Can homeschool groups give free tuition to teachers like private schools?

I taught at a private school before I started homeschooling and I received free tuition for my children. Now I teach at a homeschool program. Can homeschool groups give free or reduced tuition as a fringe benefit like private schools?

 

Maybe!

You’re talking about what the US Tax Code calls “Qualified tuition reduction.”

The United States Tax Code, or 26 U.S.C. § 117(d) has some good news:
 In General. – Gross income shall not include any qualified tuition reduction.
“qualified tuition reduction” means the amount of any reduction in tuition provided to an employee of an organization described in section 170(b)(1)(A)(ii)

 

In plain English that means a school may provide its employees with tuition breaks, or cash grants for payment of tuition, without that benefit being considered taxable income to the employee. Good news for school employees!

But notice a few important words: employee and school

Are you an employee of the homeschool program?

If so, keep reading. But if you are an Independent Contractor, you cannot get tax-free tuition reduction benefits.

Is the homeschool program you work for as an employee a “school”?

The US Tax Code defines a school in section 170(b)(1)(A)(ii):

 An educational organization is described in section 170(b)(1)(A)(ii) if its primary function is the presentation of formal instruction and it normally maintains a regular faculty and curriculum and normally has a regularly enrolled body of pupils or students in attendance at the place where its educational activities are regularly carried on. The term includes institutions such as primary, secondary, preparatory, or high schools, and colleges and universities. It includes Federal, State, and other public-supported schools which otherwise come within the definition.

 

One aspect of a school is a “regular faculty,” which the IRS defines as

“qualified teachers instruct the students, and the same teachers do so on a recurrent basis.” 

Source: Internal Revenue Manual viewed http://www.irs.gov/irm/part7/irm_07-026-002.html#d0e549 on 5/11/15.

And by “qualified” the IRS means:

“certifications by the appropriate state authority or successful completion of required training.” 

Source: Instructions for Form 1023

Hmmm…

…regular faculty…regularly enrolled student body…qualified teachers…recurrent basis…teacher certifications…

Do those words used to definition a “school” apply to your homeschool program?

Maybe. Or maybe not. It might be hard to tell what the IRS meant since this part of the US Tax Code was written long before anyone thought of homeschool programs employing teachers.

Here’s my concern: If a homeschool program fits the IRS and US Tax Code definition of “school” so that its employees can get tax-free fringe benefits, is that homeschool program also a school in the eyes of its state laws regarding private schools? And are the students then attending a school and not really legally homeschooling?

Additionally, since states regulate education in the USA, your state’s definition of school may be VERY different from the US Tax Code’s definition.

It gets confusing. Very confusing. I’m a pretty conservative CPA and don’t like advising my clients unless things are pretty clearly stated in the tax code.

I also don’t want homeschool programs to be treated as schools or to even call themselves schools. I’m concerned that if homeschool programs call themselves “schools” the state may start imposing all the rules that schools must follow onto independent homeschool programs. That will stifle creativity, educational freedom, add a paperwork and reporting burden, and may end up restricting our homeschool freedoms.

It’s just not worth it!

My advice: Avoid attempting to fit the US Tax Code definition of “school.” Avoid even calling your homeschool program a school with both the IRS and with your state. Maintain homeschooling freedom even if it means you cannot offer your employees tax-free fringe benefits of “qualified tuition reduction.”

You may decide differently from what I wrote above. You may decide your homeschool program is a “school” by the IRS and US Tax Code definition. But if you do, please, please get a legal opinion on your organization’s status as a school from a qualified attorney experienced in educational institutions and get it in writing. Yes, you’ll have to pay for it, but it will be your defense if your State Board of Education wants to regulate your homeschool program!

 

Carol Topp, CPA

Summer reading for homeschool leaders: Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization

Summer is a great time for homeschool leaders to catch up on some reading. I’m highlighting a book each week of summer and this week I’m spotlighting,

 

This book began in 2009 as a 20 page ebook. Homeschooling has changed a lot in the past 9 years and homeschool leaders are asking a lot of questions about paying workers. The book grew from 20 to 130 pages!
I expanded it in 2016 and then it needed an update in late 2017!
 

This 130 page book covers paying workers as employees or independent contractors. There are also chapters on paying volunteers and board members. It includes sample forms, tips and advice to help you pay workers in accordance with the IRS laws to help your organization pay their workers correctly. Written specifically for homeschool organizations.

 Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Can You Pay a Volunteer?Chapter 2: Paying Board Members and Other LeadersChapter 3: Employee or Independent Contractor? Worker ClassificationChapter 4: Guidelines for Hiring Independent Contractors

Chapter 5: Tax Forms for Independent Contractors

Chapter 6: Payroll Taxes for Employers

Chapter 7: Tax Forms for Employers

Chapter 8: Sample Agreements

Chapter 9: Resources

Who should read this book?
  • Anyone running a homeschool organization that pays workers of any kind.
  • Anyone who wonders is a volunteer be paid?
  • Anyone who has ever asked,”Should a worker be treated as an employee or independent contractor?”
  • Anyone who gives payments or significant discounts to board members or volunteers.
 Carol Topp, CPA

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Homeschool leaders summer reading: Money Management in a Homeschool Organization

 
This summer I’m encouraging homeschool leaders to take time to become a better leader by reading through my books. This week I’m featuring my book,

 

When I originally published this book in 2008, it was a short 40 page ebook and had a horrible cover.  I was still learning and self-publishing was brand new!
MoneyMgmtCover
An update was badly needed and I tackled that project in 2014. The book ballooned to 131 pages and I subtitled it “A Guide for Treasurers.” I feel like I poured my CPA brain into this book.

 

Cover Money Mgmt HS Org
 Topics covered in this book include:
Chapter 1: Your Treasurer is a Gem!
Chapter 2: Checking Accounts Done Right
Chapter 3: Super Simple Bookkeeping Basics
Chapter 4: Show Us Your Books! Regular Reporting on Financial Status
Chapter 5: Establish a Budget: You’ll Thank Me Later
Chapter 6: Get What’s Coming to You: Collecting Fees
Chapter 7: Do I Have to Report This? Reimbursement Policies and Avoiding Taxes
Chapter 8: Using Software to Stay Sane
Chapter 9: Fraud: It Couldn’t Happen to Us
Chapter 10: Need More Money? Easy Fundraisers for Homeschool Organizations
Chapter 11: Risky Business: Insurance for Homeschool Groups
Chapter 12: Paying Workers: Hiring Employees and Independent Contractors
Chapter 13: Homeschool For Profit: Running a Homeschool Group as a Business

 

 

 

Carol Topp, CPA

 

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Aren’t Classical Conversations tutors just like online tutors?

I’m a Classical Conversations Director and I have a local CPA. I have a question about independent contractor status for tutors. The articles I read here seem to suggest we should treat tutors as employees. Yet, for several years I worked as a tutor for national online tutoring company as an independent contractor. I was given training, direct oversight, evaluations, worked for 5-10 hours a week, yet I was an independent contractor.

What is the difference with CC tutors in the eyes of the IRS? Just trying to understand!

Thanks, Allison

 

Allison,
Thank you for contacting me.

You seem to assume that your worker classification as an Independent Contractor as  a tutor for a national online tutoring company was the correct classification. I’m not convinced it was.

You only told me four bits of information about your relationship with the online tutoring company (?I was given training, direct oversight, evaluations, worked for 5-10 hours a week), yet three of those practices (training, evaluations, and oversight) would confirm your status should have been as an employee, not an Independent Contractor.

When I make a worker determination, I do not base my conclusions on what other companies have done or are doing. I base my conclusions on the IRS guidelines, tax court cases, IRS rulings, and the facts and circumstances of each case.

You asked, “What is the difference with CC tutors in the eyes of the IRS?” There may not be many differences in the online tutoring and tutoring for CC,  but I don’t assume that you were correctly treated as an IC when you did the online tutoring.

Classical Conversations offers an ebook I wrote, Taxes for Licensed Classical Conversations Directors, where I explain the options to CC Directors in how to pay tutors.  You can treat your tutors as Independent Contractors and in the ebook I explain the risks and consequences involved.

You might show portions of the ebook to your local CPA and get his/her opinion. If they determine your tutors are Independent Contractors, then your should request that they put their conclusion in writing and on their firm letterhead. A letter like that could possibly help you avoid IRS penalties if you are ever investigated by the IRS. But let’s hope you never need it!
If you have more questions, I would be happy to arrange a phone consultation with you. I charge $75/hour for a consultation with a nonprofit organization. We can discuss a lot of topics in an hour, but in particular your questions about paying your CC tutors.

Carol Topp, CPA

 

Can a homeschool group deduct tuition from a teacher’s pay?

A homeschool program charges $2,300  per student per year for tuition. Many of the teachers in the program also have their children enrolled in the program.

The leader, Lauren, was deducting the amount of tuition owed from the teacher’s pay and reporting only the difference that she actually paid the teacher.

For example:

Teacher’s earnings: $4,000

Tuition that the teacher owed: $2,300

Teacher’s paychecks: $1,700 ($4,000 less $2,300)

Additionally, Lauren was filing the teacher’s W-2 (or 1099-MISC) and reporting wages of only $1,700, but the true earnings were $4,000.

