Whether you’re considering moving between Washington and California or just curious about the differences, understanding the key taxes in each state is important. If you’re short on time, here’s the quick take: Washington has no state income tax but higher sales tax, while California has progressively higher income tax and lower sales tax.

This comprehensive guide will compare the major taxes in Washington and California, including income, sales, property, and estate taxes. We’ll break down tax rates, deductions, exemptions, and more so you can see how they differ. We’ll also offer tips on minimizing your tax liability in each state.

Income Taxes

Washington’s lack of state income tax: One of the key differences between Washington State and California when it comes to taxes is the absence of a state income tax in Washington. This means that individuals and businesses in Washington do not have to pay a percentage of their income to the state government.

This can be a significant advantage for taxpayers as it can result in more take-home pay and lower overall tax burdens. However, it’s important to note that Washington still has other taxes such as sales tax and property tax to generate revenue.

California’s progressive income tax brackets: On the other hand, California has a progressive income tax system, which means that individuals with higher incomes are subject to higher tax rates. California’s income tax brackets range from 1% to 13.3% for the highest earners.

This progressive tax structure is designed to create a more equitable tax system by placing a larger burden on those who can afford to pay more. However, it can also result in higher tax liabilities for individuals with higher incomes.

Treatment of capital gains: Another important aspect to consider when comparing income taxes in Washington and California is the treatment of capital gains. In Washington, capital gains are not subject to state income tax.

This can be particularly attractive for individuals who earn income from investments or the sale of assets. On the other hand, California does tax capital gains as part of its income tax system. This means that individuals who earn substantial income from capital gains may face higher tax liabilities in California compared to Washington.

Sales and Use Taxes

When comparing Washington State and California taxes, one of the key areas to examine is sales and use taxes. These taxes are imposed on the sale, use, consumption, or storage of goods and services, and they play a significant role in the revenue generation for both states.

Higher sales tax rates in Washington

One noticeable difference between Washington and California is the sales tax rates. Washington has one of the highest sales tax rates in the country, currently set at 6.5%. However, it is important to note that local jurisdictions may add their own sales tax on top of the state rate, resulting in varying rates across different areas of the state.

In some cities, the total sales tax rate can reach up to 10% or even more.

On the other hand, California has a statewide sales tax rate of 7.25%. Similar to Washington, local jurisdictions can also add their own sales tax, leading to different rates in different areas. However, the average combined sales tax rate in California is generally lower compared to Washington.

What purchases are taxed in each state

Both Washington and California impose sales tax on a wide range of goods and services. However, there are some variations in what is taxed in each state. In Washington, most purchases are subject to sales tax, including clothing, electronics, furniture, and vehicles.

However, certain items such as groceries, prescription drugs, and medical devices are exempt from sales tax.

In California, sales tax is applied to most goods and some services, including retail items, vehicles, and restaurant meals. However, there are also exemptions for certain items, such as groceries, prescription medications, and certain types of food products.

Sales tax deduction benefits

One advantage that residents of both Washington and California can enjoy is the ability to deduct sales tax paid from their federal income taxes. This deduction can be beneficial, especially for those who make significant purchases throughout the year.

It is important to keep track of receipts and document the amount of sales tax paid in order to claim this deduction effectively.

For more detailed information on sales and use taxes in Washington, you can visit the Washington State Department of Revenue website. Similarly, for information on California sales and use taxes, you can visit the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration website.

Property Taxes

When comparing Washington State taxes to California taxes, one of the key areas to consider is property taxes. Property taxes are a significant source of revenue for both states and play a crucial role in funding local services and infrastructure.

Lower property taxes in Washington overall

One major advantage that Washington State offers is lower property taxes compared to California. This can be particularly appealing for homeowners looking to save on their annual tax burden. Washington has a reputation for having one of the lowest property tax rates in the country.

The state’s average effective property tax rate is around 0.87%, which is considerably lower than California’s average rate of 0.77%. However, it’s important to note that property tax rates can vary within each state, so it’s always recommended to check the specific rates in the desired location.

Key exemptions for seniors

Both Washington and California offer property tax exemptions for seniors, which can provide significant savings for older homeowners. In Washington, seniors may be eligible for the Senior Citizen/Disabled Persons Property Tax Exemption program.

