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Are You Missing Out on These Educator Tax Deductions?
February 4, 2019
Legislation passed late in 2015 made many "tax extenders" semi-permanent, but there are still a few esoteric items that keep everyone on tenterhooks when, as once again this year, Congress fails to pass the tax bill by the end of the year. The new Congress is likely to make them retroactive once they finally do pass the bill in 2019.
In addition, 2018 is the first tax year that most of the new provisions of last year's tax reform apply, so there are a lot of changes.
The tax reform does keep the $250 above-the-line deduction for classroom supplies. The $250 deduction is particularly advantageous because it is an above-the-line deduction on Schedule A, which means you don't have to itemize to take it and it reduces your overall adjusted gross income (AGI). This becomes even more important under the tax reform because it virtually doubles the standard deduction, setting the threshold even higher for choosing to itemize. The 2015 legislation indexed the amount to inflation—though it is unchanged at $250 for 2018—and allows professional development expenses to be included in the deduction.
However, the tax reform, officially known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, eliminates itemized deductions for employee business expenses starting in 2018 for the 10-year life of the act. This allowed educators to itemize expenses beyond the $250 as deductions, subject to the 2% threshold of AGI for miscellaneous deductions.
Educators may still benefit from the state and local sales tax deduction (an alternative for states with no state income tax to deduct from federal taxes) even though those breaks don't target them specifically. However, you must itemize in order to claim these deductions. For 2018 and beyond, the deduction for state and local taxes, including property taxes, will be capped at $10,000 and the threshold for choosing to itemize will be much higher with the increased standard deduction.
Many provisions of the tax code have income caps and phase-outs and other wrinkles that may affect your actual tax liability. Be sure to work with a tax advisor or reliable tax software that clearly addresses your situation, especially if you are in the higher income brackets. And keeping receipts or a careful log is critical for the classroom supplies deduction and other tax benefits.
Other situations faced by educators preparing their taxes include:
Income from outside work, such as a summer job or tutoring
If there is no additional withholding on this outside work, you want to be sure to avoid a penalty for under-withholding—i.e., when your overall tax liability exceeds the amount of tax you had withheld by certain margins.
If this is the first year you have had extra income, there won't be any penalty, because your withholding at work will cover 100% of your previous year's income. If you regularly have extra income, your best option is to specify a certain additional amount on your W-4 to be withheld. (Previously, it was possible to adjust your withholding by reducing the number of personal exemptions but these have now been removed in the tax reform.) The other remaining option is make quarterly payments of estimated tax on the additional income.
The outside income should be reported on a Schedule C, where you can also deduct any expenses associated with the outside job. You are also liable for "payroll" taxes (these are the contributions to Social Security and Medicare) on the extra income, which is calculated on a Schedule SE.
Other unreimbursed employment expenses
As noted above, the itemized deductions for employee expenses beyond the $250 have been eliminated in the tax reform, so that deduction is no longer available.
Rules for deducting expenses for a home office are fairly strict (as well as for equipment such as computers). The home office space must be used exclusively for work purposes, which is a tough criterion.
Congress eventually renewed the deduction for college tuition and fees retroactively for 2017, restoring one of the options for a tax break if you take courses that you pay for yourself, whether or not they are required for certification. This allows you to deduct up to $4,000 above the line, so you don't have to itemize to claim it. Whether it will be extended through 2018 is uncertain. The remaining option, which is a permanent part of the tax code, is the Lifetime Learning Credit for 20% of education expenses up to $2,000. This is a credit, so it is taken off your tax liability dollar for dollar. However, it is nonrefundable, which means you have to have some tax liability for it to count against. The American Opportunity Credit, which can apply to the first four years of higher education, is not usually an option for educators.
NOTE: All of the information in this article is accurate as of January 11, 2019.
Teachers are a selfless group who choose their profession because of a love for children and teaching, not for any expectation of accolades or honors. And that makes those times teachers are recognized and have a chance to be in the spotlight all the more special.
Once again, the Connecticut Education Foundation's Board of Directors invites you to support the Children's Fund by joining Association members and CEA staff at the 25th Annual Hands Across the Green Golf Tournament on Monday, July 15.
Teachers have a lot to say on issues from their pensions to classroom safety this legislative session, which is why local associations around Connecticut are meeting with their legislators and making their voices heard.
Speaking to hundreds of students at Harding High School in Bridgeport today, Governor Ned Lamont encouraged his audience to pursue a career in teaching and be role models for the next generation of students.
Wearing #RedForEd T-shirts, several hundred Waterbury teachers showed their strength as a union, their dedication to their profession, and their value to the community they serve when they packed a March 7 Waterbury Board of Education meeting.
Community schools, minority teacher recruitment and retention, the opportunity gap, and school literacy were just some of the issues members of the legislature's Education Committee heard public input.
"Our students would only benefit from having more opportunities to learn about the culture, struggles, and contributions of African-Americans and Latinos throughout history," Waterbury teacher Sean Mosley told the legislature's Education Committee
"Teachers become teachers because we want to help kids," says Danbury building rep Lori Woodruff. "It's the same with our union—we are here to help each other. As teachers, when we're involved with the union we can do more to help one another."
Connecticut Education Foundation's (CEF) second annual Read Across America Reading Bus Tour kicked off on February 25, featuring a customized blue bus decorated with well-known Dr. Seuss characters and outfitted with bookshelves, benches, carpeting, and hundreds of new books.
At a public hearing of the legislature's Education Committee today, classroom teachers—along with CEA leaders and staff—gave powerful testimony urging lawmakers to address the crisis of violent student behavior in rural, urban, and suburban schools throughout the state.
Teachers, CEA leaders, and staff testified before the Connecticut General Assembly's Black and Puerto Rican Caucus on issues critical to teachers this legislative session. These issues included school climate, classroom safety, the persistent shortage of ethnic minority educators, and funding for public schools.
CEA supports sensible ways of assisting the state in its efforts to make up for decades of underfunding teachers' retirement, including the governor and treasurer's plan to smooth out the state's payments to the fund over a longer period of time and lower the investment earning assumption to a more realistic rate.
"We reject the idea of cutting our way to prosperity. That has never worked," said Connecticut AFL-CIO President Sal Luciano. His remarks came at a press conference yesterday where members of the labor community, including CEA, called on the state to adopt a pro-growth, investment budget.
Project Oceanology and New England Science and Sailing are partnering to offer "Sound Education: Working with NGSS and STEM in Long Island Sound". This is a FREE two-day PD event from April 5 - April 6 for teachers in grades 4-12, with overnight accommodations provided in Project Oceanology's waterfront hostel.
Legislation passed late in 2015 made many "tax extenders" semi-permanent, but there are still a few esoteric items that keep everyone on tenterhooks when, as once again this year, Congress fails to pass the tax bill by the end of the year.
Marks the inauguration of a new governor and the beginning of the 2019 session of the Connecticut General Assembly. It's likely to be a busy session with many issues for legislators to tackle over these next five months.