Here's How to Back-to-School Shop Without Sales Tax

While it's really hard to believe that any state would forgo collecting taxes these days, 16 of them are offering sales tax holidays this summer.

That means you will not have to pay the state's sales tax during some specified period of time.

And while local sales taxes are collected in 38 states, according to the Tax Foundation, those 16 are giving shoppers a break.

And that's a welcome relief given how high back-to-school spending gets. For elementary through high school students, the National Retail Federation expects total spending to reach $29.6 billion in 2017, which is up from $27.3 billion in 2016. Families are planning to spend $688 on average for 2017, compared to $674 last year.

The states offering back-to-school sales tax holidays are: Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

And since Louisiana, Alabama and Oklahoma have some of the highest sales tax rates in the country (at 5.01%, 4.93% and 4.28%, respectively), those residents better get their shopping on.

A bunch of states have revised their programs over the years -- like Florida, Maryland, Missouri and Connecticut -- and Georgia, for example, dropped its tax holiday program entirely, says Carol Kokinis-Graves, an attorney and senior state tax analyst for Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting.

So check your state's rules to find out when the holiday is and what's included. Because some states actually offer sales-tax breaks on much more than pens and notebooks.

Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, and Virginia also include items for hurricane and severe weather emergency preparation -- so be sure to pick up your portable generators and batteries during that time.

Maryland, Missouri, Texas and Virginia offer sales tax breaks on certain Energy Star appliances and WaterSense products, like washers, ceiling fans and dehumidifiers.

And Louisiana and Mississippi have sales tax holidays for -- wait for it -- firearms and ammunition, says Kokinis-Graves.

(Of course they do.)

And here are a few more tips:

  • Hyper-local taxes may not be included in these sales tax holidays. So if your area has a jurisdiction or fuel taxes, you probably still need to pay them.
  • If your state offers a break on high-ticket items -- like laptops -- definitely try to make that purchase during the holiday, suggest Kokinis-Graves.
  • Some states, like Connecticut, say the tax break is only for "CT customers," so if you're road tripping through the Constitution state during its holiday from August 20 to 26, you may still owe tax.
  • And just because your state offers a sales tax holiday this year, doesn't mean it will do the same every year. Florida, for instance, decides annually, if they're going to enact the break.

So if you're state is having a sales-tax holiday, break out the balloons - and your wallet - and take advantage of this break on your bank.

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