Save Money by Buying College Supplies on Tax-Free Holidays

Textbooks Tax Free Holiday

Textbooks are expensivesome would say ridiculously so. When you take into account the fact that textbooks and supplies are often the largest expense for college students after tuition and room and board, it’s easy to see why some students are reluctant to even buy used textbooks unless they are absolutely essential to academic success.

According to College Board, in the 2016-17 academic year, college textbooks and supplies cost an average of $1,230 to $1,390 per student, as is illustrated by the chart below.

college board expenses chart 2017
As you can see, textbooks are often the third largest single expense for college students. Chart credit to College Board.

Though this number varies significantly by field of study (the humanities tend to pay less that the sciences, etc.) it’s still a hefty chunk no matter your major. As an English major from 2007-11, I paid no less than $400 per semester on textbooks, the bulk of which were used; my brother, a physics major (later a math major), never paid less than $800 per semester, and some semesters he paid more than $1,000 just for books. 

Add in other college essentials like a laptop, required software (the Adobe Suite used to be essential, and expensive, for students, for example), graphing calculator, clothes, and all the other odds and ends, and it’s easy to see that everything adds up.

So what is a cash-strapped college student to do? The good news is, there are a lot of options available to you. Take textbooks, for example: From buying only used textbooks, to buying old editions at significant discounts, to renting, to sharing with friends, there are plenty of ways that you can save money on college reading materials.

Need another way to save money on your books and college supplies? Buy your textbooks and supplies during your state’s tax-free holidays.

What’s a Tax-Free Holiday?

Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like. A lot of states that have a sales tax offer certain days during the year when residents can buy certain eligible items free of sales tax (this usually excludes luxury items, which would encourage the wealthy to take advantage of the holiday).

Tax-free holidays can range from a single day, to a weekend (the most common) to a full week (like in my home state of Connecticut). I’ve outlined the tax-free holiday dates for each state in 2017 below, and will update this list annually so that it reflects current dates. Also included are the items that are exempt from sales tax during this time.

As you can see, most of the tax-free holidays take place during the summer, quite a few during Augustbetter known as back-to-school season. And it makes sense: Politicians in these states wanted to give parents the opportunity to save a bit of money on essentials like school supplies, clothes for growing children, etc.

For college students, you’ll note that this comes just before the fall semester begins, meaning you can apply those same tax savings to your textbooks, so long as the holiday applies to textbooks and school supplies in your state (some are limited to just clothing, etc.). If you notice that your state doesn’t have a tax-free holiday, or that it doesn’t include certain big-ticket items like textbooks or computers, you could always make a trip across the border to a state that does exempt textbooks. Or make the purchases while you’re already on a planned trip to a tax-free state. You’ll potentially save a bundle.

If your school doesn’t give out reading lists until after the tax-free holiday, try to pester professors ahead of time if possible. If you’re really savvy and have already planned out your course load for the following spring semester, you can save even more by buying your textbooks and supplies for both semesters during the tax-free period in your state.

List of Tax-Free Holidays by State

Below are the details for tax-free holidays for 2017. This list will be updated from year to year as applicable. Keep in mind that, as of this writing, Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon have no sales tax, so they of course do not have tax-free holidays. Plus, we’ve pulled together an entire list of  states and Washington D.C. that always exempt college textbooks from sales tax.

Alabama

Dates: July 21-July 23 
Sales Tax Rate: Varies by city, but typical state sales tax is 4%
Maximum costs on eligible items: $100 per clothing item, $750 per computer, $50 per school supply, $30 per book

Arkansas

Dates: August 5-August 6
Sales Tax Rate: 6.5%
Maximum costs on eligible items: No limit on school supplies, $100 per piece of clothing, $50 per clothing accessory and equipment

Connecticut

Dates: August 20-August 26 (A whole week!)
Sales Tax Rate: 6.35%
Maximum costs on eligible items: $100 per piece of clothing or footwear

