5 On Your Side

Student Has Problems With Tax-Free Weekend Purchase

Posted October 3, 2007 5:45 p.m. EDT

WRAL 5 On Your Side

— From clothes to computers, shoppers save during the state's tax free holiday.

That adds up to anywhere from $8-$11 million dollars a year. But as least one computer company isn't exactly following the state's rules.

Two brand new Dell laptops - MBA student Justin Paul would gladly trade both for one that works.

“I'm really frustrated,” Paul said.

But that’s not why he originally called 5 On Your Side. The first problem came when he ordered this laptop from a Dell kiosk during the tax free weekend in August.

“It's a requirement to have a new laptop, so I thought I’d get it during tax free weekend and try and save some money going back to school,” Paul said.

He paid $1,280 for it, plus $74 in sales tax. He said the Dell representative told him once they verified his address, they would remove the tax.

“A couple days later I got an order confirmation email. The sales tax was still there, so what I did, I went ahead and called Dell and they told me that it would be removed on the invoice,” Paul said.

But it was on the invoice.

“They said it was, you know, some kind of problem in their system and they're gonna try and work it out,” Paul said.

Meanwhile, problem number two developed.

“About 2 weeks after I had gotten it, it crashed, I rebooted it and it said that there was a start-up error and it would try to fix it. I would restart and I would get the same start up error, so it's kind of a big cycle of not being able to start up,” Paul said.

When Paul called, Dell sent a new computer. He says that one never worked.

“I just pretty much at this point, I want them to take their computers back and go with a different brand,” Paul said.

WRAL’s 5 on Your Side called Dell. The company agreed to a full refund and had already credited Paul for the tax overcharge. But Paul said he wonders how many others were charged the tax.

The answer: to some extent, everyone who bought a Dell. Company spokesman Bob Kaufman said that's how they operate during tax free weekends. The tax is charged, and then later refunded.

According to North Carolina's Department of Revenue, that's not allowed. A spokesman said companies cannot charge tax on any items on the tax free list.

But he admits, when they do, the only repercussion is that his department calls the company and tells them they're not following the rules.

Ultimately, it’s up to the consumer to get the refund.

Paul said he doesn't think that's right, and he just wants to move on.

“I'm really surprised. I always heard Dell made good computers and had really good customer service and it seems like I got the opposite for both,” he said.

Paul said he was still waiting for his refund.

Another Dell customer complained to 5 On Your Side about this same tax issue. After our call, Dell refunded him nearly $270 for the sales tax he was charged. That refund came nearly two months after he bought his computers.

Kaufman from Dell said about 70 percent of people who bought on the tax free weekend had the tax removed or refunded before the invoice was sent. He added that they were trying to update some of their IT systems to make this happen all the time.