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Back-to-school shopping: Which states have tax-free holidays?

Eighteen states will offer back-to-school tax holidays in 2015. Most states are in the South, though there are a couple of oddballs in New England and the Midwest. 

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    Alajandra Lozano shops for back to school supplies in Brownsville, Texas.
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If you're lucky enough to live in a state that offers tax holidays for back-to-school shopping, this is your heads up - the first of those wonderful tax-free weekends began this past Friday, and your favorite retailers are likely to be wooing you with some of the best back-to-school sales of the season.

We found 17 states that have confirmed their back-to-school tax holidays for 2015, plus one that probably will sometime in the next few days. Most tax holiday states are in the south, though there are a couple oddballs in New England and the Midwest.

Tax-free weekends everywhere tend to have a few interesting common features. Most will let you put items on layaway tax-free. Or if you make a final payment on a layaway item during the tax holiday, you'll get out of state sales tax that way, too. And online purchases are subject to the exemption, too, if you live in a tax holiday state.

There are a few nuanced points to be aware of while looking through this list, however.

Most states will enforce a dollar limit on purchases in certain categories. For example, a common limit we see is for clothing up to $100. What that actually means can vary from one state to the next, however, and sometimes even from one product category to another. For a dress costing $110, one state may exempt the sales tax on the first $100 of the sale, meaning you'd only pay taxes on the $10 left over. Another state may simply exclude that same dress from being eligible for the exemption since it's priced over the $100 threshold.

Another difference lies in whether "priced under $100" includes or excludes a price tag of exactly $100. Speaking literally, "under $100" would mean that $99.99 is eligible, but $100.00 is not. Remember that sales tax holidays are written and voted upon by state governments, and the law can be very literal.

Finally, remember that it's only state sales tax that is on holiday. If you pay city, county or other local taxes, you'll still see those on your receipt.

In short, you should always, always read the fine print so you aren't surprised at the cash register.

One more thing before we jump into the list: If you're looking to buy a wedding dress or stock up on disposable diapers, inexplicably, Oklahoma will be the place to go. Seriously.

States with Tax-Free Back-to-School Shopping in 2015:

Alabama

When: August 7-9
What: Certain school supplies, computers, and clothing
Notes: Not all counties will participate, so check this list of participating counties before you shop.
More Info

Arkansas

When: August 1-2 [PASSED]
What: Certain clothing and footwear, clothing accessories, school supplies, art supplies and instructional materials.
Note: Various spending limits apply on all eligible items.
More Info

Connecticut

When: August 16-22 (1 week beginning on the 3rd Sunday in August)
What: Clothing and Footwear costing less than $300 per item
Note: Does not include accessories or athletic clothing.
More Info

Florida

When: August 7-16
What: Clothing, footwear, certain accessories, school supplies, personal computers and computer-related accessories
Note: Various spending limits apply on all eligible items.
More Info

Georgia

When: July 31-August 1 [PASSED]
What: Clothing, footwear, computers, computer components, software, school supplies, art supplies, school computer supplies, and instructional materials
Note: Various spending limits apply on all eligible items.
More Info

Iowa

When: August 7-8
What: Select clothing and footwear
Note: Various spending limits apply on all eligible items.
More Info

Louisiana

When: August 7-8
What: Just about any physical object you can buy, up to $2,500.
Note: Exceptions include cars, restaurant-prepared meals, and most service-oriented purchases like hotel rooms, dry cleaning or event tickets. Additionally, since the exemption only applies to state sales tax, shoppers can still expect to pay local taxes on their purchases.
More Info

Maryland

When: August 9-15
What: Qualifying clothing and footwear up to $100
Note: School supplies are still taxable.
More Info

Massachusetts

When: August 15-16 is likely, but unconfirmed so far
What: Most items up to $2,500
Note: Massachusetts has had sales tax holidays in the past, including last year, but the legislature has a habit of not approving it until the last minute. As of today, Mass Live says it's been approved by a "key committee" and may be up for a House vote this week. Fingers crossed!

Mississippi

When: July 31-August 1 [PASSED]
What: Clothing and footwear priced under $100.
Note: The cities of Enterprise and Heidelberg are not participating.
More Info

Missouri

When: August 7-9
What: Clothing, school supplies, computers
Note: Several cities, counties and districts will not be participating. The Missouri Department of Revenue has complete lists you can check.
More Info

New Mexico

When: August 7-9
What: Qualifying tangible personal property
Note: Various spending limits apply on all eligible items, and every category includes items that are excluded by state law.
More Info

Ohio

When: August 7-9
What: Clothing, school supplies and instructional materials
Note: Various spending limits apply on all eligible items.
More Info

Oklahoma

When: August 7-9
What: Select clothing and footwear up to $100
Note: It's a great weekend to stock up on tax-free diapers in Oklahoma. And if you're looking to buy a wedding dress, wedding apparel will be tax-free this weekend as well. However, clothing meant for athletic use is not. See the Oklahoma Tax Commission's website for a complete list of tax-exempt items.
More Info

South Carolina

When: August 7-9
What: Clothing, accessories, footwear, school supplies, computers, computer peripherals, software, and bed and bath textiles
Note: Accessories includes hats, scarves, hosiery and handbags, but does not include jewelry, wallets or eyeglasses.
More Info

Tennessee

When: August 7-9
What: Clothing, school supplies and computers
Note: Various spending limits apply on all eligible items.
More Info

Texas

When: August 7-9
What: Most clothing, footwear, school supplies and backpacks priced under $100
Note: Texas excludes clothing and footwear designed primarily for athletic use, but makes a nice distinction between athletic apparel and stuff that's more equipment than apparel. For example, a football jersey would be tax-free, but football pads and pants are not. Running shoes are tax-free, but track shoes and cleats are not.
More Info

Virginia

When: August 7-9
What: School supplies, clothing, footwear, hurricane and emergency preparedness items, Energy Star and WaterSense Items
Note: Virginia previously had three separate tax holidays for back-to-school, hurricane preparedness and energy efficiency initiatives, but for 2015 they decided to roll it all up into a single weekend.
More Info

If you don't see your state on this list, there are a few other options to consider. Five states - Alaska, Montana, New Hampshire and Delaware - have no state sales tax at all, ever. And for back-to-school wardrobes, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, New York and Vermont all exempt certain clothing, footwear and accessories from state sales tax year round. Not a bad deal at all!

This article first appeared in Brad's Deals.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best personal finance bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link in the blog description box above.

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