published Saturday, August 2nd, 2014

Tax-free deals lure Chattanooga area shoppers

Heather Wheatley, left, and her daughter, Nora, 2, take advantage of tax free shopping for back-to-school supplies at the Dollar General on Dayton Boulevard in Red Bank on Friday. Tax-free shopping will last through Sunday.
Heather Wheatley, left, and her daughter, Nora, 2, take advantage of tax free shopping for back-to-school supplies at the Dollar General on Dayton Boulevard in Red Bank on Friday. Tax-free shopping will last through Sunday.
Photo by Shawn Paik.
Poll
Are you shopping for school supplies this weekend?

What's tax exempt

* Alabama: Clothing under $100, computers under $750, school supplies under $50 and books under $30. Shoppers statewide will save 4 percent by not paying sales tax, and most counties and municipalities are waiving local sales tax as well, saving shoppers, on average, 8 percent across the state.

* Georgia: Clothing under $100, computers under $1,000 and school supplies under $20. Shoppers will save almost 7 percent by not paying sales tax.

* Tennessee: Clothing under $100, computers under $1,500 and school supplies under $100. Shoppers will save almost 10 percent by not paying sales tax.

The tax holiday continues until 11:59 p.m. Sunday in Alabama and Tennessee and until 11:59 p.m. today in Georgia.

Grandmother Lorraine Joyner was among many area residents taking advantage of tax-free purchases for school supplies Friday.

"We are certainly saving a lot," she said while shopping with her daughter and three grandchildren at the Family Dollar off Willow Street in Chattanooga. "We are able to get the backpack and school uniform that my granddaughter needs for Orchard Knob [Elementary] this fall a lot cheaper."

This weekend marks the annual end-of-summer, tax-free shopping opportunities in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. At stores across the region, lines are longer, people are buying more than usual and shoppers can check their receipts and smile.

The tax holidays exist to support back-to-school shopping, and clothes, computers and school supplies qualify for the exemption.

"Reducing the tax burden on hardworking families has always been a top priority of mine," Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said in a news release.

Shopper Candice Fletcher also planned to take advantage of the weekend, even though she is not shopping for school.

"I am going to get off work today and go buy a pair of jeans," Fletcher said. "I may even get a few new shirts since it's cheaper now than if I wait."

The Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan research institution based in Washington, D.C., is not as enthusiastic about the tax holiday idea as most shoppers.

"The popularity of the tax-free holiday does not mean that they are good for everyone," said Liz Malm, an economist with the Tax Foundation.

Governments say these weekends promote economic growth, but that is not true, Malm said.

"It just shifts purchasing time," she said. "A better way to do sales tax is to not offer haphazard exemptions and to instead tax more things at a lower rate that is less discretionary.

"If you have to offer a holiday from your tax system, then there is something wrong with it from the beginning," said Malm.

Such criticisms aside, the Hamilton Place J.C. Penney store was "very busy," according to store manager Marty Smith. "People are wanting to take advantage of this weekend."

The children's department was the busiest of all the store's departments Friday, but clerks also were selling a lot of shoes and book bags, Smith said.

"It is obvious that moms are here for back-to-school shopping, and we hope to remain busy all weekend," he said.

Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at kendi.anderson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

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