Florida

Dates: May 28-June 5 (applies to hurricane preparedness supplies) and August 4-August 6
Sales Tax Rate: 6%, though additional county taxes may apply
Maximum costs on eligible items: $60 per piece of clothing or footwear, $15 per school supply, $750 per computer

Iowa

Dates: August 4-August 5
Sales Tax Rate: 6%, though individual city or county taxes may raise the tx rate to a max of 7%
Maximum costs on eligible items: $100 per piece of clothing or footwear

Maryland

Dates: August 13-August 19
Sales Tax Rate: 6%
Maximum costs on eligible items: $100 per piece of clothing or footwear

Massachusetts

Dates: August 12-August 13
Sales Tax Rate: 6.25%
Maximum costs on eligible items: $100 per piece of clothing or footwear

Mississippi

Dates: July 28-July 29
Sales Tax Rate: 7%
Maximum costs on eligible items: $100 per piece of clothing or footwear

Missouri

Dates: August 4-August 6
Sales Tax Rate: 4.225%
Maximum costs on eligible items: $100 per piece of clothing or footwear, $50 per school supply, $350 for computer software, $1,500 per computer, $1,500 for computer accessories, $150 for graphing calculators

New Mexico

Dates: August 4-August 6
Sales Tax Rate: 5.125%, though local taxes may raise the tax rate as high as 9.25%
Maximum costs on eligible items: $100 per piece of clothing or footwear, $30 per school supply, $1,000 per computer, $500 for computer equipment

Ohio

Dates: August 4-August 6
Sales Tax Rate: Varies from county to county, from 5.75% to 7.25%
Maximum costs on eligible items: $75 per piece of clothing or footwear, $20 per school supply, $20 for school instructional material

Oklahoma

Dates: August 4-August 6
Sales Tax Rate: State sales tax rate is 4.5%, but varies significantly depending on city and county
Maximum costs on eligible items: $100 per piece of clothing or footwear

South Carolina

Dates: August 4-August 6
Sales Tax Rate: 6%, with county taxes that may raise the rate to a maximum of 7%
Maximum costs on eligible items: No limit on clothing and accessories, school supplies, computers and accessories, or bed and bath items

Tennessee

Dates: July 28-July30
Sales Tax Rate: 7%, but local taxes may raise the rate to 9.75%
Maximum costs on eligible items: $100 per piece of clothing or footwear, $100 per school supply, $1,500 per computer

Texas

Dates: August 11-August 13
Sales Tax Rate: 6.25%, but local taxes can raise rates as high as 8.25%
Maximum costs on eligible items: $100 per piece of clothing or footwear, $100 per backpack, $100 per school supply

Virginia

Dates: August 4-August 6
Sales Tax Rate: 5.3% (4.3% state tax and 1% local county tax)
Maximum costs on eligible items: $100 per piece of clothing or footwear, $20 per school supply

The Bottom Line

If you live in a state that offers a sales-tax-free holiday, whether a day or a weekend or a week, it pays to take advantage of those savings by purchasing your college supplies and textbooks at a discount. Depending on the state you live in, everything from school supplies to clothing to computers and textbooks can be exempt.

To illustrate the point, let’s say you live in Connecticut, where the sales tax is 6.35%. If you spend $1,350 each academic year on textbooks and supplies, then you’ll spend a total of $5,400 over the course of a four-year degree. 6.35% of $5,400 is $342.90. It might not seem like a ton compared to the total amount that you’re stuck paying for your degree, but that is easily equal to one or two months’ of student loan payments. Every dollar counts in your fight against student loans.

For more great tips, check out this article that details more ways to reduce your college expenses!

About Tim Stobierski

Tim Stobierski is the founding editor of Student Debt Warriors. A freelance writer and editor with a passion for teaching people about all things personal finance, his goal is to help parents and students tackle their student loan problems so that they can live happier, healthier lives. Tim’s writing has appeared in a number of publications, including The Huffington Post, The Hartford Courant, Grow Magazine, and others. His first book of poetry, “Chronicles of a Bee Whisperer,” was published in 2012 by River Otter Press.

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