About a quarter of the US population are women in the 15 to 49 age group. And while not everyone in the group needs menstrual products, it’s an essential part of life for many.
Menstrual products are an unavoidable cost for those who need them. So anything that makes menstrual products cost more can place an additional burden on those with lower incomes.
Congress and some state governments took action to alleviate some of those costs in recent years.
Starting in 2020, the federal government considers menstrual products as a qualified medical expense. And since 2016, twenty-three states exempted these products from state sales taxes, eliminating the so-called “tampon-tax."
The “tampon tax” refers to sales tax applied to tampons, pads, and other menstrual products. Five other states have no sales tax at all, so the products are naturally exempt.
The sales tax on menstrual products varies state by state. The highest rate is 7%, which is the sales tax base in four states that do not exempt menstrual products. Virginia is the only state that lowered the tax rate without altogether removing menstrual products from the tax base, lowering the rate from 5.3% to 2.5% in 2020 for these products.
Cities and counties can often levy sales taxes on products. The rules for whether menstrual products are subject to those taxes varies widely across the US.
Can individuals use tax-free Health Savings Accounts or Flexible Spending Accounts on menstrual products?
Health Savings Accounts or Flexible Spending Accounts allow people to set aside earnings before taxes to use for healthcare costs. Money put in either of these accounts can only be used for “qualified medical expenses” as defined by the government.
Prior to 2020, menstrual products were not considered “qualified medical expenses” by the government, making it impossible to use the tax-free accounts to purchase them.
In 2018, Congress passed the First Step Act of 2018 which mandates free menstrual products in federal prisons. However, this does not apply to state- and county-run facilities. In 31 states, prisoners must purchase menstrual products from the commissary, placing a financial burden on inmates who menstruate.
Correction: An earlier version of this article had an incorrect count on the number of states not taxing menstruation products. The same issue resulted in an error in one of the maps on this article. The information and map was corrected and published on Oct. 18, 2022.