The Educator Expenses Tax Deduction
Eligible Teachers Can Claim up to $250
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) radically revamped the 1040 tax form in 2018 and revised it again for the 2019 tax year. Now the deduction for educator expenses appears on line 10 of the new 1040 Schedule 1. The total adjustments to income from Schedule 1, line 22, is transferred to line 8a of Form 1040.
Claiming the Deduction
The Internal Revenue Service allows you to claim the educator expenses deduction if you’re a teacher and you’ve paid for classroom supplies or other materials out of your own pocket during the tax year.
Because it's an adjustment to income, you don't have to go through all the fuss and trouble of itemizing to claim it. It also reduces your adjusted gross income (AGI), which is important because you can become ineligible for certain tax benefits if your AGI is too high.
You can still subtract the standard deduction or the total of your itemized deductions from your AGI to arrive at your taxable income. Adjustments to income, including the educator expense deduction, are in addition to these two other tax breaks.
Qualifying for the Deduction
You must be a teacher, aide, instructor, counselor, or principal to qualify for the educator expense deduction, and you must have worked in a school certified by your state for at least 900 hours during the school year. The school can be a public, private, or religious institution.
If you begin your teaching career in September, you most likely would not be able to claim the deduction in that year because you would not reach 900 hours by Dec. 31.
Only grade school and high school educators qualify. People with homeschool, preschool, or college educator costs don't qualify for this deduction.
What Expenses Can Be Deducted?
Most things you spend money on as an educator qualify for the deduction, provided that you bought them for use in your classroom and your school or teacher’s union has not reimbursed you for them. The supplies must be “ordinary and necessary.” This means they're items commonly accepted and used in a classroom and your students benefited from them.
Some common deductible expenses include:
- Computer equipment, software, and services
- Supplementary materials used in the classroom
- Health or physical education courses related to athletics
You can also deduct the costs of professional development courses you take—again presuming that no one reimburses you.
The U.S. Department of Education reported in 2018 that the average teacher's out-of-pocket spending on school supplies is $479. However, the amount you can claim as an educator expense is capped at $250 for the 2019 tax year. If both you and your spouse are educators, you can each claim up to $250 in expenses for a total of $500 on a joint tax return.
One spouse can't claim $300 while the other spouse claims $200 for the $500 total. Each spouse's qualifying expenses are capped at $250.
Other Restrictions and Limitations
Although you can claim up to $250 in expenses, your deduction can be reduced by certain factors.
If you used tax-advantaged funds to pay for your own schooling or professional development courses, such as a Coverdell education savings account, you must subtract these amounts from your deduction.
If you've excluded any interest earned on Series EE or I U.S. savings bonds from your taxable income because you used the money to pay for educational expenses, your deduction is limited to the amount of your teaching expenses that exceed this amount.
Employee Business Expenses
Through tax year 2017, you could deduct the difference as unreimbursed employee business expenses if you had classroom expenses in excess of this limit, but that required that you itemize your deductions and it was a miscellaneous deduction. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminated that deduction beginning in 2018.
However, the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015 made the above-the-line educator expense deduction permanent and indexed it for inflation, too, although the limit remained at $250 from 2015 to 2019.
Keep Accurate Records
It’s a good idea to keep a file dedicated to your educator expenses. Save receipts and make notes as to what you purchased, when you made the purchases, and why.
The information contained in this article is not tax or legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. Tax laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect the most recent changes to the law. For current tax or legal advice, please consult with an accountant or an attorney.
IRS. "Schedule 1." Accessed April 23, 2020.
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IRS. "Publication 17 (2019), Your Federal Income Tax." Accessed April 23, 2020.
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U.S. Department of Education. "Public School Teacher Spending on Classroom Supplies," Page 2. Accessed April 23, 2020.
TurboTax. "Tax Tips for Teachers: Deducting Out-of-Pocket Classroom Expenses." Accessed April 23, 2020.
Intuit. "Tax Lessons for Teachers." Accessed April 23, 2020.