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Tax-Free Weekend Season Begins! Does Your State Participate?

Seventeen years ago, New York state began a tradition that has been adopted by many states: a sales-tax holiday weekend during the back-to-school rush.

“It was developed as a way to give parents a break on the back-to-school shopping season,” says Anna Christakos of Offers.com, which gives consumers information on sales, coupon codes and discounts online and in stores. “There’s a lot of expenses you have to get during that time — textbooks, school supplies, clothing.”

This year, 17 states are holding one, all of them occurring from the end of July to the first half of August. Even if yours isn’t participating, perhaps a neighboring state a short drive away has one, or you can buy from an online store based in a state with the holiday.

If you decide to take advantage, keep in mind various fine-print rules so you don’t accidentally pay sales tax anyway.

1. Find out when your state is having its holiday.

All states have different dates. Most are in August, but Mississippi has its holiday the last weekend of July.

2. Find out what you can and can’t buy tax-free.

Most states restrict the holiday to back-to-school items like textbooks, computers and school supplies. Check out the state’s Department of Revenue site (where applicable, linked in the chart below) to see what you can buy and what is off-limits.

3. Watch for price restrictions and exclusions.

Clothing is usually tax-free, but typically only for items less than $100. “If you have a $200 shirt in your basket, you’re not going to get that one tax free,” says Christakos.

Items like computers and electronics have higher thresholds like $1,000 to $2,000. It could be a good time to buy an Apple product, since they are typically more expensive and rarely go on sale.

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Also, certain brands and products might be excluded, so, for instance, you could save on flip flops but not cowboy boots, or on a Kate Spade purse but not a Guess purse.

Finally, if you were planning on buying your kids’ athletic gear, like helmets or racquets, it most likely will be excluded.

4. Plan ahead.

“Make a list. Decide, plan, don’t go crazy and go on a shopping spree,” says Christakos. Figure out what you need, and compare sites beforehand to see which stores have the best prices. Also, remember that saving on sales tax of, say 7.5%, is small compared to a big, say, 40%-off sale. During tax-free weekend, a $100 item would cost you $100, but during a 40%-off sale in a state with 7.5% tax, you’ll pay $64.50.

5. Find out beforehand if you can use additional coupons.

Every store has a different policy on this, so call before you go and ask if you can use a coupon during tax-free weekend.

6. If your state doesn’t participate …

See if a neighboring state a short drive away has one. If not, then shop online with a store based in a state with a tax holiday.

See the table, provided by Offers.com, below for details. Click on each state to get information from the state. Note: Massachusetts hasn’t settled on a date, but it will either be August 9-10 or August 16-17.

