Back-to-School Savings: Five Tax Tips for Teachers

Education Learning Numbers: First Grader and His Teacher in Class

This month, teachers say goodbye to the lazy days of summer and embark on another new school year.

If you are a teacher, you have a lot of planning to do for the upcoming year, but with the end of the calendar year fast approaching, you should also be planning for your tax deductions.

Here are five tips to save you money on your taxes.

1. Keep track of classroom materials you buy. If you own a home or have large deductible expenses, keep track of your classroom expenses. These include classroom supplies, materials, books, computer equipment, software, other equipment, and supplementary materials that you pay from your own pocket, as long as you didn’t receive reimbursement. In past years you could claim up to $250 regardless of whether you itemized, but that tax provision expired in 2013. For 2014, you’ll claim those expenses as unreimbursed business expenses on your tax return.

2. Claim a home office deduction if you qualify. If a portion of your home is used regularly and exclusively for activities in connection with your teaching, you may be able to take a home office deduction if your home office is for the convenience of your employer. Many teachers won’t qualify if they have space at school that they could use for business activities such as grading papers. Others fail the test because they don’t have a specific place in their home that is used exclusively for business activities. If you tutor children in your home office or do classes over the internet, those activities might qualify you for the deduction.

3. Keep track of mileage. If you coach a sport or lead after-school activities away from your school, track your mileage to and from the location for the activities. If you do home schooling and regularly call on students, or if you drive from school to school, the miles can really add up. You can deduct 56 cents a mile for all business miles driven if you itemize your deductions.

4. Deduct all other expenses you incur for teaching. If you pay union dues, buy professional books related to your teaching activities, or have any other expenses that are directly related to teaching, keep track of them so you can claim them as an employee business expense on your tax return.

5. Deduct continuing education expenses. The Lifetime Learning Credit allows you to take a tax credit of 20% of tuition and fees for all college or vocational classes that you take up to $2,000 per tax return, which is a handsome reward for keeping track of those expenses. And best of all, you don’t have to itemize your deductions to claim this credit.