Back-to-school sales tax holiday weekend runs Friday through Sunday

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In the past, Florida’s back-to-school sales tax holiday covered only the basics – paper, pencils and erasers. Now, the popular series of tax exemptions covers a wide range of school-related products.

The 2014 Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday begins at 12:01 a.m. Friday, Aug. 1 through 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 3.

During the three-day period, purchases of specified school supplies and clothing, as well as computers and computer-related accessories are exempt from sales tax.

Tax-exempt clothing includes wallets or bags, handbags, backpacks, fanny packs and diaper bags – excluding briefcases, suitcases and other garment bags— with a sales price of $100 or less.

The state defines clothing as any article of wearing apparel intended to be worn on or about the body, excluding watches, watchbands, jewelry, umbrellas and handkerchiefs; and all footwear, except skis, swim fins, roller blades and skates. Exemptions are for clothing items from $75 to $100 or less per item. The amount for school supplies, $15 or less per item, remains the same.

School supplies are:

  • Pens, pencils, erasers, and crayons
  • Notebooks, notebook filler paper, legal pads and binders and construction paper
  • Lunch boxes
  • Markers, folders, poster board, composition books, poster paper
  • Scissors, cellophane tape, glue or paste
  • Rulers, computer disks, protractors, compasses, and calculators

Supplies considered non-exempt include books, computer paper, correction tape, fluid or pens, masking tape, printer paper, staplers and staples. The back-to-school holiday does not apply to sales made within a theme park or entertainment complex, public lodging establishments, or airports.

The tax-exempt status will apply to the first $750 of the sales price of digital tools like personal computers and accessories. This way, the purchase of higher priced items will still get some savings.

“Personal computers” are items and accessories purchased for noncommercial home or personal use. They include:

  • Electronic book readers
  • Laptops and desktops
  • Tablets and other handheld devices
  • Keyboards and mice
  • Monitors (without TV tuners)
  • Modems and routers
  • Non-recreational software

Cellphones, video game consoles, digital media devices and other devices not used in data processing are not included in the sales tax holiday. As in previous tax-free holidays, shoes and clothing up to $75 and school supplies—pencils, pens, notebooks, erasers and other school items up to $15—will continue to be tax-free during the three-day weekend.

“Digital literacy is essential for our children, and we appreciate the work of all the legislative supporters of the sales tax holiday,” said Rick McAllister, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation, a major proponent of the back-to-school tax break. The Federation had also advocated the introduction of digital tools to the exemptions.

“Retailers are reporting a strong trend of sales growth of between 4 and 5 percent statewide, and we expect spending to remain strong through the crucial month of August,” McAllister added. “Florida’s economy is humming along at a nice pace, and we are very pleased to see consumer spending warming up. Consumer spending is at least 70 percent of the economy, so when retailers are doing well it usually means everyone else is doing well.”

Florida first offered a sales tax holiday in 1998, which lasted seven days. For a few years after that, the tax holiday was for just clothing and footwear. In 2001, the Legislature added school supplies to the list.

In 2013, computers and related accessories valued at $750 or less for either personal or home use were added.

Online purchases can be exempt from sales tax if the item is for immediate delivery, even when that delivery is after the holiday. If the sale price includes shipping and handling, and multiple items are included on the sales invoice, shipping and handling charges must be “fairly assigned” to each item on the ticket to determine if an item qualifies for tax exemption.

Articles in a set cannot be priced separately, so individual items qualify for the tax-exemption. If a taxable item is part of the set, the entire purchase is subject to tax.

For items returned after the holiday and exchanged for the same item are not subject to tax; however, items exchanged for different item will be taxed.

If using a rain check for an item during the holiday, regardless of when the store issued the rain check, the item will be tax-exempt if it qualifies. Items purchased with rain checks issued during the tax holiday are subject to tax, if purchased after the end of the weekend.

According to a report by The Washington Economics Group (WEG), the 2010 back-to-school sales tax holiday translated to $7 million in additional state tax revenue, over what it would be without a tax holiday. In 2010, consumers purchased taxable and tax-exempt items, increasing sales of taxable items by $115 million. Total purchases in August surpassed estimates by $289 million.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.