The first Friday of August is fast approaching, and it will once again mark the start of South Carolina’s annual, 72-hour back-to-school sale tax holiday weekend.
Like many government relief initiatives, this one isn’t quite what it appears to be. It can offer some real savings, in stores or online — but not in the way one might expect.
Sure, shoppers can buy pencils, notebooks, bookbags and lunch boxes without paying sales tax, from Aug. 6 to 8. But because of the rules for the holiday weekend, most of the real savings involve things that have nothing to do with classroom supplies.
All clothing is tax free for three days, for example. That includes very expensive duds — a wedding dress is a great example — and specialty apparel that counts as clothing, such as a wetsuit. The definition extends to swimwear, clothes for hunting and skiing, and batting gloves.
School supplies are tax-free the first August weekend in South Carolina. Due to quirks in the law, the rules also apply to items such as ice skates, wedding dresses and diapers. File/Brad Nettles/Staff
So, someone planning to buy expensive apparel that’s unlikely to go on sale could save some money by purchasing it during the tax holiday weekend.
Footwear is also tax-free, and that includes not just regular shoes, but hunting boots, ice skates, ski boots, and other coverings for the feet.
Computers are also tax-free, as are diapers for babies or adults, and sweaters for pets (again, clothing).
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It’s a bit of a strange list, which is driven by the different categories of goods mentioned in the state law. The Department of Revenue previously issued a 9-page ruling with details.
For example, computers for personal use are tax-free, but monitors are not, unless purchased as a package with a computer. Printers are tax-free but not scanners. Computer warranty and service agreements (such as AppleCare) are tax-free, but smartphones are taxable.
Now, I’m a big fan of sale prices, but a 9 percent-off (or less) sale isn’t much to write home about. Stores regularly offer sales of up to 50 percent off on all sorts of goods.
The real value in the tax-free weekend comes when shoppers can do one of these three things:
- Stack the tax-free savings on top of sale prices. Shop for the best deal, and the tax savings are just a bonus.
- For parents sending a child off to college, do all the necessary shopping. Clothes, bedding, computers, towels and more are all tax-free. Note that refrigerators are not.
- Buy high-value products that you were planning to buy anyway but that rarely go on sale. Getting 9 percent off can be significant when the purchase is a $1,400 computer, or an expensive wedding dress.
So, how much can you really save?
Sales tax rates vary across South Carolina, ranging from 6 to 9 percent. That’s because many areas have local sales taxes that fund property tax relief, school construction, road building and other things. Whatever the general sales tax rate is where you shop (or where you live, if you shop online), that’s how much you save.
For example, parts of Summerville are in three different counties. A Summerville resident would pay a 9 percent sales tax if they are in Charleston County, 8 percent if they are in Berkeley County, or 7 percent in Dorchester County.
Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552. Follow him on Twitter @DSladeNews.