Education

10 tips for Florida’s 10-day sales-tax holiday

Marylyn Hess shops Walmart’s back-to-school sale in Doral on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015.
Marylyn Hess shops Walmart’s back-to-school sale in Doral on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015. EL NUEVO HERALD STAFF

When cash registers ring up purchases during the 10-day tax-free holiday that begins Friday, binders and calculators and legal pads and paste will be exempt from sales tax. Computer paper, correction fluid and staplers won’t.

No tax will be due on uniforms or baseball cleats, belts, martial arts attire, ski suits, pajamas or underclothes, either. But you’ll have to fork over sales tax for briefcases, ski boots and, yes, wigs.

For 2015, the Florida Legislature has granted parents more time to stock up on back-to-school supplies than last year, when the tax-holiday lasted only three days over a weekend. This year’s 10-day holiday equals the longest since Florida began the program in 1998 and is expected to save shoppers $67.8 million statewide. Many retailers will offer additional sales and discounts.

What’s exempt from the taxman — and what isn’t — during Florida’s sales-tax holiday can be confusing. But the law offers this simple guidance: all clothes less than $100, school supplies less than $15 and the first $750 of a personal computer are tax-free. This applies to online purchases as long as the items are bought during the alloted 10 days. Thanks to a change in Florida law, college textbooks will be tax-free throughout the year.

Miami-Dade and Broward public schools open Aug. 24, and by then, most parents will have bought most, if not all, of the pens, pencils, notebooks, backpacks and other supplies their children need for the year. An average family with kids in kindergarten through 12th grade will spend $630.36 on electronics, apparel and other school needs this back-to-school season, according to the National Retail Federation. If that entire amount were spent during the tax-free holiday and all items qualified for the state’s exemption, a family could save more than $37, certainly not chump change.

“These tax-free holidays have been tremendously successful in bringing shoppers into the store,” said National Retail Federation spokesman Craig Shearman. “There’s something about the idea of not paying taxes that’s a lot more attractive than a store having a six- or seven-percent-off sale.”

Seventeen states offer tax-free holidays, and malls and merchants often launch their own sales to coincide with the late July to early August window of those events. Sawgrass Mills, for example, will be posting ambassadors around the mall to help shoppers with any questions they may have about the tax-free holiday. Among the attractions: Its Old Navy Outlet will have 60 percent off the entire store while The Children’s Place is slapping 50 percent off its merchandise. Like other malls, Sawgrass Mills also will be posting sales and special promotions on its website (sawgrassmills.com) throughout the week.

“We’re encouraging shoppers to check in several times because retailers will be adding specials constantly,” said Joellyn Fellmeth, Sawgrass regional director of marketing.

At The Falls in South Dade, retailers will be hosting similar back-to-school sales and offers. At Aeropostale, shoppers who spend $50 or more will receive a free selfie stick, while supplies last, and all merchandise will be marked 30 percent off through Aug. 9. At American Eagle, jeans are buy one, get a second pair at 50 percent off, and Erge Footwear is offering a buy-one-get-one-free deal on all shoes. For more up-to-the minute information about sales and promotion, shoppers are encouraged to check ShopTheFalls.com.

Walmart has discounted prices for school supplies this summer and added stock in preparation for the sales-tax holiday, said Walmart spokesman Bill Wertz. What’s more, Walmart will match a competitor’s price, so parents don’t have to drive around chasing the best deals.

“The advantage [to shopping at Walmart] is that you can not only get your classroom supplies but also shop for apparel and electronics all in one store,” he added.

If you’re pressed for time — and what parent isn’t? — shop online and then pick up at the store, paying no shipping costs and bypassing lines, Wertz suggested.

Even merchants who wouldn’t be considered traditional back-to-school stops are getting in on the action. BrandsMart USA will pay all sales tax on computers and tablets over $750 during the tax holiday — a promotion that applies to all brands. And because not all people are shopping for school supplies during those days, BrandsMart will pay the sales tax on all 4K HDTVs over $999.

Even with such enticements, consumer advocates warn that rules governing what qualifies as tax-free can be confusing. Before you head for the store, check out the rules on the state’s Department of Revenue website at http://bit.ly/1GhWCSt.

“This is a window of opportunity to get a break,” said Jeanette Pavini, a savings expert for the website Coupons.com. “But you have to know what’s on the list and what isn’t.”

For example, dress, garden and work gloves that sell for $100 or less are exempt from sales tax. Athletic gloves are not. Batteries for a computer don’t incur sales tax, but those for a flashlight do.

Another frequent misunderstanding: If an item of clothing is more than $100, tax is due on the entire selling price. In other words, the first $100 is not tax-free. The same rule applies for school supplies that sell for more than $15.

Shopping experts also say that buying an item during the holiday may not necessarily yield the best price. Sales at other times of the year may offer greater discounts.

“People like the tax-free holiday,” said Teresa Mears, publisher of Miami on the Cheap website, “but it’s not always the best deal. You may get a better price buying earlier or later or on clearance. You have to know your prices and how much you’re really getting off from the regular price.”

Joyce Sanz, a Miami mother of two, usually sits out the tax-free holiday precisely for that reason. Shopping for her high-schooler and college student has taught her that the best deals often come later.

“I just don’t see the sales being that good unless it’s something that’s always at full price and never on sale,” said Sanz, who is a teacher’s aide. “I wait until school starts to know exactly what they need because teachers are specific on what kind of notebook or folder they want. So much of what we buy on those standard lists ends up not getting used.”

To make the most of the Aug. 7-16 sales-tax holiday, shopping pros offer these tips:

▪ Check what you already have in drawers, cabinets and closets before setting off for the store. Then make a list of what you actually need.

▪ Set a budget. A sales-tax exemption is no excuse for impulse buying.

▪ Know your prices. Is the item you’re buying really a good deal?

▪ Do your homework. Check out the ads at local stores. If you can stack both a sale price and a tax-break, you’re maximizing savings.

▪ Use coupons and coupon codes. Check for student discounts. Some stores offer them with a student ID.

▪ Stock up on staples you use throughout the year.

▪ Ask for rainchecks if the store has no stock of a sale item.

▪ Save your receipts in case you need to bring back the item. Receipts also come in handy if the item goes on sale later and the store honors a price adjustment.

▪ Use smartphone apps to scan barcodes for price comparisons. Other apps also provide coupon codes.

▪ Use this opportunity to teach your child budgeting and math skills. Some parents give older children a budget for school supplies and clothing. If the child spends less, she gets to keep the difference.

Reporting by the News Service of Florida was used to supplement this article.

Florida’s tax-free holiday

When: Aug. 7-16, 2015.

What’s tax-free: Items of clothing priced less than $100, school supplies priced lower than $15, and the first $750 of a personal computer purchase.

Information: http://bit.ly/1GhWCSt.

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