taxes

Back-to-school: Where to save with sales-tax holidays

Mom and young son shopping for school clothes | Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images

Are state sales-tax holidays gimmicks that rely on bad tax policy and cost states much-needed money? Or do the tax-free shopping days boost local economies by getting more people into stores where their purchases might extend beyond untaxed goods?

Proponents and detractors have differing views. But everyone agrees the events, most of which are tied to annual back-to-school buying trips, are popular. That's why at least a handful of sales-tax holidays make it onto calendars every year.

On the summer 2016 calendar, 17 sales-tax holidays are scheduled, spanning anywhere from a couple of days to more than a week. During the holidays, states designate certain items as sales tax-exempt.

The most common tax-free items are clothing and school supplies. But some states offer broad definitions of school-related purchases, meaning shoppers could save substantial taxes on computers and accessories.

Regardless of the holiday length, pay attention to the details. Each state sets precise rules for what is, and isn't, tax-free. There are also purchasing guidelines that cover such things as multiple items, rain checks, layaways and coupons.

The map below offers an overview of the 2016 sales-tax holidays for back-to-school shoppers. Click on your state to see details.

2016 sales tax holiday
StateDateDetails
State:AlabamaDate: Aug. 5-7Details:
  • Books: $30 or less.
  • School supplies: $50 or less.
  • Clothing: $100 or less.
  • Computers and software: $750 or less.
  • Alabama cities and counties can opt out of the holiday. They also can participate on a limited basis, meaning only a portion of the locality's total sales tax is exempted.
State:ArkansasDate: Aug. 6-7Details:
  • Clothing: $100 or less.
  • Apparel accessories: $50 or less.
  • School supplies: no dollar limit (most art materials are considered school supplies).
State:ConnecticutDate: Aug. 21-27Details:
  • Clothing and footwear: $100 or less.
  • Custom orders of $100 or less placed and paid in full during the tax holiday week qualify for tax-free status even if the item is delivered after the holiday ends.
State:FloridaDate: Aug. 5-7Details:
  • School supplies: $15 or less.
  • Clothing, footwear and accessories: $60 or less (items sold at theme parks or other entertainment complexes, hotels and airports are still taxed).
State:GeorgiaDate: July 30-31Details:
  • School supplies: $20 or less.
  • Clothing and footwear: $100 or less .
  • Computers and computer accessories: $1,000 or less. Computer-related accessories designed for recreational use (e.g., video games and devices) and items used in a trade or business remain taxable.
State:IowaDate: Aug. 5-6Details:
  • Clothing and footwear: less than $100.
State:LouisianaDate: Aug. 5-6Details:
  • Most tangible personal property: $2,500 or less.
  • Holiday applies to the 5% state sales tax (4.97% state sales tax plus .03% Louisiana Tourism Promotion District sales tax), but not to sales taxes levied by parishes, municipalities, school boards and other taxing jurisdictions.
State:MarylandDate: Aug. 14-20Details:
  • Clothing and footwear: $100 or less.
  • School supplies remain taxable.
State:MississippiDate: July 29-30Details:
  • Clothing and footwear: less than $100.

The city of Heidelberg is not participating in the 2016 tax holiday and will collect sales tax during the tax-free period.

State:MissouriDate: Aug. 5-7Details:
  • School supplies: $50 or less.
  • Clothing: $100 or less.
  • Computer software: $350 or less.
  • Personal computers and peripheral devices: $1,500 or less.
  • Graphing calculators: $150 or less.

Local jurisdictions can opt out, meaning that they will collect those sales tax amounts, but the state's 4.225% tax will remain exempt for qualifying items.

State:New MexicoDate: Aug. 5-7Details:
  • School supplies: $30, $100 and $200 or less, depending on the type of supply (Classroom materials in the $30 per item category include: notebooks, paper, pens, pencils, crayons, art supplies, staples, staplers, scissors and rulers. School supplies for the $100 or less threshold include backpacks, maps and globes. The $200 or less category covers hand-held calculators.).
  • Clothing: $100 or less.
  • Computer peripheral devices: $500 or less.
  • Computers: $1,000 or less.
State:OhioDate: Aug. 5-7Details:
  • Clothing items priced at $75 or less each. (The number of apparel pieces is unlimited as long as each item's cost is the cap price or less. If an item of clothing sells for more than $75, tax is due on the entire selling price. Accessories and sports equipment still are taxable.).
  • School supplies priced at $20 or less each.
  • School instructional materials priced at $20 or less each.
State:OklahomaDate: Aug. 5-7Details:
  • Clothing and footwear: $100 or less.
  • Mail, email, telephone and Internet sales are tax-free as long as the items are ordered and paid for and are available for immediate shipment during the sales tax holiday period, even if the purchases arrive after the holiday ends.
State:TennesseeDate: July 29-31Details:
  • Clothing and footwear: $100 or less.
  • School supplies: $100 or less.
  • Computers: $1,500 or less.
  • Eligible items purchased but on back order outside the customer's control will remain tax-free.
State:TexasDate: Aug. 5-7Details:
  • Clothing and footwear: less than $100.
  • Backpacks: less than $100 (Backpacks with wheels are tax-free as long as they have straps that allow them to be worn as a traditional backpack).
  • School supplies: less than $100.
State:South CarolinaDate: Aug. 5-7Details:
  • No maximum price limit is imposed for any of the following items: clothing, accessories, footwear, school supplies, computers, printers and printer supplies, computer software, bed linens and bath accessories.
  • Sales tax still applies to purchases of jewelry, cosmetics, eyewear, wallets, watches and furniture.
State:VirginiaDate: Aug. 5-7Details:
  • School supplies: $20 or less (School supplies are items commonly used by students, including art and music materials, but not computers.).
  • Clothing and footwear: $100 or less.
  • Products that meet Energy Star and WaterSense qualifications and are priced at $2,500 or less Hurricane preparedness items, including portable generators priced at $1,000 or less, gas-powered chainsaws priced at $350 or less, chainsaw accessories priced at $60 or less and other eligible items priced at $60 or less.

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