Tax Tips for Teachers: Deducting Out-of-Pocket Classroom Expenses
When it comes to making sure students have the tools for successful learning, school teachers commonly dip into their own pockets to pay for classroom materials. Fortunately, the Educator Expense Tax Deduction can offer teachers some financial relief.
• You may qualify for the Educator Expense Deduction if you spent money on qualified educator expenses while working at least 900 hours as a teacher, instructor, counselor, principal or aide for students in a K-12 school certified by the state.
• You can claim the Educator Expense Deduction regardless of whether you take the Standard Deduction or itemize your tax deductions.
• The maximum deduction is $300 for one teacher (tax year 2023). Two married teachers filing a joint return can take a deduction of up to $300 apiece, for a maximum of $600.
• Unreimbursed employee expenses in excess or that don't qualify for the Educator Expense Deduction aren't typically deductible on your federal tax return. However, certain states do allow deductions for certain qualifying expenses as a state tax deduction. These states include Alabama, Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Minnesota, New York, and Pennsylvania.
The Educator Expense Tax Deduction
The primary tax break for teachers is the Educator Expense Deduction. To qualify for the Educator Expense Deduction for a given year, you need to meet three criteria:
- You worked as a teacher, instructor, counselor, principal, or aide for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
- You worked at least 900 hours at a school certified by a state to provide elementary or secondary education. This applies to public, private, and religious schools.
- You spent money on qualified educator expenses.
The first requirement prevents college or other post-secondary teachers from claiming the deduction, while the second means that the deduction isn't available to homeschooling parents.
Qualifying educator expenses
Examples of items eligible for the Educator Expense Deduction include:
- School supplies
- Computer equipment (webcams, headset) and software
- Athletic equipment for physical education teachers
- Other purchased items that are appropriate for and helpful to the students and classroom
You can deduct classroom expenses only if you haven't received reimbursement for them. If a school, teachers union, parent-teacher association or someone else paid you back for the money you spent on classroom materials, you can't deduct it.
COVID-19 related expenses
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), sanitizer, plexiglass, and disinfectant used to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are allowed as deductions under the Educator Expense Deduction.
Claiming tax deductions
Teachers can claim the Educator Expense Deduction regardless of whether they take the Standard Deduction or itemize their tax deductions.
For the 2023 tax year:
- A teacher can deduct a maximum of $300
- Two married teachers filing a joint return can take a deduction of up to $300 apiece, for a maximum of $600
For federal taxes for tax years through 2017:
- Your potential deduction isn't necessarily limited to $250 (amount prior to 2022) per teacher—so don't stop keeping track at $250. That's because your expenses in excess of $250 can count as "unreimbursed employee expenses."
- If you itemize you deductions, “Job expenses and certain miscellaneous deductions” are typically eligible as a deduction.
- This category of deductions has to exceed 2% of your adjusted gross income and can include unreimbursed employee expenses, union dues, investment expenses, tax preparation fees, and certain other expenses to get over the 2% threshold.
TurboTax Tip: Private tutors are typically considered self-employed and can deduct expenses that are both ordinary and necessary to their education business on Schedule C.
Reducing your Educator Expense Deduction
Under certain circumstances, you may have to reduce your Educator Expense Deduction. Your deduction is reduced by:
- Interest on US savings bonds that you were able to receive tax-free because you used the money to pay for higher education expenses
- Distributions from 529 plans that you didn't have to report as taxable income
- Tax-free withdrawals from Coverdell education savings accounts
Job-related teacher expenses for certain states
Can teachers write off a home office due to virtual teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic? At the federal level, those that are employed as teachers are unable to write-off unreimbursed employee expenses like a home office. However, if you live in one of the 7 states that opted to keep their own version of this tax benefit, you are in luck. The following states provide for a deduction on their respective state income tax returns:
- New York
The deduction is available on state taxes only as a miscellaneous itemized deduction, if you exceed the Standard Deduction limit.
Remember that in order to deduct home office expenses, you have to have a dedicated space that you use exclusively for your job. For example, if you work at your kitchen table, it won't qualify.
Keep in mind that depending on which home office deduction method you choose, you may be able to deduct utilities too, like your internet bills. Keep track of all of these items.
Keeping track of expenses
Keeping good records of all your classroom expenses is key to claiming your tax-deductible educator expenses.
- Save your receipts in a separate file.
- Consider recording all eligible purchases in an appointment book or planner.
- Try using special colors or codes so that you can find them easily.
Schedule C: Private tutors and pandemic pod teachers
Are you a teacher that also offers tutoring on the side? Private tutors who offer services to work with students in-person or virtually with distance-learning are typically considered self-employed and can deduct expenses that are both ordinary and necessary to their education business on Schedule C. If you provide tutoring, learn more about whether you are considered self-employed as a tutor, the tax implications, and possible deductions.
To understand more about tax deductions, visit our Self-Employed Tax Deduction Calculator for Tutors.
With TurboTax Live Full Service, a local expert matched to your unique situation will do your taxes for you start to finish. Or, get unlimited help and advice from tax experts while you do your taxes with TurboTax Live Assisted.
And if you want to file your own taxes, you can still feel confident you'll do them right with TurboTax as we guide you step by step. No matter which way you file, we guarantee 100% accuracy and your maximum refund.