one step closer to paying sales tax for online purchases. If it becomes law, you won’t be able to avoid the bite, so here are some ways you can still save a buck. 

Look for coupon codes. If you’re on a retailer’s mailing list, you probably get coupon codes delivered right to your inbox. But you don’t have to sign up for anything: Websites like,, and aggregate codes from online merchants. You might run into some expired duds, but there’s an advantage to the quick turnover: If you don’t need whatever you’re buying right away, try waiting a week and checking again.

Use the right card. Both credit as well as an increasing number of debit cards now offer merchant-funded rewards program. Check whether any of your cards have an online merchant mall (Discover’s ShopDiscover program is one example). Go to the retailer’s website via the card’s online portal and get a discount. Some programs give you a statement credit rather than money back at checkout, but money is money.

(MORE: Online Shoppers: Meh, Same-Day Shipping Isn’t That Big a Deal)

Hit up rebate sites. Websites like and operate a lot like credit card merchant malls, except you don’t need to have a specific credit card to get discounts.

Abandon your shopping cart. Many web retailers will email you a discount offer if you put items in your shopping cart and just leave them there. You might have to wait a few days, although some sites reportedly will follow up within hours. Retailers use data like your shopping history and where you live to help determine what kind of offer you’ll get, or if you’ll get one at all. They’ve figured out that customers who get that close to placing an order can sometimes be coaxed into completing the transaction with a little extra incentive. Smart online shoppers started picking up on this and spreading the word about this kind of “virtual haggling.”

(MORE: 12 Things You Should Always Haggle Over)

Buy it now. Here’s the deal: You’re supposed to be self-reporting and paying sales tax on your online purchases already, but hardly anyone does. Buying a big-ticket item now to avoid paying sales tax isn’t technically a legitimate discount, but if you do it, you’ll probably have plenty of company. When California passed a law requiring the collection of online sales tax starting last September, state residents rushed to buy stuff before the deadline, according to the Los Angeles Times. That extra 7.25% to 9.75% adds up to a lot on big-ticket items; one shopper interviewed by the Times saved $270 by buying two new computers before the law kicked in.