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Car Sales Tax in South Carolina

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In addition to other expenses like registration, title fees, and plate fees, South Carolina collects either a 5% state sales tax or a 5% infrastructure maintenance fee (IMF) on all vehicle purchases—but never both.  
When shopping for a new vehicle, you’re probably focused on the sticker price, the long-term
car insurance
costs, and what kind of interest rate you could negotiate on your
car loan
. But these aren’t the only expenses you need to worry about—you’ll likely owe other taxes and fees to the DMV as soon as you purchase your new (or used) set of wheels. 
Read on to discover everything you need to know about South Carolina’s vehicle sales taxes, including exemptions and the rest of the fees you’ll pay when purchasing a new car. 
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How much is the car sales tax rate in South Carolina?

The South Carolina Department of Revenue collects a 5% state sales tax rate when you
buy a car from another state
. This vehicle tax applies to brand-new and used vehicles that you purchase from a dealership, as well as used vehicles purchased from a private seller. 
However, if you purchase, title, and register your vehicle in South Carolina, you will be exempt from the sales tax. Instead, you’ll pay an infrastructure maintenance fee (IMF) of 5% on all vehicles sold at up to $10,000, and a total of $500 for vehicles sold over $10,000. 
Keep in mind that different municipalities—such as your town or county—may assign additional local taxes on vehicle purchases. 

How are car trade-ins taxed in South Carolina? 

A popular option when purchasing a new car is to first
trade in your old car
for a credit towards your new purchase. Because sales tax and IMF is calculated on the purchase price, the value of your trade-in won't count towards either bill
Let’s say you are trading in your old
Toyota Camry
for a used
Hyundai Santa Fe
. You get a $1,500 credit for your Camry towards the sticker price of $11,230 for the Santa Fe. That brings your purchase price down to $9,370.
Because the actual purchase price is $9,370, you will now pay 5% of the cost to satisfy your taxes. In other words, you owe $486.50 in taxes. Without the trade-in credit, you would owe taxes on the full $11,230 purchase price—or the highest $500 IMF charged.  
Any other rebates or incentives will be disregarded when calculating sales tax or IMF.

How to calculate sales tax on a car in South Carolina

If you’re purchasing a car in SC and taking it to another state, it’s easy to calculate your South Carolina sales tax—simply multiply the sales price by 5%, or 0.05. 
For example, a car that has a bill of sale of $6,450 will have a tax bill of $322.50 ($6,450 x 0.05 = $322.50). 
If you’re a SC resident who will be titling and registering your car in the Palmetto State, then your job is even easier. If the vehicle costs you more than $10,000, you simply pay $500 in IMF—and that’s it! If the vehicle is priced lower than $10,000, then do the same math as above.  

Exemptions from South Carolina sales tax

Not everyone has to pay sales tax on their South Carolina vehicle purchases—and not everyone has to pay IMF, either.
If you’re a nonresident who will be purchasing a car in South Carolina and registering it elsewhere, you’re exempt from paying IMF. Instead, you’ll be charged the 5% sales tax rate plus any local taxes. 
Vehicles used for short-term rentals are also exempt from IMF and charged sales tax instead.
On the other hand, if you’re a South Carolina resident paying IMF, then you’re automatically exempt from sales tax. In short, you pay one or the other—but never both! 
Finally, there are only a few exceptions for both the IMF and sales tax being owed:
  • If the vehicle was purchased by a nonresident and is being delivered by you or a common carrier outside South Carolina
  • If the vehicle is purchased by a member of the military who is stationed in South Carolina
  • Nonresidents whose state will not apply a credit for the tax paid in South Carolina

How to estimate South Carolina sales tax, title, and registration fees

It’s important to get informed ahead of time as to what costs you can expect when buying a vehicle. We’ve gone over sales tax and IMF, but you’ll also have to pay
certificate of title,
vehicle registration
, and documentation fees to the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). 
Check out scdmvonline.com for all of the details. In the meantime, though, this is how you can expect your in-state costs can break down:
Expense
Average Cost 
IMF
5% (not to exceed $500)
Registration fee
$40 for gas-powered vehicles 
$60 to $120 for hybrid and electric vehicles 
Title fee 
$15
Plate transfer 
$0
Documentation fee 
$250 max
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You’ll owe an IMF of 5% of the sale price, not exceeding $500 on a used car in South Carolina.
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