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Florida's tax-free back-to-school weekend starts Aug. 2. Here's everything you need to know.

 
Shoppers walk past shelves filled with school supplies at the Walmart located along Gandy Boulevard last week. Walmart and many other retailers are preparing for Florida's tax holiday Aug. 2-6. Besides traditional school supplies, other tax-exempt items include clothing and electronics. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
Shoppers walk past shelves filled with school supplies at the Walmart located along Gandy Boulevard last week. Walmart and many other retailers are preparing for Florida's tax holiday Aug. 2-6. Besides traditional school supplies, other tax-exempt items include clothing and electronics. [CHRIS URSO | Times]
Published July 24, 2019

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It's almost time to hit the books, and the store.

Florida's tax holiday begins on Aug. 2. Shoppers will be able to buy the bulk of what their children need for school without having to pay sales tax. The Florida Retail Federation estimates Floridians will save a combined $36 million from the tax break and spend an average of $600 on back-to-school items.

This year's tax exemption period will last five days, with the last day to shop tax-free ending Aug. 6.

The tax holiday does come with a somewhat long list of specifications, but we've broken down the most important parts.

What items are tax free?

After their absence last year, computers are back on the tax exemption list. Exempt computers must be $1,000 or under.

Desktops, laptops, e-readers and tablets all fall under the state's definition of "computer." Computer accessories — some of which may surprise you — are also included. Some highlights: headphones or earbuds, thumbdrives, hard drives, graphics cards, scanners, speakers, web cameras, printers and ink cartridges.

Typical school supplies — think binders, notebooks, folders, pens, highlighters — are exempt if they are $15 or under per item.

Clothing items, accessories and footwear that are $60 or under are exempt. Examples include backpacks, baby clothes, blouses, pants, coats, sleepwear and dozens of other basics. Bike helmets in youth sizes are also exempt.

What items are not covered?

Generally, clothing items more than $60 and supplies over $15 per item are not included. But some items may fall into a bit of a gray area. Exemptions only apply to items purchased for personal use, not for commercial or business purposes.

The state is specific about its definition of computers: no smartphones or game consoles. Although backpacks are tax exempt, computer bags and briefcases are not. Similarly, e-readers or tablet cases are not covered, even though the technology itself is. Printer paper will not be tax exempt — although the printers themselves are.

Some general athletic clothes and cleats are exempt, but any football padding or soccer shin guards are not.

Which stores are participating?

Pretty much all of them. The tax holiday is a Florida law that directs no sales tax or local sales surtaxes be collected on back-to-school items during those five days. Many retailers organize their own sales to line up with the tax-free period. You can expect all major department stores, office supply stores and the big guys such as Walmart and Target to be participating.

Stores can choose not to participate, but only if they prove less than 5 percent of their sales are on items that would be exempt. So as long as you're not trying to back-to-school shop at a hardware store, you shouldn't run into any problems.

What if I hate the crowds?

Retailers largely prefer the tax-free holiday to be several days because it allows them to better manage inventory and spread out foot traffic. With this year's holiday spread over five days rather than three, the stores may not feel as packed.

But if you want to just be in and out: Several stores have buy online, and pick-up in-store options. Target's mobile app allows shoppers to order online and then drive up to pick up items without ever entering the store. This option doesn't allow for perishable foods, but includes all the school supplies basics. You can also opt for in-store pickup and grab your bags at customer service.

Walmart has its pickup towers as well, which work similar to Amazon lockers and allow shoppers to retrieve orders without talking to store employees. Walmart is also now offering a special for college students, where they can order what they need, put it on "hold" and then pick it up from the store closest to their campus by Sept. 1.

Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com. Follow @sara_dinatale.