Families from a growing list of eligible states across the country have been flocking to retailers in recent weeks to take advantage of a hot shopping holiday.
Back to school sales-tax “holidays” are saving families and college students a lot of cash, with a list of tax exempt items like computers, clothing, and basic school supplies. Sixteen states, Pennsylvania not included, have introduced bills that drop state sales tax from items during the back-to-school shopping season, sometimes as long as 10 days.
Florida has been celebrating the back to school sales-tax holiday since 1998, and it’s grown in popularity every year that it’s been around. While it saves families and students a lot of money on sales tax, the holiday keeps retailers across the state happy as well.
“It’s one of our top priorities each year because it increases sales for retailers,” said James Miller, the communications director for the Florida Retail Federation. “What we also see is the money that people save on the merchandise they come in to buy gets spent on secondary items, too, or more of the same merchandise. This year we have a technology component, where anything up to $750 is tax free...you’re looking at $50 or $60 that you’re saving.”
For many states with the tax holiday, it’s one of the busiest shopping windows of the year, second only to Black Friday.
“It is incredibly popular,” Miller said. “When you go to a retail store in Florida, if you were to go [during the holiday] you would have seen lines. The other thing that is cool in Florida is if you’re online and the retailer had a brick and mortar store presence in Florida, if you bought something online that too would be tax free. If you want to stay in your pajamas and don’t want to experience the crowds, you can still experience the same savings.”
Miller and the Florida Retail Federation are looking into the numbers in states like Georgia, a state without the tax holiday but one that borders participating states. Are residents of Georgia, particularly those who live close to the border of Alabama, Florida, and South Carolina crossing into those states to take advantage of saving seven or eight percent on their purchases?
“If you live on the border and you can save $60 on a new laptop or a new iPad, that’s worth it to a lot of families,” Miller said. “The average family spends almost $700 on new clothing and shoes and supplies, so it’s worth it to a lot of those families, especially those on small incomes and tight budgets, to cross the border.”
Philadelphians and residents of southeastern Pennsylvania have long been taking advantage of the short drive to Delaware to experience tax-free shopping year round. Buying laptops, appliances, and whatever else can fit in the back of your trunk in Delaware has almost always made fiscal sense for many families in the area.
A Pennsylvania back to school sales-tax holiday could change all of that, and keep shoppers in the state to the benefit of local brick and mortar stores. It’s something that is atop Florida retailers’ wish lists to bring back every year, according to Miller.
And while you may think that online shopping has made going out to stores obsolete, Miller says that the data for the tax holiday says otherwise.
“I believe that extra incentive, to save 7 or 8 percent, does get more people out shopping online or in the stores,” he said. “This is one of the most popular times of the year, in addition to Christmastime, where brick and mortar is wildly popular. It’s something that is almost like a bonding experience for families...trying on the clothes, letting the kids pick out what clothes they want. It’s really a fun time for families as well.”
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