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Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday set for Aug. 4-6
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Graphic courtesy of FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE
Florida’s Back-to-School Tax Holiday begins at 12:01 a.m. Friday, Aug. 4, and ends at 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 6.
The state is helping parents pay the cost of getting kids ready to go to school this year and all Floridians will benefit. The three-day Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday begins at 12:01 a.m. Friday, Aug. 4, and ends at 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 6.

Qualifying items exempt from tax include most school supplies selling for $15 or less per items; clothing, footwear and some accessories selling for $60 or less per items; and computers and some computer-related accessories purchased for home or personal use selling for $750 or less per item.

The price limits for school supplies, $15 and under, and clothing, $60 and under, is the same as last year. Computer supplies are back on the list after lawmakers chose to remove them in 2016.

Eligible school supplies include pens, pencils, erasers, crayons, notebooks, notebook filler paper, legal pads, binders, lunch boxes, construction paper, markers, folders, poster board, composition books, poster paper, scissors, cellophane tape, glue, paste, rulers, computer disks, protractors, compasses and calculators.

The tax-free list does not include books that are not otherwise exempt, computer paper, correction tape, fluid, or pens, masking tape, printer paper, staplers or staples.

The state defines clothing as any article of wearing apparel, including all footwear (except skis, swim fins, roller blades, and skates) intended to be worn on or about the human body. Clothing does not include watches, watchbands, jewelry, umbrellas or handkerchiefs.

Computers and accessories priced at less than $750 for noncommercial use only are tax-exempt. The state includes electronic book readers, laptops, desktops, handhelds, tablets and tower computers on the tax-exempt list. However, taxes will be charged on cellular telephones, video game consoles, digital media receivers and other devices that are not primarily designed to process data.

The list of accessories is quite lengthy. Examples include keyboards, mouse devices, personal digital assistants, monitors without a TV tuner, peripheral devices, modems, routers, cables, memory cards, thumb drives, as well as hard drives, motherboards, computer speakers, web cameras, data storage devices, such as blank CDs, and non-recreational software.

Batteries for use by computers are exempt but all others are taxable. Printers, including all-in-one models, and ink cartridges are exempt; however, copy machines, ink and toner are not. Stand-alone fax machines will be taxed. Other taxable items include cases, bags, digital cameras, furniture, projectors, surge protectors and any item designed primarily for recreational use.

The complete list of tax-free and taxable items is available at dor.m­yflor­ida.c­om.

The rules

As with most legislation, it is important to know the rules. For example, sales of clothing or school supplies in a theme park, entertainment complex, public lodging establishment or airport are not tax-free. Tax will be charged on rentals or leases and tax will be charged for any repairs or alterations. However, eligible items purchased by mail order on through the Internet are tax exempt.

There is no limit on the number of items that can be purchased. The tax exemption is based on the sales price of each individual item. However, items sold in sets that contain taxable and tax-exempt items will be taxed. For example, a gift set consisting of a wallet and key chain would be taxed because the key chain is not exempt.

Labeling and packaging usually determines whether an item is exempt from tax. For example, dress, garden and work gloves sold for $60 or less are tax exempt, but not athletic gloves because sporting equipment is taxable. Another example is handbags and purses, which are tax-exempt if sold for $60 or less; however, briefcases, suitcases, garment bags and computer cases are taxable because they are not intended to be worn on or about the human body.

Use of coupons and rebates gets a little tricky. The Department of Revenue says a coupon, discount or rebate offered by the retail seller reduces the sales price of an item because it reduces the total amount received by the retail seller for the item, which may cause the item to be exempt.

However, when a retail seller is reimbursed for any discount from a manufacturer’s coupon, discount, or rebate, the amount of the reimbursement is included in the taxable sales price of the item. So, even though the customer may pay the retailer less, the total price is still the same. For example, if a customer uses a $10 manufacturers coupon on a jacket selling for $65, the price paid at the cash register will be $55, which seems as if it would qualify for the tax exemption. But the state says because the retailer will be reimbursed $10 by the manufacturer and receive the full price – $65 – the item is taxable at the time of the sell.

In addition, not all businesses are participating. The law allows businesses that sell a small number of the items covered by the sales tax holiday to “opt out.” These businesses have to notify the Department of Revenue and post a notice that they are “opting out” of the sales tax holiday in a place where shoppers can see it. 

Billions of dollars are spent each year on back-to-school items. The National Retail Federation predicted sales would reach $75 billion last year. Projections for 2017 are not yet available. In 2016, the average family was expected to spend about $673 on clothing, accessories, shoes and school supplies.

The Florida Retail Federation says Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday is one of the most popular in the state, with increased sales for businesses and savings for consumers.

History of the tax

Legislators approved the first Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday in 1998. It ran for seven days and only included clothing and shoes priced at $50 or less. In 1999, the holiday ran for nine days, and the cap on clothing was raised to $100. In 2001, school supplies valued at less than $10 was added and the clothing cap was reduced to $50.

In 2008 and 2009, the state’s budget was tight and legislators said no to sales tax holidays. The Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday returned in 2010. It lasted three days and applied to eligible books, clothing, footwear and accessories priced at $50 or less and school supplies selling for $10 or less.

In 2011, lawmakers approved another three-day holiday and increased the cap on clothing to $75 and $15 for school supplies. The same rules applied to the sales tax holiday in 2012.

In 2013, the number of days and price limits on clothing and school supplies remained the same, but lawmakers added personal computers (for noncommercial use) and related accessories selling for $750 or less. In 2014, the legislators changed the rules for computers, applying the tax-exemption to the first $750 of the sales prices to allow shoppers to purchase models that were more expensive. The cap on clothing items increased to $100 or less per item.

In 2015, the holiday lasted 10 days. The limit on clothing remained at $100, school supplies were capped at $15 and the computer exemption put into place in 2014 remained.

In 2016, lawmakers chose to tighten the belt and weren’t as generous. They cut the number of days back to three; the same as this year, and the dollar limit on clothing was reduced to $60, again the same as this year. The price of eligible school supplies stayed the same, $15. The exemption for computer equipment and accessories was removed, but legislators restored the tax-exempt status for 2017, but limited it to items priced at $750 or less.
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