published Monday, August 5th, 2013

Sales and savings: Tax-free weekend draws back-to-school shoppers

Jayda Russell, who will be in the eighth grade this year, shops for general school supplies at Office Depot on Sunday.
Jayda Russell, who will be in the eighth grade this year, shops for general school supplies at Office Depot on Sunday.
Photo by Maura Friedman.

TAX FACTS

Tennessee state sales tax: 7 percent (additional 2.75 percent tax on items between $1,600 and $3,200)

Hamilton County local sales tax: 2.5 percent

What was exempt?

  • Clothing less than $100 per item
  • School supplies less than $100 per item
  • Computers less than $1,500

What was not exempt?

  • Purchases made for use by a trade or business
  • Items that “become” clothing (belt buckles, patches).
  • School supplies related to computers (flash drives, printers, ink).
  • Individual computer parts (mouse, hard drive).

Source: Tennessee Department of Revenue fact sheet

Tennessee’s annual sales tax exemption weekend sent consumers out in full force, turning back-to-school shopping sprees into a larger frenzy of deals.

Tennessee joined nine other states this weekend for an annual sales tax “holiday.” Purchases on most clothing and school supplies and some computer systems were spared the Volunteer State’s 7 percent sales tax.

Parking lots jammed with cars represented a sure-fire sign of the special deal authorized by the Tennessee General Assembly.

“There’s been a lot of effort in the last few weeks to get ready for the additional traffic,” said Rodney Harris, manager of the Best Buy on Gunbarrel Road. “All of my team has worked long hours, certainly Friday and Saturday.”

Consumers taking advantage of the deal have saved an average of $8 million to 10 million across the state in each of the program’s eight years, according to the Tennessee Department of Revenue.

Last-minute purchases for students heading off to local schools and colleges across the state and nation made the “maybe” purchases a “probably” opportunity.

“It tends to be mixed towards a lot of college-age kids, especially this weekend, buying nicer laptops and tablets,” Harris said.

The program lifts sales taxes on clothing items and school supplies less than $100. Computers can reap the most reward with a $1,500 price limit on eligibility. Consumers could save $135 at the maximum price.

“The advantage we have here in Tennessee is that we go up to $1,500 on a computer,” Harris said. “It only goes up to $1,000 in Georgia, and it’s only $750 in Alabama. What you’ll see is a lot of people taking advantage of those sales taxes.”

Down the road at Office Depot, Bonita Springs was simply looking for a replacement.

“My old computer broke down, so I’m getting this,” Springs said while eyeing a $379 Hewlett-Packard all-in-one touchscreen.

Springs’ last computer bit the dust after four years, and this particular desktop already boasted a $90 rebate before the tax exemption.

“All the wires are kept out of sight,” she added with a smile. “I like the style of it.”

Casey Johnson, a devotee of Macintosh products, was looking for a new computer.

“I love Apple,” he said while wandering Best Buy’s section of MacBooks. “iPhone, iPad, iMac, Mini Mac. I’m stuck.”

Those who missed the weekend’s plethora of opportunities to cash in still have hope. Georgia’s tax-free exemption runs this coming weekend, Aug. 9-10.

In the meantime, though, stores are grateful for the healthy numbers of customers.

“Everything is selling this weekend,” Harris said. “And the rest of our store is not tax-free.”

Contact staff writer Jeff LaFave at423-757-6592 or jlafave@timesfreepress.com.

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