Tax Deductions for College Professors

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I’ve written about this before but wanted to revisit it after “tax reform.” What tax deductions can a college professor take?

I work with a lot of college professors who are my clients (and my wife is a college professor) so I get asked that question a lot.

“Old Law”

Under the way things used to be, a college professor could potentially take a deduction for research expenses or expenses for classroom supplies as a miscellaneous itemized deduction. The total of all miscellaneous deductions needed to exceed 2% of adjusted gross income in order to be deductible, and if the taxpayer was subject to alternative minimum tax, the deduction wasn’t available.

A few times I saw returns (either self-prepared or prepared by a paid preparer) where the taxpayer had claimed either:

  1. Deductions on a Schedule C as if the professor was self-employed, showing $0 of income, and with the expenses deducted in full, or
  2. A $250 deduction for “educator expenses” on the front side of the Form 1040

Number 1 is wrong unless the professor was truly self-employed as a professor (like, paid as an independent contractor), which would be unusual. Number 2 is wrong because only K-12 teachers can take that deduction. For college professors, the only deduction available was as a miscellaneous itemized deduction.

Note the use of the past tense in that last sentence: the only deduction available “was” a miscellaneous itemized deduction.

New Law

With tax reform taking effect in 2018, it’s a new world for anybody taking miscellaneous itemized deductions, as those deductions are not allowed at all anymore.

This means college professors are out of luck in claiming any deductions for their research expenses or other out-of-pocket classroom expenses.

This change affects others too. In my practice, I have a few traveling salesmen and over-the-road truckers who are affected as well — their deductions for things such as mileage are gone now.