Calling All Teachers: You Can Deduct More for School Supplies for 2022

For the first time in a long time, the tax deduction for out-of-pocket teacher expenses has increased.

Picture of school desks in classroom
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The school year has begun, and teachers are dealing with the normal pressures of managing students and classrooms. But lately, there is additional stress for educators, ranging from teacher shortages to possible teacher strikes. And to top it off, inflation has increased the prices of classroom supplies and expenses that many teachers pay for out of pocket. But there is a little bit of good tax news—the federal tax deduction for teacher expenses is adjusted for inflation. That means that for 2022, teachers like you, (and some counselors, principals, or other instructors) can deduct a little more at tax time for classroom expenses and supplies than you could before.

So, here’s what you need to know about the increased educator expense tax deduction for 2022.

How Much Can Teachers Deduct for School Supplies?

A common question is whether teachers can write off classroom supplies on their taxes. The answer to that is important because studies show that nearly 94% of teachers pay for their own classroom supplies, and reportedly teachers spent on average in 2021, anywhere from $500 to $750.

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So thankfully yes, some teachers and other educators can write off classroom supplies on their federal tax returns. And for 2022, the maximum educator expense deduction has risen to $300. That means that if you’re an eligible educator (more on that later), you can deduct up to $300 of out-of-pocket classroom expenses for 2022 when your file your federal income tax return next year. And you don’t have to itemize to claim the deduction.

If you’re married and you file jointly with your spouse, and they are also an eligible educator, you can deduct up to $600 of eligible classroom expenses. But each of you can only claim up to $300.

Why is the deduction higher in 2022? For nearly twenty years, the annual limit for the educator expense deduction has been $250. But due to inflation, the IRS adjusted the educator expense deduction upward by $50 for 2022.

Who Qualifies for the Educator Expense Deduction?

To be able to write off up to $300 of your unreimbursed out-of-pocket classroom expenses, you need to be an “eligible educator.” For tax purposes, an eligible educator is anyone who is a teacher, instructor, counselor, principal, or aide at a school for kindergarten through twelfth grade.

For purposes of this deduction, it doesn’t matter whether you work in a public school or private school—each environment qualifies. But you must work at least 900 hours during the school year to be able to claim the educator expense deduction.

What Classroom Expenses Can Teachers Write Off?

There’s a wide variety of so-called qualified expenses that educators can claim for the educator expense deduction. For example, if your school doesn’t reimburse the cost of books, supplies, and other materials that you use in the classroom, the amount that you pay out of pocket for those can be deducted on your federal tax return. The unreimbursed cost of computers, software, and related services are also considered qualified expenses for purposes of the deduction.

You can also deduct the cost of items that you buy to help protect against COVID-19 in the classroom. That includes masks, disinfectant, hand soap and sanitizer and disposable gloves. It also can include larger items like air purifiers or clear plexiglass, which were more common at the height of the pandemic.

However, in all cases, other expenses for home schooling or non-athletic supplies for physical education teachers, for example, cannot be deducted. That’s because the IRS does not consider those to be qualified expenses.

What About Professional Development? If you’re an eligible educator, you can deduct the unreimbursed costs of professional development courses that are related to what you’re teaching your students at school. However, those courses would still be subject to the $300 deduction limit.

But there are other tax credits that may be helpful if you have significant expenses for continuing education and professional development. For example, the IRS points to the lifetime learning credit, which can help pay for courses that you use to gain or improve job related skills. That credit can be up to $2,000 if you’re eligible.

Can Teachers Still Deduct 2021 Expenses?

If for some reason you haven’t yet filed your 2021 federal income tax return, it’s important to know that the maximum educator expense deduction for 2021 was $250, and up to $500 for eligible educator spouses filing jointly. Spouses filing jointly cannot claim more than $250 per spouse in qualified educator expenses for 2021.

If you have already requested additional time to file your 2021 federal income tax return with the IRS, the deadline to get that filed is October 17, 2022.

In any case, however, if you need classroom supplies, and like many teachers, pay for those supplies yourself without reimbursement from your school, keep accurate records of what you paid, what you bought, and where and when you bought it. That documentation might be needed if you’re planning to claim the up to $300 educator expense deduction for 2022 when tax time rolls around.

Kelley R. Taylor
Tax Editor, Kiplinger.com