If you are a teacher, you may qualify for a limited deduction from your federal taxable income for educational expenses you incur. You may take this deduction as an "above the line" deduction, meaning that you can still use it if you take the standard deduction and don't have to itemize. Even if you do itemize, however, alternatives may be available.
The IRS allows "educators" to claim the educator expense deduction. An educator is a teacher, instructor, counselor, principal or aide for kindergarten through 12th-grade classes. You must work at least 900 hours every school year in an institution that provides elementary or secondary education. What constitutes "elementary" or "secondary" education depends on state law -- for example, it may or may not include vocational schools. College-level instructors cannot claim the deduction.
You may claim a deduction for expenses for books, supplies, equipment and supplementary materials used in connection with your teaching duties. These expenses must have come out of your own pocket, and you must not have been reimbursed for them. If you were reimbursed for part of your expenses, you can only claim the unreimbursed portion. You must have either paid for or been billed for these expenses during the tax year.
You may deduct up to $250 from your taxable income each tax year. If you file jointly and your spouse also qualifies for the deduction, each of you can claim up to $250. Since the rules that apply to this deduction were not written with home schooling in mind, it is currently unclear whether you can use the deduction if you home school your child or teach a home school class. You must deduct certain education-related tax benefits you claimed, such as tax-free withdrawals from a Coverdell education savings account, from the amount of your deduction.
If your educator expenses significantly exceed the $250 limit or if you don't qualify as an "educator," you may benefit from claiming your expenses as an employee business expense deduction. You also may choose to use it if Congress fails to extend the educator expense deduction in 2012 or future years. Since the employee business expense deduction is an itemized deduction, you can't take the standard deduction if you use it. In addition, you only may claim expenses that exceed 2 percent of your adjusted gross income. You may not "double dip" by claiming the same expense as both an educator expense deduction and an employee business expense.
If you take classes to maintain your teaching license or increase your skills, you may be eligible for a variety of tax benefits. Two tax credits may apply -- the American Opportunity Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit. If you don't qualify for either of these, you may qualify to deduct educator expenses using the tuition and fees deduction or the employee business expense deduction. You can't use more than one credit or deduction for the same expense.
- in a classroom image by Ivan Hafizov from Fotolia.com