Sales tax holiday begins Friday

Back-to-school savings event continues through Sunday

Sales tax holidays tax relief for important purposes

Special to the Light and Champion

They say taxes are one of the two certain things in life, but in Texas the sales tax takes a break now and then.

Texas’ sales and use tax, the largest single source of state tax revenue, gets a few days off each year. On these weekends, specific items or categories of items can be sold without state and local sales taxes.

Under state law, Texas observes four of these sales tax holidays each year, for school clothes and supplies; energy-efficient appliances; water-efficient products; and emergency preparation supplies.

The holidays are held in the spring and summer on dates set by the legislature.

Back to School

The oldest, biggest and probably best known is the “back-to-school” sales tax holiday held each August, which helps Texas families get their kids ready for the new school year by exempting most clothing, footwear, school supplies and backpacks priced at less than $100 from sales and use taxes. The savings amount to about $8 for every $100 spent.

In fiscal 2017, the Comptroller’s office estimated these exemptions were worth more than $87 million in state and local tax revenue; since its inception, the tax holiday has saved consumers more than $1.1 billion.

The legislative rationale for the holiday is that, even in times of economic growth, many Texas families with school-aged children are struggling to get by. The tax relief goes directly to consumers and is designed to apply only to essentials for school use.

In 2018, the back-to-school holiday falls on Aug. 10 through Aug. 12.

The holiday begins on the Friday preceding the 15th day before the state’s uniform start date for public school classes and ends on the following Sunday at midnight. This year, it falls on Aug. 10 through 12.

Senate Bill 441 created the original “back-to-school” sales tax holiday in 1999. Then and now, it applies to individual items of non-athletic clothing and footwear costing less than $100. Backpacks were exempted in 2007, while school supplies were added in 2009, as long as they’re purchased for use by students in public or private elementary or secondary schools. The $100 threshold applies to the added categories as well.

Consumers can buy up to 10 backpacks tax-free, including messenger bags and those with wheels, but not those on frames. Luggage, briefcases, purses, computer bags and gym bags are excluded. Specialty clothing and footwear not designed for routine use, such as athletic shoes and protective gear, aren’t exempt. Also not covered are accessories, rented apparel, alterations, embroidery and cleaning.

The exemption applies to each eligible item priced below $100, regardless of how many items are sold. For example, if a customer buys two dresses for $70 each, both items are exempt, even though the total purchase price of $140 exceeds $99.99. The exemption can’t be prorated, however; in other words, it can’t be applied to the first $99.99 of the price of an eligible item costing $100 or more.

In-store, online, telephone and mail transactions are covered, as are layaway purchases. Any charges for delivery, shipping and handling billed to the purchaser are considered part of the final selling price.

SCHOOL SUPPLIES: EXEMPT OR NOT?

Tax exempt school supplies are:

  • Binders

  • Book bags

  • Calculators

  • Cellophane tape

  • Blackboard chalk

  • Compasses

  • Composition books

  • Crayons

  • Erasers

  • Folders

  • Highlighters

  • Index cards

  • Index card boxes

  • Legal pads

  • Lunch boxes

  • Markers

  • Notebooks

  • Paper

  • Pencil and other school supply boxes

  • Pencil sharpeners

  • Pencils

  • Pens

  • Protractors

  • Rulers

  • Scissors

  • Writing tablets

View a detailed list of which clothing items and footwear do (or don't) qualify for the back-to-school sales tax holiday. »