As students and teachers head back to the classroom, many educators will dip into their own pockets to pay for school supplies. In fact, the U.S. Department of Education NCES found that 94% of public school teachers bought supplies with their own money, to the tune of $479 or more per year! Fortunately, there is one important tax break that can help teachers offset some of these expenses, called the Educator Expense Deduction.
Who can claim the Educator Expense Deduction?
You are eligible for the Educator Expense Deduction if you meet the following criteria:
- You are a teacher, instructor, counselor, principal, or aide
- You work in a public or private elementary or secondary school (grades K-12)
- You complete 900 hours of work during the school year
The following educators cannot qualify for the Educator Expense Deduction:
- College and graduate-level instructors
- Pre-school teachers and aides
How much can you deduct for classroom expenses?
The tax law allows you to deduct up to $250 in school-related expenses from your income. If you and your spouse are both teachers and you file jointly, you can each claim up to $250, for a possible $500 total. Of course, you’ll want to keep all your receipts together in a secure place. This will ensure that you don’t miss out on a possible deduction when you go to file. The IRS even recommends that you record the date, amount you spent, and the purpose of each purchase, so there are no questions at tax time.
Any of the following expenses will count toward your deduction:
- Supplies and materials used in the classroom
- Professional development classes
- Computers, software, and tech services
- Athletic equipment (for physical education and health instructors)
Can teachers deduct for unreimbursed employee expenses?
Before 2018, teachers were able to deduct expenses over and above the $250 limit – such as uniforms, union dues and transportation costs, to name a few. But the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminated all miscellaneous deductions, including these unreimbursed employee expenses, until 2026 when the law expires.
The costs of setting up a home office when you are a W-2 employee are also considered unreimbursed employee expenses, so they are not deductible on your taxes. Read more about the home office deduction.
Do you have to itemize to take the Educator Expense Deduction?
If you are a qualifying educator, you can claim this deduction whether you choose to itemize or take the standard deduction.
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This article is up to date for tax year 2021 (returns filed in 2022).