Back to School – Tax tips for teachers as the new school year starts.

Back to School 2019 - 2020
Back to school time.

Wow, summer went by fast! Actually, it’s still “summer” and will be summer until Monday, September 23, 2019. And here in Texas, it’ll be summer well into October. But officially, summer break is ending for teachers and student.

All the teachers I know start the new school year with excitement and engagement and then it slowly wanes as the year goes on. Another thing that all the teachers I know spend a lot of money on supplies. Obviously, it would be nice if the schools had the funding to buy all the supplies that are needed in the classroom, but they don’t and the teachers I know pick up the slack.

Well, there’s still good news for teachers. Teachers are still able to deduct some of the supplies they buy for their classrooms. The tax reform law known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that was passed in 2017 took away the ability for employees to deduct business expenses on their own tax returns, but the carve out for teachers remains because this deduction is above the line. That means it is a reduction in calculating adjusted gross income.

So how much can teachers deduct?

Unfortunately, it’s only $250 per teacher ($500 if married filing jointly and both spouses are eligible educators, but no more than $250 per teacher). The teachers I know spend more than this each year so it’s a full deduction, but it is something and you’ll want to save your receipts to support this deduction.

Qualifying expenses?

The expenses that qualify for the deduction include:

  • participation in professional develpment courses,
  • books,
  • supplies,
  • computer equipment (including related software and services),
  • other equipment, and
  • supplemental materials used in the classroom.

If the courses are in health or physical education then the supplies for athletic supplies.

Who is a qualified educator?

Not everyone who works in education qualifies for this deduction. In order to qualify, you must be a qualified educator. This is a technical way of saying that for the tax year the educator is a kindergarten through grade 12 teacher, instructor, counselor, principal or aide for at least 900 hours a school year. Also, the school must provide elementary or secondary education as determined under state law.

Keep an eye on changes for the teachers deduction. There are a few bills being proposed in Congress that might increase the amount of the deduction but right now there’s nothing more than proposals.

As a standard disclaimer, this post is purely educational and not tax advice. You’ll need to speak with your tax preparer or read the instructions to the tax forms to make sure you qualify and the expenses qualify each year.

You can also find more information in IRS Topic No. 458 – Educator Expense Deduction.

My Twitter friend Kay Bell also has a post that goes into more details on the proposed legislation in her Don’t Mess with Taxes blog.