Tax Deductions for Teachers and Educators

Tax deductions for teachers can cover expenses, retirement plans, and more.

By , J.D. · USC Gould School of Law

If you're a schoolteacher, you probably pay money out of your own pocket for at least some work-related expenses. If not reimbursed by your school-employer, some of these are deductible subject to various limits. There is also a special tax deduction for educator expenses.

Unfortunately, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminated some deductions commonly used by teachers.

$250 Educator Deduction

First, a special educator deduction allows kindergarten through grade 12 teachers to deduct up to $250 of what they pay for books, supplies, equipment, and other materials used in the classroom.

This is a particularly valuable deduction because it is an "above the line deduction"--that is, it is an adjustment to your gross income not an itemized deduction. This means you don't have to itemize your deductions to take it.

If you and your spouse are filing jointly and both of you were eligible educators, the maximum deduction is $500. However, neither spouse can deduct more than $250 of his or her qualified expenses. If you have more than $250 in educator expenses or you don't qualify for the educator deduction, you may still be able to deduct part of your unreimbursed expenses for school supplies as an unreimbursed employee expense.

Education Expenses

Teachers often take continuing education courses or other courses to improve their skills even though they are not required. The cost of such courses may be recouped through a tax credit or the tuition and fees deduction.

Lifetime Learning Credit

Teachers can deduct the cost of training or continuing education under the Lifetime Learning Credit. The credit is 20% of the cost of the education, up to $2,000 per year. That means the full $2,000 credit is only available to a taxpayer who pays $10,000 or more in qualifying tuition and fees and has sufficient tax liability.

Covered expenses include tuition, course registration, lab fees, materials and supplies, textbooks, and tuition.

Tuition and Fees Deduction

You may also be able to claim a deduction of up to $4,000 for tuition and fees you pay to attend virtually any accredited post-secondary educational institution. However, your income must be below certain limits to qualify.

Also, you cannot claim this deduction if you already claim an American opportunity or lifetime learning credit for the same expenses. This deduction is not an itemized deduction, so you may take it if you claim the standard deduction.

Retirement Plans

Teachers who invest their own money in a tax qualified retirement plan may deduct the amount of their contributions. These plans include the 403b plan, 457 plan, and IRAs.

Charitable Donations

Charitable donations are a deductible itemized deduction. This includes donations to a school or other education institution. Such donations can include buying library books, materials for the classroom, or giving a monetary donation to the school.

However, you can deduct charitable donations only if you itemize your personal deductions instead of taking the standard deduction. Most teachers don't earn enough money to itemize, particularly with the new standard deduction thresholds under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Unreimbursed Teaching-Related Expenses Not Deductible as Itemized Deductions

Before 2018, all employees, including school teachers, were entitled to deduct unreimbursed work expenses as a miscellaneous itemized deduction. Such expenses were deductible if, and to the extent, they exceeded 2% of adjusted gross income. Some teachers who itemized their personal deductions were able to deduct part of the cost of their unreimbursed expenses such as teacher union dues, work related education, or work-related travel.

Unfortunately, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminated this deduction for all employees, including teachers, for 2018 through 2025. During this time, teachers should seek to be reimbursed for these expenses wherever possible, instead of paying for them out of their own pockets. This deduction is scheduled to return in 2026.

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