I advise that homeschool organization DO NOT net the teacher’s pay and her tuition owed like this!

Here’s why:

Picky CPA reason: This netting (subtracting the amount paid to the teacher by the tuition she owed) masks the true amount of teacher pay and the true amount of tuition received in your bookkeeping. The homeschool leadership needs to know the total income from tuition and the total expenses paid for teachers. Netting them masks the true income and true expenses. Additionally, the total amounts of income and expenses must be reported to the IRS (usually on Form 990 or 990-EZ).

More important reason: Taxes! 

The teacher’s payments for her services is taxable earned income. But her child’s tuition is a personal  expense and not tax deductible.

I recommend that the teacher should be paid the full amount earned (in my example, $4,000) and in a separate transaction, she should pay her tuition to Lauren’s homeschool program.

Lauren was advised that she will need to amend the W-2s she gave to her teacher to correct this mistake. This will be an unwelcome surprise to the teacher, but it’s the correct, legal amount to report.

I know it seems like extra work and more complicated, but netting or offsetting the two transactions could distort the total amount of compensation the teacher needs to report to the IRS. It’s mixing taxable income with a non-tax-deductible personal expense.

That’s called tax evasion and the IRS doesn’t take kindly to tax evasion.

Cover Money Mgmt HS OrgFor more information on paying workers and correctly recording transactions in an accounting system, you may find my book, Money Management in a Homeschool Organization, helpful.

 

Carol Topp, CPA

 

Ebook Taxes for CC Licensed Directors almost ready!

I just sent the final (I hope) version of my  ebook Taxes for Classical Conversions Licensed Directors off to Classical Conversations, Inc!

The ebook will be distributed by Classical Conversations, Inc to their licensed directors. It is my understanding that the ebook will be available at no charge to the licensed directors.

Update: The ebook was released on the Directors License Guide in late March 2018. Find it here.

If you’ve already prepared your tax return for 2017, you should STILL read this ebook to be sure you did everything correctly!

If you are not a licensed director with CC, I cannot share or sell a copy with you (sorry!), but I recommend you read the following blog posts:

CC Directors: Do not give yourself a 1099-MISC

Tax return for a Classical Conversations homeschool business

I’m a Classical Conversations Director. Do I have to file any forms with the IRS?

Understanding Taxes for a small homeschool business

 

Carol Topp, CPA


Free Resource

In the ebook, I mention a bookkeeping spreadsheet for CC Directors. You can get the spreadsheet now (all it costs is your email!)

 


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Can a homeschool co-op invoice the parents on behalf of a teacher?

co-op-invoice_14053
Hi Carol,

I recently found your website and have found it very useful.  I am waiting for your book Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization to be delivered this week to me.

We are trying to figure out how to invoice families for their student’s classes.  I collect the checks each month from the families and then disperse them to the teachers. I started using QuickBooks to send invoices, but since the money goes to the teachers, I don’t enter any money received which throws off our accounting records.  Is there a way to make QuickBooks work for this?

I did find where you suggested to have the teacher’s collect the money themselves, but is there a way we can still do the invoicing?

Thank you,

Kari

Kari,

I hope the Paying Workers book is helpful.

Since your organization is sending out the invoices and your organization collects the money from the parents, then the money belongs to your organization and needs to be recorded as revenues in QuickBooks (use the Customers>Receive Payments). When the teachers get paid, it is recorded as an expense in QuickBooks probably using an expense account such as Contract Labor or Wages.

By the way, you need to determine if your teachers are employees or independent contractors. I can help you decide.

You asked, “I did find where you suggested to have the teacher’s collect the money themselves, but is there a way we can still do the invoicing?”

Nope. If your organization sends the invoice, that means that your organization, not the teacher, expects to be paid the money.

If your organization wants the teachers to be paid directly by the parents, then your homeschool group has to stay out of the relationship.

You group should not invoice the parents, tell the teacher what she can charge, and not collect the checks from the parents.

The teacher must handle the money collection from parents all by herself. She is in business for herself and your homeschool organization should stay out of the money she collects from the parents.

I hope that helps,

Carol Topp, CPA

Tax Form 1099-MISC to Independent Contractors

Did your homeschool organization pay an Independent Contractor more than $600 in 2017? Then you need to give them a 1099-MISC form.

Accountant Carol Topp, the Homeschool CPA, explains how to fill out the form, how to get the form, and tips for filing it correctly.

