Several states offer back-to-school tax holidays that cover everything from basic school supplies to computers and accessories. If your state participates, you could pick up a computer, printer, or even an iPad tax-free.
What’s the Deal With Tax-Free Holidays?
Various states have tax holidays, periods of time where eligible purchases are exempt from the state sales tax.
While there are a variety of types of tax holidays—Mississippi has a tax holiday for hunting gear before hunting season, and Florida has a tax holiday for hurricane preparedness gear—the most widespread use of tax holidays centers on back-to-school shopping.
Across the United States, 18 states offer tax holidays specifically intended to lower the financial burden of returning to school in the fall.
While some states restrict the tax holiday to things like clothing, footwear, or basic school supplies (or some combination thereof), many have, in reflection of the changing student needs, expanded the holiday to include computers, tablets, peripherals, software, and related accessories.
What this means on a practical level is that you can purchase products up to the cut-off value, typically $1,500 for computers and electronics, without paying sales tax.
If a state normally has 8% sales tax, for example, a $1500 laptop is $1620 when the sales tax is factored in, but the actual sticker price of $1500 during the holiday. Whatever your state sales tax is during the holiday, it functions like a discount.
In the next section, we’ll highlight the general limits for each participating state as well as link to documents detailing the fine-print rules for each of them. Broadly, however, these are the general guidelines you should expect to encounter:
The tax holidays are open to everyone purchasing qualifying items without any sort of enforcement. You don’t have to provide proof you reside in the state, have a student in K-12, or currently be a student yourself. The only restriction is that the items must be for personal use, not commercial use or resale.
The tax exemption limit applies to the individual item’s total purchase price and not to a portion of the purchase price. So, for example, if your state has a $1,500 limit on computer hardware, and you buy a $1,600 computer, the computer doesn’t qualify for any sort of tax break. You’ll pay the full sales tax on the $1,600 purchase.
Except when noted, the purchase price restrictions apply to the individual items, not the entire bill at the time of purchase. So if you’re buying a $1,000 laptop for each of your three kids, the limit applies to the price of the laptop, not the cumulative cost ($3,000) you pay at checkout.
In addition to the tax-exempt items, it’s common for retailers in many states—especially larger retailers—to offer discounts equal to the tax on non-exempt items related to your purchase.
If your state offers tax exemption on computers, for instance, but not on printers, you may find some retailers extend the tax holiday’s umbrella to include printers or other items in an effort to attract more customers during the tax holiday.
Finally, the tax holiday isn’t limited to in-person purchases at brick-and-mortar retailers—though the aforementioned umbrella deals are more common in brick-and-mortar stores. The holiday includes both physical retailers in a given participating state as well as any online retailers registered with the state.
That means whether you end up buying your new MacBook from an Apple, Amazon, Best Buy, Costco, Wal-Mart, or anywhere else, it doesn’t matter if you make the purchase in-store or online. The tax holiday is in effect as long as the product is exempt.
The following table details which states offer exemptions for back-to-school sales that include computers and related accessories. The table is arranged alphabetically by state, with each state’s name linking to the official documentation about that state’s tax holiday.
|Arkansas||8/6 – 8/7||No Limit||No Limit|
|Florida||7/25 – 8/7||Up to $1,500, includes iPads and other tablets||Up to $1,500|
|Massachusetts||8/13 – 8/14||Up to $2,500||Up to $2,500|
|Missouri||8/5 – 8/7||Up to $1,500||Up to $1,500; Software limited to $350.|
|New Jersey||8/27 – 9/5||Up to $3,000||Up to $1000|
|New Mexico||8/5 – 8/7||Up to $1,000||Up to $500|
|South Carolina||8/5 – 8/7||No Limit||Exempt if purchased with a computer|
|Tennessee||7/29 – 7/31||Up to $1,500, includes iPads and other tablets||Exempt if purchased with computer and total bill less than $1,500|
|West Virginia||8/5 – 8/9||Up to $500, includes iPads and other tablets||No Exemption|
For the most part, it’s pretty straightforward with the exception of Missouri, which allows for cities and counties to opt-out of the tax holiday. If you’re shopping in Missouri, pay special attention to the Elected Not to Participate section on the state’s back-to-school tax holiday page.
That’s all there is to it! If you’re in a participating state or close enough to hop the border of one to do a little shopping, all you need to do to save on sales tax is shop for qualifying exempt items during the dates outlined above.