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Editorial: Tax-free week set to begin

Maryland's version of giving struggling families a break with their back-to-school purchase costs arrives Sunday with the state's tax-free week, but with the limits imposed many shoppers can probably find better deals going to neighboring states anyway.

Beginning Sunday and running through midnight Aug. 18, qualifying clothing and shoe purchases costing $100 or less are exempt from Maryland's 6 percent sales tax.

Items costing more than $100 will still be taxable. Accessory items, scarves, purses, jewelry and even backpacks aren't exempt from the tax.

While the small break that the state is giving residents can help ease the cost of some back-to-school essentials, and can offer a boost to local businesses that carry the limited items available for the tax break, the week likely isn't going to keep a lot of shoppers in the state who live near the borders.

Pennsylvania, for instance, doesn't tax clothing. Delaware has no state sales tax. Virginia held a tax-free period from Aug. 3 to Aug 5 where clothing and footwear under $100, and school supplies under $20, were exempt from the state sales tax.

The tax-free week is a good way to keep back-to-school shopping dollars in Maryland, but the state could be doing more to help struggling families. Some states, for instance, have had tax-free periods for such things as computer supplies or other high-cost items that many students now require. Removing the $100 limit on clothing would also be beneficial and could spur additional purchases because if people are looking at clothing items that are beyond the $100 limit, they are more likely to shop outside the state or even make their purchases through online retailers in order to avoid the taxes.

Despite the shortfalls, Maryland residents will have a week to take advantage of savings on some items, and that is going to help many families extend their back-to-school shopping budgets.

More information on the tax-free week, as well as a list of exempt and taxable items, is available on the comptroller's website at http://www.marylandtaxes.com.

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