Can I Claim an Alternative Teacher Certification Program on My Taxes?

by LD Withaar ; Updated August 02, 2018

Alternative teacher certification programs came about during the 1980s to fill severe teacher shortages. Today, alternative teacher certification is still used in most states to recruit people who want to teach but who do not have college degrees in education.

The traditional path to teaching is to get your bachelor's degree in education, then take another couple of years to earn your teaching credential license or certification. Most alternative teacher certification programs take a year or less. They still require a bachelor’s degree, preferably in the subject you want to teach. The cost ranges from free to several thousand dollars.

Alternative Teacher Certification Deductions

You can only deduct the cost of an alternative teacher certification program if you’re already a teacher, which usually means you can't. The IRS allows deductions for the cost of certifications only if they're needed to maintain or improve your skills for a job you already have. However, once you become a teacher, there are deductions you can claim.

When to Start Deducting

As a teacher, the cost of renewing your credential or license is deductible because it’s necessary to keep your job. Additionally, many teachers, particularly those who teach in public schools, spend their own money on classroom supplies and they're not reimbursed by the school. Teachers are entitled to deduct up to $250 for qualified and unreimbursed educational expenses. If you and your spouse are both teachers claiming work-related expenses and you file a joint return, you can deduct up to $500. Qualified expenses include professional development course fees, books, computer equipment and materials that you use in your classroom.

The nice thing about this deduction is that you don’t have to itemize to take it. It’s on line 23 of Form 1040 or line 16 of Form 1040A. This deduction cannot be claimed on Form 1040EZ. Some states also let you deduct up to $250 for qualified, unreimbursed educational expenses.

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Claim Deductions for 2018

Before the 2018 tax year, if you made unreimbursed purchases related to your job, you could deduct any amount that exceeded 2 percent of your adjusted gross income. But as part of 2018 tax reforms, this deduction was eliminated. However, teachers claiming work-related expenses were able to keep the up to $250 deduction for qualified and unreimbursed educational expenses.

To take this deduction you have to meet the IRS's definition of an eligible educator. You're an eligible educator if you're a K-12 teacher, instructor, counselor, principal or aide for at least 900 hours a school year in a school that provides elementary or secondary education. This deduction applies to books, supplies, computer equipment (including software and internet or IT services) and supplementary materials that you use in the classroom. If you teach health or physical education, the supplies have to be related to athletics.

Claim Deductions for 2017

For the 2017 tax year, if you had ordinary and necessary work-related expenses in excess of $250, you can deduct them. The IRS defines ordinary expenses as those that are common and accepted in your field. Necessary work-related expenses are those that are helpful and appropriate for the type of work you do. Expenses do not have to be required to be considered necessary. That’s the good news. The bad news is that you have to itemize and you can only deduct work-related expenses that are more than 2 percent of your adjusted gross income. Use Form 2106 and Form 1040 to take this deduction.

Contact Your State

State departments of education, particularly those in states that really need teachers, have gotten creative in helping people obtain their alternative teacher certifications for little or no cost. For example, if you volunteer for ArizonaServe, you can earn credit that's quantified in dollars to pay for post-secondary education including teacher credentialing programs.

Other states allow you to teach while you’re enrolled in an alternative teacher certification program. In this case, you are working as a teacher and you need the certification to keep your job, so money you spend on classroom supplies could be deductible. Consult with a professional tax preparer if you think this applies to you.

About the Author

LeDona Withaar has over 20 years’ experience as a securities industry professional and finance manager. She was an auditor for the National Association of Securities Dealers, a compliance manager for UNX, Inc. and a securities compliance specialist at Capital Group. She has an MBA from Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts and a BA from Mills College in Oakland, California. She has done volunteer work in corporate development for nonprofit organizations such as the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She currently owns and operates her own small business in addition to writing for business and financial publications such as Budgeting the Nest, Zacks and PocketSense.

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