Florida's back-to-school sales tax holiday starts Friday and runs through Sunday with savings on more items this year.
The state is expanding the tax break to cover clothing and shoes $100 or less per item, up from $75 last year. Computers will be tax free on the first $750 of the sale price, meaning a shopper buying a $1,000 laptop will only pay tax on $250. Once again, school supplies $15 or less will be tax exempt, including pencils, pens, paper, binders, notebooks, rulers and scissors.
The savings, while small on a box of crayons, can add up quickly on larger purchases. In Hillsborough, Pasco or Pinellas counties, where the sales tax is 7 percent, the savings on a $750 computer would be $52.50. In Hernando County, with its 6.5 percent sales tax, the savings would be $48.75.
The sales tax break extends to any laptop, desktop, tablet and electronic book reader but excludes cell phones, video game consoles, digital media receivers or televisions. Also covered are computer accessories including keyboards, monitors, modems, routers, headphones and memory cards.
Approved by the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott, the three-day holiday is expected to save residents at least $40 million, according to the Florida Retail Federation. Florida TaxWatch estimates Floridians have saved $407.6 million since the back-to-start sales tax holiday started in 1998.
"Florida's economy is humming along at a nice pace, and we are very pleased to see consumer spending warming up,'' said Florida Retail Federation president and CEO Rick McAllister. "Consumer spending is at least 70 percent of the economy, so when retailers are doing well it usually means everyone is doing well.''
Combined spending for back to school and college is forecasted to reach about $5 billion in Florida, with tax-exempt sales accounting for estimated $600 million of it. Back to school is the second most important shopping season for retailers, behind Christmas.
The exemption will be available to any shopper, regardless of whether they are buying for school-age children, but excludes purchases made at theme parks, hotels and airports. It will also apply to online purchases from retailers with a brick-and-mortar presence in Florida, such as Best Buy and Target, that normally charge sales tax on purchases delivered to the state.
After a sluggish first half of the year, retailers are hoping for a strong finish. The National Retail Federation's annual Back-to-School Survey found the average family with children in grades K-12 will spend $669 on apparel, shoes, supplies and electronics, up 5 percent from $635 last year.
Here are some deals and promotions happening at area stores:
• Staples is offering a 110% Price Match Guarantee on back-to-school items sold in stores and online, including Amazon.com. Customers will receive the lower price plus an additional 10 percent off the difference between the Staples price and the competitor's price. To receive the price match, shoppers must show a copy of the competitor's ad. For purchases made on Staples.com, customers can call toll-free at 1 (800) 333-3330.
• Walmart has cut prices on 10 percent more back-to-school items compared with last year and has increased the number of school products available on Walmart.com by about 30 percent, to 75,000.
• Target is giving away up to $25 million in school supplies to the Kids In Need Foundation through its Buy One Give One program on select up & up brand notebooks, pencils, crayons and other items.
• Sears and Kmart have launched free store pickup at many locations where people can purchase school supplies online and pick them up at either store. Sears also offers in-vehicle pickup where shoppers can get online orders by driving to a store and parking in designated spots. If an order isn't delivered curbside within five minutes, the customer gets a $5 store coupon.
• Publix is having a Tools for Back to School campaign through Aug. 13. Shoppers can add $5, $7 or $10 to their purchase to provide school supplies to local charities.
• Spend $250 at WestShore Plaza Friday through Sunday and receive a $25 gift card to any store at the mall. On Aug. 9, the food court's Chick-fil-A is having a back-to-school rally from noon to 3 p.m. with games, crafts and prizes.
Contact Susan Thurston at email@example.com or (813) 225-3110. Follow @susan_thurston.