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Florida's tax-free holiday: What you need to know

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Published:   |   Updated: August 1, 2014 at 07:51 AM

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Not to sound like a used car salesman, but, there's never been a better time to buy a tablet or a notebook computer! Really. Honest. That's because this Friday begins Florida's three-day “Back to School” sales tax holiday, during which you can load up on all kinds of stuff without forking over 7 percent extra to Da Gubermint.

Better than that, all kinds of stores such as Old Navy, Sketchers and Amazon plan extra sales to make sure you spend those dollars there. Wal-Mart will have a blood drive where you get a $10 back-to-school gift card, so you can literally bleed for your kid's education.

And even better news, this year the politicians fixed a glitch in the system so you can get a killer tablet or notebook computer mostly tax-free — if not entirely. Cool, eh?

You likely have tons of questions, so here are some answers:

Q: What's tax-free?

Answer: First off, clothing items priced less than $100 apiece. It's a big list. Here's a sample: shirts, shoes, backpacks, hats, purses, coats, diaper bags (don't ask me), suits, socks and neckties. The state even spells out specific tax-free items such as “lingerie,” so you can really go nuts at Victoria's Secret, I suppose. Martial arts gear is tax-free, so you can sport that new getup at the dojo.

Q: What about school supplies?

Answer: Most are tax-free if priced under $15 apiece: binders, calculators, pencils, crayons, lunchboxes, markers, paper and glue. Basically the whole school supply aisle. Oddly, this does not include computer paper, staplers orwhite-out, so apparently the state won't subsidize your mistakes.

Q: What's not tax-free?

Answer: Some big-dollar items: sporting goods such as football pads, diving suits, ice skates, kneepads or athletic gloves. Feel free to argue over whether “bowling” is a sport, but the state will still tax the shoes.

Q: Most stores, such as Old Navy, have 20- and 30-percent-off sales all the time anyway. So why do people go nuts over not paying 7 percent sales tax?

Answer: Beats me.

Q: What if something cost more than the limit?

Answer: With any clothing item, anything more than $100 and the whole item becomes taxable. Bear that in mind if back-to-school shopping at Neiman Marcus. With any school supply, if the item is more than $15, the whole thing is taxable.

Q: Any good news?

Answer: Yes, with electronics! Last year the specific electronic item had to be less than $750 total to be tax-free. But the politicians fixed that this year. Now the first $750 is tax-free, and any amount over that becomes taxable. That's good news for anyone looking for a killer, top-shelf iPad or notebook computer. They'll be mostly tax-free.

Q: Yeah! I'm going to buy a new iPhone!

Answer: Um, sorry. Cellphones are still taxable. But nobody says you can't get a tablet or iPod and use it for Skype or texting or Tinder or Facetime.

Q: What about a GoPro? I really want a GoPro.

Answer: Me, too, but digital cameras are still taxable.

Q: What about tablet cases? They cost a fortune.

Answer: Sorry, “cases for electronic devices” are still taxable, which doesn't make sense to me. But I guess they had to draw the line somewhere.

Q: What if I'm not a parent or not a student?

Answer: Good news for you. Nobody with a badge is going to knock down your door and demand to watch you go over long-division homework with the kiddos to verify their student status. You don't even have to have kids. Not even one! Any random Joe Schmo can buy things tax-free this weekend. You can think of that as generous, but the reality is that nobody wants to run around verifying who's a student.

Q: Sounds a bit like a mixed bag so far, and I spend a ton on school stuff each year.

Answer: Me, too. Industry data suggest families will spend $670 on average for B2S (back to school), which makes me think tablets and phones are a big chunk of that. I saw one survey that found 78 percent of parents will spend less on themselves so they can afford school fees, which made me think, “Only 78 percent?!”

Q: What if I order something online during the tax-free weekend, but it doesn't arrive until later?

Answer: Shouldn't matter. As long as you make the purchase during the three-day tax-free window, you should be cool.

Q: You said stores are having big sales, too. Like which ones?

Answer: Glad you asked. The retail world has turned into a scene of vertigo, where everything is always 20 percent off. Still, there are sales at Best Buy on tablets. Amazon has a great online backpack shop, categorized by price and style. Pottery Barn Kids has free shipping on backpacks, too. Old Navy has school uniforms on sale. So does Wal-Mart. Ellenton Premium Outlets has extra sales: American Eagle, Journeys, Gap, Nautica, Stride Rite/Keds, etc. Wal-Mart's even having a blood drive at many locations, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Give a pint, get a $10 gift card.

Q: What if the retailer isn't in Florida — like Amazon.

Answer: Shouldn't matter. Every major retailer should have their systems set up to recognize you're in Florida. But — and this is a big but — I personally might not expect every tiny little online retailer in America to keep up on our state tax codes.

Q: Hey, you didn't answer all my questions, buddy. What kind of shoddy journalism is this?

Answer: Jeesh, take it easy. We're doing the best we can here. So in the vein of trying to help out, just drop me an email with your questions and I'll look up some answers for you. Deal?

 

rmullins@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7919

Twitter: @DailyDeadline

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