This program offers a reduction in property taxes for individuals 61 years or older, as well as disabled individuals. Similarly, California provides property tax relief through the Senior Citizens’ Property Tax Postponement program, which allows eligible seniors to defer their property taxes until they sell their home or pass away.

These exemptions can greatly help seniors in managing their property tax obligations.

How assessments and rates are calculated

When it comes to assessing property values and calculating tax rates, Washington and California have slightly different methods. In Washington, property taxes are based on the assessed value of the property, which is determined by the county assessor.

The assessed value is then multiplied by the local tax rate to calculate the tax amount. In California, property taxes are calculated based on the assessed value at the time of purchase, with annual increases capped at 2% under Proposition 13.

When a property is sold, it is reassessed at the current market value. This difference in assessment methods can lead to variations in tax amounts between the two states.

It’s worth noting that property taxes are just one aspect of a state’s tax system, and other factors such as income taxes, sales taxes, and overall cost of living should also be considered when comparing Washington and California.

Consulting with a tax professional or using online tax calculators can provide a more accurate picture of the potential tax liabilities in each state.

Estate and Inheritance Taxes

Washington’s higher estate tax exemption

When comparing estate and inheritance taxes between Washington State and California, one key difference to note is Washington’s higher estate tax exemption. In Washington, estates valued at $2.193 million or less are exempt from estate taxes, while California’s exemption is significantly lower at $5.49 million.

This means that individuals in Washington can pass on a larger portion of their estate to their heirs without incurring estate taxes.

Key differences in inheritance tax rules

Another important aspect to consider is the difference in inheritance tax rules between the two states. While Washington does not have an inheritance tax, California does impose inheritance taxes on certain types of property transfers.

In California, direct transfers to spouses and registered domestic partners are exempt from inheritance taxes, but transfers to other relatives or non-relatives may be subject to taxation.

It’s worth noting that both states have laws in place that allow for certain deductions and exemptions, so it’s important to consult with a tax professional or refer to the respective state’s tax code for specific details.

Gift tax considerations

When it comes to gift tax considerations, both Washington and California follow the federal gift tax rules. This means that individuals can make annual gifts up to a certain amount (currently $15,000) to an unlimited number of recipients without incurring gift tax liabilities.

However, gifts exceeding the annual exclusion may be subject to gift taxes.

It’s important to keep in mind that gift tax rules can be complex, and it’s advisable to consult with a tax professional or refer to the IRS guidelines for more detailed information.

Strategies for Minimizing Taxes

When it comes to minimizing taxes, both Washington State and California offer various strategies that taxpayers can employ. By understanding these strategies, individuals and businesses can make informed decisions to reduce their tax liability.

Maxing out exemptions and deductions

One effective way to minimize taxes is by taking full advantage of exemptions and deductions. In Washington State, taxpayers can benefit from the absence of personal income tax. However, they can still maximize deductions such as mortgage interest, property taxes, and charitable contributions on their federal tax return.

On the other hand, California residents can claim state-specific deductions, such as the California Earned Income Tax Credit and the California College Access Tax Credit, in addition to federal deductions.

Contributing to tax-advantaged accounts

Another strategy for minimizing taxes is by contributing to tax-advantaged accounts. In Washington State, taxpayers can contribute to retirement accounts, such as IRAs and 401(k)s, to reduce their taxable income. Additionally, contributions to Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) can provide tax benefits.

In California, residents can also contribute to retirement accounts and HSAs but may have additional options like the California College Savings Plan (529 Plan) that offers tax advantages for higher education expenses.

Using credits and rebates

Credits and rebates can be valuable tools for minimizing taxes. In Washington State, homeowners may be eligible for property tax relief programs, such as the Property Tax Exemption for Senior Citizens and Disabled Persons.

Additionally, businesses can take advantage of various tax credits, such as the Research and Development Tax Credit. In California, residents can benefit from credits like the California Child and Dependent Care Expenses Credit and the California Earned Income Tax Credit.

It is important to note that tax laws and regulations can change over time. It is advisable to consult with a tax professional or refer to reliable sources, such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or the Franchise Tax Board (FTB) for the most up-to-date information.


While Washington has no income tax, its higher sales and estate taxes can eat into savings versus California. Understanding the full tax picture allows you to minimize liabilities whether moving or with property in both states.

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