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The Only 4%-Off Sale Consumers Go Wild For

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Bargain-hunting consumers have learned in recent years to pass up small sales and wait for 40% off or better. The rare exception: state sales tax holidays, which have the power to bring shoppers out in droves.

Sixteen states are offering holidays this year (see the full list below), and the first, Mississippi’s, runs July 29 and 30. In most years, the 4% to 6% most consumers save during such a holiday isn’t worth the gas to get to the mall. But this year, with retailers’ back-to-school sales kicking in early and a less-than-stellar economic outlook, shopping while the tax is waived is a smart move, says Jeff Green, an independent retail analyst. “Everything is already on sale, and probably as low as it’s going to go, once you hit August 1,” he says.

The National Retail Federation expects consumers will spend slightly less this year due to economic constraints, and even a 4% savings knocks $24.15 off the average family’s $603.63 tab for back-to-school spending. (If you have a college student, that’s at least $32.35 off their $808.71 in supplies.)

But shoppers hoping to snag deals during their state’s holiday must contend with another back-to-school issue: homework. States often have detailed lists of what qualifies for the tax exemption and what doesn’t within a broader category like clothing or school supplies, says Carol Kokinis-Graves, an attorney and senior analyst for tax advisory firm CCH. Some might include say, handbags or athletic gear, while others exclude them. (Follow the links in our state list below for the full details on each holiday.)

Unfortunately, you may also have some sales tax to contend with. States often leave it up to individual cities and counties to decide whether to waive their portion of the tax, Kokinis-Graves says. That portion can still be substantial. New Mexico doesn’t require retailers to participate, either. Check your local news or the state department of revenue to see what’s going on in your area before you decide which local mall or stores to visit.

Here are the details on the 16 state sales tax holidays:

Alabama

Aug. 5-7, save 4%

  • Clothing with a sales price of $100 or less
  • Computers and computer software priced at $750 or less
  • School supplies, art supplies and instructional materials worth up to $50
  • Books with a sales price of $30 or less

Arkansas

Aug. 6-7, save 6%

  • Clothing under $100
  • Clothing accessories under $50
  • Eligible school supplies, art supplies, instructional materials of any price

Connecticut

Aug. 21-27, save 6.35%

  • Clothing and footwear with a sales price $300 or less

Florida

Aug. 12-14, save 6%

  • Clothing with a sales price of $75 or less
  • School supplies with a sales price of $15 or less

Iowa

Aug. 5-6, save 6%

  • Clothing and footwear priced at $100 or less

Louisiana

Aug. 5-6, save 4%

  • · All “tangible personal property” worth $2,500 or less, except vehicles, meals and services.

Maryland

Aug. 14-20, save 6%

  • · Clothing and footwear with a price of $100 or less

Mississippi

July 29-30, save 7%

  • Clothing and footwear priced at $100 or less

Missouri

August 5-7, save 4.225%

  • Clothing priced at $100 or less per item
  • School supplies worth up to $50
  • Computer software worth $350 or less
  • Computers and computer supplies priced at up to $3,500

New Mexico

Aug. 5-7, save 5.125%

  • Clothing and footwear with a sales price of less than $100
  • School supplies priced at $15 or less
  • Computers worth up to $1,000
  • Computer supplies priced at $500

North Carolina

Aug. 5-7, save 4.75%

  • Clothing and with a sales price of $100 or less
  • School supplies priced at $100 or less
  • School instructional materials with a price of up to $300
  • Sports and recreational equipment priced at $50
  • Computers with a price of $3,500 or less
  • Computer supplies with a sales price of $250 or less

Oklahoma

Aug. 5-7, save 4.5%

  • Clothing and footwear with a price of less than $100

South Carolina

Aug, 5-7, save 6%

  • Clothing, accessories and footwear of any price
  • School supplies of any price
  • Computers, printers, printer supplies and computer software of any price
  • Bed linens, pillows, bath towels, shower curtains and bath rugs of any price.

Tennessee

Aug. 5-7, save 7%

  • Clothing priced at $100 or less
  • School supplies and art supplies with a sales price of $100 or less
  • Computers with price of $1,500 or less

Texas

Aug. 19-21, save 6.25%

  • Clothing and footwear with a sales price of less than $100
  • School backpacks priced at $100 or less

Virginia

Aug. 5-7, save 4%

  • Clothing and footwear with a sales price of $100 or less
  • School supplies with a price of $20 or less

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About Pay Dirt

  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to quentin.fottrell@dowjones.com or tweet @SMPayDirt.

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