Self-employed taxpayers should consider their options carefully when it comes to applying tax benefits for their own education tuition and expenses. Tax law provides multiple ways to benefit from the educational expenses and one may provide more benefit to you than another based on your particular set of circumstances. In addition, your tuition may qualify for one tax benefit while other education expenses qualify for another.
- As a Business Expense – Generally, if the education qualifies, it is better to take the cost as a business expense since as a business expense it will offset both income taxes and self-employment tax. The expenses can include tuition, books, supplies, and allowable travel for the education. To qualify as a business expense, the education must either be to maintain or improve your skills or be required in your business. You may, however, not wish to use the education’s costs as a business expense when doing so limits your net profit and consequently limits your retirement plan contribution. Another situation when you may not want to claim the education costs as a business expense is when your Schedule C only has a very small profit or shows a loss for the year.
- As an Adjustment to Income – If the education expense is tuition at an institution of higher education and you are under the AGI phase-out limit for this deduction, you have the option to deduct up to $4,000 as an adjustment to overall income for the year. You can take this above-the-line education deduction whether or not the education maintains or improves your skills required in your business. Other expenses related to this education such as books, supplies, and travel can still be deducted on your Schedule C as long as the education maintains or improves your skills required in your business. The deduction is a maximum of $4,000 if AGI does not exceed $65,000 ($130,000 for married couples filing jointly) or a maximum of $2,000 if AGI doesn’t exceed $80,000 ($160,000 for married joint filers). This provision is scheduled to expire at the end of 2016, unless extended by Congress.
- As a Tax Credit – As with the adjustment to income above, if the education expense is tuition at an institution of higher education, you might qualify for the lifetime learning credit. It may be more beneficial than the business expense or AGI adjustment for the tuition portion of the expenses, especially if you are in a lower tax bracket or the business profits are low. The lifetime learning credit allows you a credit of 20% of the cost of your tuition (up to $10,000 of costs annually) as a tax credit. It, too, has an AGI phase-out limitation. For 2016, the credit for single taxpayers phases out between $55,000 and $65,000 and $111,000 to $131,000 for joint filers. The phase-out ranges are inflation adjusted each year. Please call this office for the phase-out ranges for years other than 2013. If you meet the full-time student requirement, you may qualify for the more beneficial American Opportunity credits.
If you have any questions regarding these various options, please call our office.