Today is the last day of South Carolina’s annual sales tax holiday weekend.
This odd tax break is portrayed as a way for parents to save on back-to-school supplies like pencils and clothing, but in fact, the tax exemption applies to all sorts of unexpected things.
As a way to save money on clothes and school supplies, I think the tax holiday is no big deal. Clothes and office supplies go on sale all the time and at discounts much greater than the savings provided by skipping the sales tax.
But there are two good opportunities to save some money during the tax holiday.
The first comes when you find things you need on sale and get the sales tax break on top of the sale price. At department stores that offer deep discounts that change every weekend, saving money on the sales tax is less important than buying things when they are marked down.
Why rush out to save 8 percent on clothing when that clothing might be 40 percent off next week? On the other hand, at stores with low regular prices and few sales, the tax-free weekend is an opportunity to save a little extra.
The second opportunity for savings comes when you can purchase higher-priced goods that rarely go on sale. For example, Apple rarely discounts current-model computers, but the tax holiday represents a savings of $102 on an iMac purchased in Charleston County.
Sales tax savings can range from 6 percent to 9 percent, depending on where you live in South Carolina. Locally, the sales tax rates are: Berkeley, 8 percent; Charleston, 8.5 percent; and Dorchester, 7 percent.
The differences are due to locally approved sales taxes for transportation, school construction and property tax relief. Those “local option” taxes are on top of the state’s 6 percent sales tax and are included in the tax-free weekend exemption.
The temporary tax break will cost the state, and local governments, at least several million dollars while providing small discounts to individuals for buying things this weekend versus next weekend.
I think it’s safe to say that most people wouldn’t rush out to a store for an 8-percent-off sale on things like clothing or notebooks.
But if you’re in the market for a computer, or a wedding dress, or a pair of ski boots, today might be your day. Those are examples of higher-priced items that are not usually subject to deep discounting, where 8 percent off adds up to something.
I know, you’re thinking: “Ski boots?”
This is where South Carolina’s tax holiday gets a bit strange. The list of things that are or aren’t tax-free is not particularly related to back-to-school needs, and is often counterintuitive.
You get a tax break on shower curtains, but not on drapes, for example. Bedding is tax-free, but not beds. Adult diapers are tax-free, but not toilet paper.
Ski boots are tax-free, but not goggles. Batting gloves aren’t taxed, but baseball gloves are. Computers, iPads and printers are tax-free, while computer monitors, iPhones and keyboards are taxed.
Musical instruments are tax-free, but only if they are used for school assignments. Lingerie is tax-free, without restriction.
Some of the tax oddities are related to definitions of clothing, footwear and other categories mentioned in the sale tax holiday legislation.
The state has taken the approach that clothing is clothing, so wedding dresses, fur coats and wetsuits are tax-free, just like back-to-school apparel.
Likewise, footwear is footwear. So in-line skates, fishing boots, ballet slippers, ski boots, soccer cleats and so on are just as tax-free as shoes that one would wear to school.
For the full list, visit the S.C. Department of Revenue at www.sctax.org.
Tax-free purchases must be for personal use. The tax holiday lasts until midnight, and online sales are included.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.
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