You can’t usually deduct school supplies, but there are a few tricks you might be able to use. We’ll look at K-12 students, college students, parent donations, class supply lists, teachers, and more.
Tax Deduction for Teachers
Let’s start with teachers because this topic is fairly simple. If you buy supplies for your classroom, you may be able to deduct up to $300.
If you’re an eligible educator, you can deduct up to $300 ($600 if married filing jointly and both spouses are eligible educators, but not more than $300 each) of unreimbursed trade or business expenses. Qualified expenses are amounts you paid or incurred for participation in professional development courses, books, supplies, computer equipment (including related software and services), other equipment, and supplementary materials that you use in the classroom. For courses in health or physical education, the expenses for supplies must be for athletic supplies. Qualified expenses also include the amounts for personal protective equipment, disinfectant, and other supplies used for the prevention of the spread of coronavirus. This deduction is for expenses paid or incurred during the tax year.IRS Tax Topic 458
Buying Supplies for Elementary, Middle, and High School
If you’re buying supplies for your grade school student, that’s generally not going to be deductible. It just doesn’t fit into any of the available deductions.
One common question is whether you can use a 529 plan to pay for expenses. For K-12 students, you can usually only use your 529 plan for private school tuition and not other education-related expenses.
See Donations below for classroom supply lists.
Buying Supplies for College
Like in grade school, there is no general tax deduction for school supplies. Things like pens and note pads are generally out as are things for your dorm room.
If you are required to buy specific items for a course or as a condition of enrollment in an educational program, that may fall under the American Opportunity Tax Credit or Lifetime Learning Credit. For the Lifetime Learning Credit, there’s generally an additional requirement that you must be required to buy the item from your school and not other stores.
BUT, your tuition and books alone will usually max out your education tax credits. For now, save your receipts for everything. If you don’t max out your education tax credit, we can talk about what supplies or other expenses we can add in to increase your credit.
Donations & Class Supply Lists
Donations are generally deductible and that includes donations to schools. Public schools and most private schools are eligible.
If your donations are going to families in need, that will usually count as a charitable contribution deduction that you can include with your itemized deductions.
Supplies you buy for your own child’s classroom generally won’t be deductible. The reason is that you can’t deduct things your own children benefit from.
For example, let’s say the teacher asks every child to bring a box of tissues. Even though the box is for the entire class, the tissues are being shared and the box you bought is your child’s share.
If you buy extra supplies for families that can’t afford to get the things on the class supplies list, the extra amount will usually be deductible.