Tax-free weekend eases school shopping

The annual sales tax holiday is coming up this weekend in North and South Carolina, bringing with it the unofficial kick-off to the back-to-school shopping season and a chance to save at least a little money.

That never hurts, particularly in the current economy.

Friday through Sunday, a range of items will be exempt from sales tax, which is 7.25 percent in Mecklenburg County and slightly less elsewhere. The sales tax is 7 percent in York, Lancaster and Chester counties in South Carolina.

Saving 7 percent isn't the most immense discount in the world. But the chance to avoid paying tax – an American pastime since, well, forever – still lures shoppers.

“There's something (psychological) about a sales tax holiday that goes beyond the amount of money actually saved,” said J. Craig Shearman, spokesman for the National Retail Federation.

That said, enthusiasm for the tax-free sprees tends to drop off in the years following their debuts. South Carolina began its tax holiday in 2000, and North Carolina's started in 2002. Thirteen other states and Washington, D.C., also have some form of tax holiday.

Most, including North Carolina, place a price limit on items, including a maximum of $100 per piece of clothing; South Carolina does not. If you head to the store and can only get a rain check, you're out of luck, unless the item returns to shelves before the weekend is out: Only items purchased during the tax holiday weekend qualify.

Items bought online, over the phone or through mail order are tax-free, as long as you buy during the tax holiday.

Rental items and products used in trade or business don't count. Most electronics aren't eligible, either: Sorry, that iPhone is definitely not exempt.

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