Tax-free back-to-school weekend: is it really "tax-free"?

As crowds poured into the Capital Mall in Jefferson City for some tax-free back-to-school shopping on Saturday, the economic benefits to the mall's stores were apparent.

Few people left the mall empty-handed - parents and their children carrying out boxes and bags of clothes and school supplies, not subject to the state's sales tax for this weekend only.

One store manager said the mall saw nearly 50% more foot traffic than it usually does. "We were just so busy... from start to finish, open to close, it's been long lines from the beginning of the day," said Devon Henry, assistant manager of Pretzelmaker.

At many stores throughout the mall, colorful signs advertised the nature of the weekend's shopping event. The signs read, "Tax-free". The first weekend in august, the state does not levy a sales tax - this year's exemptions included clothing purchases under $100, school supplies up to $50, and computer purchases of up to $3500.

The potential savings were enough to get a lot of people to spend. However, there was a bit more to tax-free weekend than met the eye.

Some stores don't sell back-to-school merchandise, but found a way to profit from the influx of shoppers, by offering them deals on their own merchandise coinciding with the annual tax-break. Kitchen Collection offered customers 10 percent off their entire purhase, a move that manager Patti Dudenhoffer says was good for business. "It's affected our store by bringing in probably 30 percent more customers."

What shoppers may not realize, however, is that their purchase isn't completely tax-free. Even though the state tax is waived on some back-to-school items, if the county chooses not to participate, it can still levy its own sales tax on shoppers. In Cole County, for example, shoppers are still subject to the county's 1.5% sales tax, even on a "tax-free" weekend.

Some people weren't so happy, and felt cheated. "I don't like that. If they're saying it's a tax-free weekend, it should be totally tax-free, not just partly tax-free," said shopper Lona Johnson. "That's totally misleading."

"That's not tax-free," said shopper Grady Usery. "Tax-free means it's tax-free... you shouldn't be charged, no matter what county you live in."

That means if you make a $100 clothes purchase on back-to-school tax-free weekend in Jefferson City, you will still be taxed $1.50. It may not seem like much, but it's enough to take a second glance at signs that say "tax-free".

The discount on school supplies, clothes, and computers runs through Sunday, August 4.