Families hit the stores to make the most of Iowa's annual sales-tax holiday

Tara Sundberg does some back-to-school shopping Friday with her son Noah, 16, at the Kohl's in the Metro Crossing shopping center in Council Bluffs.

Tara Sundberg of Bellevue typically does some shopping in Iowa over the state's tax-free weekend, but this year was different.

As a civilian employee at Offutt Air Force Base, Sundberg was on furlough Friday because of government spending cuts. She was busy shopping at the Kohl's store at Metro Crossing shopping center in Council Bluffs with her 16-year-old son, Noah, for back-to-school clothes, including shorts, T-shirts and long-sleeved shirts.

“We're getting furloughed, so I've got to save every penny,” Sundberg said. “What better to do when you're not making money than to spend some money?”

Sundberg was just one of many Nebraskans and Iowans taking advantage of Iowa's two-day break from state sales tax, which typically takes place before school starts. Because Iowa residency is not a requirement, Nebraska shoppers can take advantage of Iowa's tax holiday, which ends today at midnight.

The exemption applies to certain clothing and footwear items priced under $100 per item, and is allowed on each item under $100, regardless of how many are on the same receipt.

This year, the Iowa Department of Revenue changed how it calculates the holiday's sales tax savings to shoppers, agency spokeswoman Victoria Daniels said. Based on its most recent data, Iowa's Revenue Department estimates that in 2010 shoppers saved $4.4 million in sales tax during the two-day holiday, now in its 14th year.

Iowa removes the state sales tax of 6 percent and any local sales taxes (1 percent in Council Bluffs).

“We've been hopping,” said Mall of the Bluffs housekeeping manager Linda Gentry, adding that the mall seemed busier than it was during last year's tax-free holiday. “Everybody likes to be able to save some money.” She said the mall was expecting to see even more business today.

Some shoppers were getting busy Friday in order to beat the rush today. Amber Nelson of Council Bluffs was at Target at Metro Crossing around 9:30 a.m. Friday with sons Deric, 12, and Ryan, 5, shopping for back-to-school items, including school supplies. She came early to beat the crowds expected after work Friday and throughout the day today.

“I made them get up early to come,” she said of her two sons.

Items that aren't eligible for the tax exemption include school supplies, backpacks, watches, jewelry, umbrellas, sporting equipment and any special clothing or footwear intended primarily for athletic activity.

A sampling of qualifying items: bow ties, household aprons, baby bibs, diapers, receiving blankets, bowling shirts, lingerie, chef's uniforms, clerical vestments, golf clothing, hats, lab coats, pajamas, ponchos, robes, running shoes without cleats, Scout uniforms, bathing suits, ties, underwear and uniforms for work and school.

Amy Smith and her sons Gabe, 13, and Zane, 7, of Bellevue were also shopping for back-to-school clothes at Target on Friday. Zane was eager to pick out a new pencil box for the coming school year. Smith said she has come to Iowa for the tax-free holiday in the past.

“Even if it's $20 or $30, it's worth it,” she said of the savings.

Iowans and Nebraskans alike were taking advantage of the tax break. Carrie Murdock of Woodbine, Iowa, and her 5-year-old son, Connor, and 7-year-old daughter, Addison, went to Kohl's Friday before shopping at Target. She estimated the family had saved about $300 at Kohl's with coupons and tax savings combined. Only store coupons and discounts can be used to reduce the price of an item and qualify for the sales tax exemption; manufacturer coupons do not qualify. Murdock said she planned to also stop at Famous Footwear.

Melissa Miller of Council Bluffs was shopping at Target at Metro Crossing for shoes, back-to-school clothes and new swimsuits for her kids, Lydia, 7, and Isaiah, 5. Two-year-old Julia was also in tow.

“It is a good deal,” Miller said. “Why not come over the border and take advantage?” she said of Nebraska shoppers.

World-Herald staff writer Janice Podsada contributed to this report.

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