Back-to-school tax break: 5 things to know before you shop

Florida’s popular back-to-school sales-tax holiday kicks off on today and runs through Sunday, offering shoppers a break from the 6 percent sales tax normally collected on school-related items.

Laura Palacio, 13, of West Palm Beach, tries on a backpack that she likes with her sister Mayra Palacio, at the Target on Palm Beach Lakes Blvd., July 30, 2014, in West Palm Beach. Laura chose the back to school supplies that she needs for the upcoming year and plans to come back and buy them when the tax free holiday begins Friday. (Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)

Laura Palacio, 13, of West Palm Beach, tries on a backpack that she likes with her sister Mayra Palacio, at the Target on Palm Beach Lakes Blvd., July 30, 2014, in West Palm Beach. Laura chose the back to school supplies that she needs for the upcoming year and plans to come back and buy them when the tax free holiday begins Friday. (Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)

Here is what you need to know before heading to the stores:

Computers and higher-priced apparel won’t be eligible for the tax break

State lawmakers approved a scaled-back version of the tax-free shopping period.

This year,  the annual tax break this year is limited to include clothing, footwear and certain accessories selling for $60 or less. Last year’s limit was $100.

Also excluded this year: Computers and computer-related items. Last year, shoppers who purchased a computer during the holiday received a tax break on the first $750 of the sales price.

School supplies up to $15 are exempt.

Expect big crowds

Although Gov. Rick Scott had sought a 10-day tax-free shopping period this year, lawmakers scaled back the holiday to a three-day weekend. Last year’s holiday was 10 days, but historically the tax-break has run for a three-day period.

“Last year, the 10 days gave people a lot of time to spread out their shopping,” said James Miller, a spokesman for the Florida Retail Federation. “This year, is going to be much more compacted.”

Miller said shoppers should plan for larger crowds and longer lines. His advice to those hitting the stores: “Shop smart and do research ahead of time.”

Be prepared to spend more than last year MT-1A_SCHOOL SUPPLIES.JPG

Back-to-school spending is expected to reach $75.8 billion this year, up from $68 billion in 2015, according to the National Retail Federation.

Families of elementary, middle and high school age children plan to spend an average of $673.57 on apparel and accessories, electronics, shoes and school supplies, up 6.8 percent from last year’s $630.36, the federation said.

College students and their families plan to spend an average of $888.71. That’s down slightly from $899.18 last year, the federation said.

Make a list and set a budget to prevent overspending

The bargain-hunting website DealNews.com says parents should make their shopping lists as detailed as possible to help prevent overspending. For example, the site’s experts say avoid including basic terms like “pencils” or “clothing.” Instead, be specific about the quantity, size and styles that you need.

Alexandra De Castro, 12, and her stepmother Rhonda De Castro shop for clothes at the JC Penny store in the Mall at Wellington Green on Aug. 13, the first day of the back-to-school sales tax break. Alexandra will be a 7th grader at Eagles Landing Middle School. Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post

Alexandra De Castro, 12, and her stepmother Rhonda De Castro shop for clothes at the JC Penny store in the Mall at Wellington Green on Aug. 13, the first day of the back-to-school sales tax break. Alexandra will be a 7th grader at Eagles Landing Middle School. Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post

“Having a very clear budget and shopping list will keep you from overspending,” said Benjamin Glaser, an editor with DealNews.

To make sure you are getting the best deal, research prices before heading to the stores, Glaser said.

The tax-break isn’t just for parents and college students

Miller also stresses that the holiday isn’t just for those with school-aged children. The tax break applies to a number of items for adults and employees, including purses, employee uniforms, suits, ties, and safety shoes.

Diapers, diaper bags, and baby clothes are also tax-free during the holiday.

“This is a weekend for everyone, not just people going to school,” Miller said. “I think people will be surprised at the range of items that are available.”