HUNTSVILLE, Alabama -- Shoppers getting ready for the new school year can buy certain school supplies, computers and clothing the first weekend in August - and get a tax break - during Alabama's seventh annual sales tax holiday for school-related supplies.
The tax-free period begins at 12:01 a.m. Aug. 3 and ends at midnight Aug. 5. Certain items are exempt from the state's four percent sales tax as well as sales taxes in Huntsville, Madison and Madison County, which are among the local governments participating.
A record 272 local governments participated last year. As of July 11, 248 municipalities had notified the Alabama Revenue Department they were participating.
Nancy Dennis, public relations director of the Alabama Retail Association, said some elements make this year different:
-- By law, the first day of instruction can be no earlier than Aug. 20 for Alabama's public schools. That means the tax holiday will fall two weeks before the start of school, "prime time to be shopping, especially for school clothes, which is one of the top sellers during the weekend," Dennis said.
In past years, the holiday has landed on the weekend before school starts, and some retailers, Dennis said, thought that was too late for most families to take advantage of the holiday.
"A later school start date should mean better sales," Dennis said.
-- All of the surrounding states are having sales tax holidays this year and the last time each of those states had a tax-free holiday was in 2007, Dennis said.
Florida and Tennessee have scheduled tax-free holidays the same weekend as Alabama's, Dennis said, the Mississippi holiday is next weekend (July 27-29) and Georgia's is the weekend after Alabama's.
"Georgia residents along our borders should still take advantage of Alabama's sales tax holiday and have two tax-free shopping weekends," she said. "I'd suggest they come to Alabama for school supplies.
"Those along the Mississippi border may want to come over to Alabama to take advantage of our tax holiday on school supplies, books and computers, none of which is covered in their state. Florida also doesn't offer tax savings on computers or books."
Apparel will still be the biggest seller, with items that match school dress codes pulling in the most sales, Dennis said, and laptops, e-readers and tablets should also be popular with shoppers.
Some items that people still might overlook that are eligible for tax savings are underwear, including baby diapers; flash drives, printers and printer ink; acrylic, tempora and oil paints used for art; and any book under $30.
Dennis said Alabama sales generally represent 1.5 percent of all retail sales nationally, and the National Retail Federal is predicting $83.8 billion will be spent nationwide on back-to-school shopping for students in grades K-12 and college.
"If that prediction proves true, about $1.2 billion will be spent to equip and outfit students in our state this year," she said.