Catch a tax break on back-to-school shopping

HARLINGEN — The annual back-to-school, tax-free weekend kicks off Friday and you’re going to need a scorecard.

Using intuition on just what items are tax-free and which are not just isn’t going to work.

For example, you can buy cowboy boots (yes, tax-exempt) but football cleats (no) and track shoes (no). Fishing and hunting vests (yep) but swim fins (no). School, Scout and work uniforms (yes). Leotards, tights, underwear (yes, yes, yes).

If it’s just school supplies you need, that’s a little easier since almost all of those will be tax-free starting Friday and extending until midnight Sunday.

The other stuff is not so clear-cut.

The special back-to-school tax holiday was created by Texas lawmakers in 1999 to give parents a break when shelling out dollars for their kids prior to starting the school year.

In Harlingen, for example, parents will save 8.25 percent on purchases of exempt items over the three-day holiday. Statewide tax savings for consumers this weekend could break the $100 million mark.

At Hibbett Sports at U.S. Business 83 and West Lincoln Avenue, this weekend is looming bigger than the Cowboys’ home opener, bigger than Texas-Oklahoma, bigger than quinceanaras. Well, maybe not that big.

“It’s crazy-busy — we love it,” said store manager Mari Pedraza. “This is our Christmas in mid-summer.”

When it comes to back-to-school sporting goods, some are covered, and some are not.

“There’s a list that comes out from the State of Texas and it’s actually set already for us,” she said. “It tells you backpacks, yes, duffel bags, no. Cleats are taxable, they don’t qualify.

“It’s nothing that we make up, and it’s kind of hard for customers to understand that sometimes,” she added. “Because they’re like, ‘Well, it’s for school, too!’”

Pedraza said she and her staff will help customers sort through the maze of what’s eligible and what isn’t. A full list can be found at the Texas State Comptroller’s website, https://comptroller.texas.gov/taxes/publications/98-490/

“Absolutely, we have that list and if they have any questions they’re welcome to ask,” Pedraza said. “If they’re looking at equipment, ‘You know what? No these are not tax-free, these are taxable today and through the weekend. But you’re welcome to try them on and purchase them if you need them.’”

The dollar limit for items which are on the tax-free list is $100. For those buying online, you can still receive the tax discount but if shipping kicks your product above the $100 mark, you won’t receive a tax break.

Layaway items also can qualify as tax-free if you are making the final payment on an item already in layaway, or you choose an item to place on layaway.

For Pedraza and Hibbett Sports, these final days before Friday are the lull out front of a shopping tsunami.

“We’ll see the lines here on Friday,” she said. “We’re ready.”

Athletic socks

Backpacks

Baseball caps, jerseys

Baby clothes, diapers

Cowboy boots

Hiking boots

Bras

Dresses

Work uniforms

Fishing, hunting vests

Fishing caps

Football jerseys

Golf caps

Golf dresses

Gym suits and uniform

Jackets

Jeans Leg warmers