StateDatesSales Tax RateTax-Free Items
AlabamaAug 1-34%Clothing: Including coats, diapers, and shoes. $100 or less per article of clothing – no cosmetics, handbags, dance shoes, or cleated or spiked athletic shoes. Computers: Including computer packages, PDAs, software, printers, and print cartridges. Single purchase of $750 or less – no cell phones or video games. School and Art Supplies: (Based on school lists) Backpacks, lunchboxes, and calculators. $50 or less per item. Textbooks: (Based on school lists) Sale price between $30 and $50. Other Books: Up to $30.
ArkansasAug 2-36%Clothing: Including diapers, coats, shoes, costumes, and wedding apparel. Less than $100 per item. Accessories: Including handbags, briefcases, wigs, jewelry, and non-prescription sunglasses. Less than $50 per item. School and Art Supplies: (Based on school lists) Including backpacks, lunchboxes, and calculators. No dollar limit given. Reference Supplies: Reference books, maps, globes, textbooks, and workbooks. No dollar limit given.
ConnecticutAug 17-236.35%Clothing and Footwear: Under $300 per item – no athletic uniforms or protective gear.
FloridaAug 1-36%Clothing and Shoes: Including diapers, backpacks, coats, costumes, sports uniforms, and cleated or spiked shoes. Up to $75 per item. School Supplies: Including calculators and lunch boxes. Up to $15 per item.
GeorgiaAug 1-24%Clothing and Footwear: Including diapers, athletic clothing, baby clothes, sweaters, uniforms, footwear of all types, and formal wear. Single purchase of $100 or less – no clothing accessories (except belts), handbags, briefcases, cosmetics, and life jackets. School Supplies: Including calculators, paper, organizers, notebooks, glue, folders, pens, pencils, dictionaries, loose-leaf binders, and children’s books. Single purchase of $20 or less – no janitorial supplies, medical supplies, envelopes, and books (besides children’s books, thesauruses, and dictionaries).Computers and Software: Including personal computers, book readers, laptops, tablets, data storage devices, monitors, printers, and non-recreational software. Single purchase of $1,000 or less – no batteries, cases, game consoles, projectors, surge protectors, or games.
IowaAug 1-26%Clothing and Footwear: Including work and school uniforms, diapers, and coats. Under $100 per item – no backpacks, book bags, handbags, athletic uniforms, wallets, watches, or shoes with spikes or cleats.
LouisianaAug 1-24%Tangible Personal Property (non-business use): Just about everything, including clothing, computers, furniture, school supplies, and more. The first $2,500 per item is tax-free, with the exception of vehicles and restaurant meals (including to-go orders).
MarylandAug 10-166%Clothing and Footwear: Including coats, diapers, and work and school uniforms. Items priced at $100 or less – no handbags, backpacks, jewelry, or watches.
MassachusettsLikely Aug 16-176.25%Almost Anything: Items up to $2,500 or less – no tobacco, gas or meals.
MississippiJul 25-267%Clothing and Shoes: Includes diapers, coats, and uniforms. Up to $100 per item. Excludes jewelry, purses, luggage, wallets, backpacks, skates, and skis.
MissouriAug 1-34.225%Clothing and Footwear: Including coats, diapers, shoes, and school uniforms. Up to $100 per item – no watches, handbags, or ties. School Supplies: Including backpacks, art supplies, handheld calculators, and globes. Up to $50 per purchase – no headphones, sporting equipment, or furniture. Computers and Software: Including desktop systems, laptops, and peripherals. Up to $3,500 for computers and peripherals; up to $350 for software.
New MexicoAug 1-35.125%Clothing and Footwear: Including diapers, bridal wear, and school and work uniforms. Less than $100 per item – no athletic uniforms or protective gear, costumes, handbags, or briefcases.School Supplies: Including art supplies, folders, and binders. Less than $30 per item; less than $200 per item for calculators and less than $100 per item for school backpacks. Computers: Including tablets, printer paper, ink cartridges, computer speakers, and e-readers that include computing functions like word processing or spreadsheet programs. Less than $1,000 for computers and less than $500 for peripherals and equipment – no scanners, zip drives, or software that is not bundled with a qualifying computer purchase.
OklahomaAug 1-34.5%Clothing and Shoes: Including clothing or footwear meant to be worn on the body. Less than $100 per item – no accessories, athletic footwear, or protective gear.
South CarolinaAug 1-36%Clothing and Accessories: Including costumes, diapers, handbags, hats, shoes, swimwear, skates, and dance or athletic shoes. No dollar limit given – no rented items, cosmetics, eyewear, or jewelry. School Supplies: Including calculators, bookbags, books, and lunchboxes. No dollar limit given. Computers, Printers, and Software: Including printer supplies. No dollar limit given – no cell phones, cameras, e-readers, or MP3 players. Home Linens: Including sheets, towels, bath mats, pillows, and blankets. No dollar limit given – no curtains, furniture, housewares, or table cloths.
TennesseeAug 1-37%Clothing and Footwear: Including coats, school uniforms, shoes, and hats. $100 or less per item – no bags, jewelry, or sports gear. School Supplies: Including art supplies, backpacks, lunch boxes, and calculators. $100 or less per item – no reference books or printer supplies.Computers: Including tablets, laptops, and peripherals and software bundled with computers. $1,500 or less per item – no separately sold peripherals, software, printers, PDAs, or storage media.
TexasAug 8-106.25%Clothing, Footwear, and Backpacks: Including diapers, work clothes and uniforms, coats, and swimwear. Less than $100 per item. Backpacks for use by elementary and secondary students only – no handbags, helmets, or protective sports gear. School Supplies: Including book bags, lunch boxes, and calculators. Less than $100 per item.
VirginiaAug 1-34%Clothing and Footwear: Including coats and rain gear, school uniforms, diapers, and costumes. $100 or less per item – no sports equipment or protective gear, handbags, or jewelry.School Supplies: Including art supplies, dictionaries and thesauruses, calculators, book bags, and musical instruments. $20 or less per item – no PDAs, printers, or digital storage media.
Source: forbes.com