Over 2,300 Binghamton University students preordered caps and gowns for commencement this year from Herff Jones, a national company that specializes in manufacturing and selling graduation memorabilia.
Due to an error in the amount of sales tax applied to the orders, each one of those students was overcharged $3.54, totaling over $8,000 in incorrect taxes. According to Yona Benyamini, a representative for Herff Jones, the company is aware of the problem and is working to resolve it.
“It was an accounting error and we are rectifying it immediately,” Benyamini said. “Even though it is a small amount, it was still a mistake, and we’re happy that it came to light.”
Herff Jones is contracted by Barnes & Noble, the company that runs the BU Bookstore in New University Union, which in turn is contracted by the University. Heather Sheffer, the BU bookstore manager, said that all three entities work together before graduation.
“Herff Jones is our provider, and they work closely with the Bookstore and the University to get everything the University wants [students] to wear,” Sheffer said. “They contract with us to take care of everything for [the students].”
In New York state, sales tax is comprised of two components, the state tax and the local tax, the latter of which is determined by individual counties. Under Publication 718-C from the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, Broome County’s tax rate for eligible clothing costing less than $110 only includes the local tax, which is 4 percent.
A detailed list of clothing that is eligible under the document TSB-M-06(6)S includes “graduation caps and gowns” under exempt items. A representative from the New York State Sales Tax information center confirmed in a call with Pipe Dream that graduation caps and gowns, purchased under $110 and delivered to Broome County, are eligible for the state tax exemption.
Each online preorder for a cap and gown from Herff Jones came out to $88.50 and should have been taxed at 4 percent as a result of the aforementioned laws. However, an 8 percent tax was applied to the subtotal, resulting in $7.08 being added to the total, which is $3.54 more than what they are allowed to charge.
Each student who was overcharged will have the $3.54 refunded to the credit card used for the purchase, according to Benyamini. All students who preordered online, including those who had the cap and gown shipped to their home address, will be issued refunds by the end of the business day on Friday.
Elliot Kamlet, a lecturer of accounting at BU, said that sales tax in general is very complicated and mistakes like this are frequently made.
“The question becomes, why are they doing it?” Kamlet said. “And the likely answer is because it is as confusing for them as anyone else.”
Elisabeth Gray, the director of special events and commencement at BU, said that Herff Jones has been a longtime supplier on campus and that this has not changed the relationship the University has with the company.
“Yona [Benyamini] and Herff Jones truly have the students’ best interests in mind,” Gray wrote in an email. “I without a doubt know they will reimburse all students for the discrepancy.”