Price break vs. tax break

  • Posted: Tuesday, July 8, 2014 6:55 a.m.

Deadlines make things happen, especially when tax savings are involved. For the past several years, North Carolina parents have learned to get a lot of back-to-school shopping done on the tax-free weekend in early August.

Prepare to retrain yourselves, parents.

The tax-free weekend fell victim to the tax overhaul approved by the N.C. General Assembly in 2013. The bad news is you’ll have to pay sales tax on back-to-school purchases. The good news is that you can shop throughout the weeks leading up to the start of school on Aug. 25 without missing a tax break.

The National Retail Federation estimates the average person with school-age children will spend $688 on school supplies and clothes this year. State and local sales taxes on that amount make a significant difference — more than $48 in Rowan and Cabarrus, where the rate is 7 percent. (The rate is 7.25 percent in Mecklenburg and 6.75 percent in Davie, Davidson, Iredell and Stanly.)

Instead of limited breaks like the sales tax holidays for back-to-school items or energy-saving appliances — gimmicks, in some people’s view — the legislature went for a simplified tax code that lowered income tax rates and ultimately gave families a bigger tax cut. It’s just less evident at back-to-school time.

Merchants will have a shot at helping families make up the difference. Concord Mills, for example, is offering a deal it touts as “better than tax-free” — a 10 percent discount on back-to-school items on July 25-27. Local Rowan merchants will come up with special offers too.

If you insist on keeping a tax break, all you have to do is drive to South Carolina, which will still offer a sales-tax holiday for back-to-school shopping on Aug 1-3. You’ll just have to burn some $3.40-a-gallon gasoline to get there.

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