In the podcast Carol mentioned using a 1099-MISC filing service like Yearli.com. Email Carol@HomeschoolCPA.com for a discount code worth  15% of their prices.

 

Featured resource

Are you paying workers in your homeschool organization? Can a volunteer be paid? Should a worker be treated as an employee or independent contractor? Do you know the difference?

Homeschool leader and CPA, Carol Topp, has the answers to your questions in her book Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization.

This 130 page book covers paying workers as employees or independent contractors. There are alos chapters on paying volunteers and board members. It includes sample forms, tips and advice to help you pay workers in accordance with the IRS laws to help your organization pay their workers correctly. Written specifically for homeschool organizations.

Click Here to request more information!

Carol Topp, CPA

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Why I think most homeschool teachers should be paid as employees

 

I state pretty clearly in my book Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization (3rd edition) that teachers in a homeschool program should be treated as employees not Independent Contractors.

I’ve gotten some push back on my opinion.  I understand why. No one likes the expense and paperwork involved in employees, especially when they are  hiring part-time and seasonal employees.


But my goal is to keep homeschool organizations and their leaders out of trouble with the IRS and state governments. We don’t need a target on our backs! So I’m going to stick to my opinion because I think it’s correct and best protects homeschool leaders.


So let me explain why I have the opinion I do:

The IRS guidelines on worker classification are where I start. The IRS has the old 20-factor test and the newer 3 factor common law rules. I wrote about both of these guidelines extensively in Paying Workers.

But, I base my opinion on more than the IRS guidelines. I base it on hours of reading IRS rulings and tax court cases and my understanding of how homeschool programs operate.

I also base my opinion on this statement given by Bertrand M Harding, an attorney who specializes in nonprofit law. In his book The Tax Law of Colleges and Universities (Third Edition, Wiley, 2008) he writes,

“In at least one audit, the IRS agents asserted that, because instruction is such a basic and fundamental component of a college or university*, individuals who are hired to provide instruction should always be treated as employees because the school is so interested and involved in what they do that it will always exercise significant direction and control over their activities.” (emphasis added)

* The IRS was specifically addressing instructors at colleges and universities, but I believe their conclusion applies to public schools, private schools, and homeschool programs as well.

Some homeschool leaders differ with my opinion. I believe they are putting themselves at risk and I caution them about IRS penalties, etc. The Landry Academy IRS problems was a wake up call of how bad it can get. Although I don’t know the particular details on the financial penalties faced by Landry Academy, it was significant enough that the business declared bankruptcy.

I released a podcast on creative ways that homeschool co-ops can hire teachers without paying them as employees. Creative Ways to Run Your Co-op Without Employees

I hope that helps,

Carol Topp, CPA
HomeschoolCPA.com

Can a homeschool co-op have independent contractors and follow the IRS guidelines?

Hi Carol!

Are you aware of any homeschool co-ops/tutorials that have hired teachers as independent contractors and do it in a way that follows the IRS guidelines?
Thanks!
Lauren

Lauren,

I am aware of a lot of homeschool co-op and tutorials that pay teachers as Independent Contractors. Are they following the IRS rules?

Maybe. It depends. Read on…

After a lot of research into IRS rulings and US Tax Court cases concerning the classification of teachers (usually college professors), I learned that one of the factors that weighed heavily in the decision (employee or Independent Contractor) was:

Does the worker provide the primary activity of the organization.

This was really important in the IRS and tax court decisions.

Case 1: employees: I spoke to one homeschool leader who ran a homeschool tutorial program with 12 teachers, all paid instructors. There were no volunteer teachers. Those teachers are providing the key activity of the business. Without them, there would be no homeschool tutorial program. Those teachers are employees.

Case 2: Independent Contractor: On the other hand, I spoke to a homeschool co-op leader who had 15 parents volunteering as teachers and one paid outside person to teach one class. This person was very independent (she had an established tutoring business, picked her own curriculum, received no training or benefits from the co-op, brought in her own supplies, and many other factors).  She was treated as an Independent Contractor. Her services were not the key activity of the co-op; what the volunteer parents provided was the key activity of the co-op. The co-op could continue to exist if that Independent Contractor teacher was unavailable.
This co-op did everything they could to avoid controlling their Independent Contractor teacher. They also has a written agreement and she invoiced the co-op for her services.

But just to be sure, they requested I write a letter clearly stating the facts of their situation and my determination that the outside teacher was correctly classified as an Independent Contractor. It’s called a comfort letter.

My letter, as the opinion of a tax professional licensed to practice before the IRS, can serve as a reasonable basis if the IRS ever questions the homeschool co-op. This reasonable basis will help the homeschool co-op avoid any penalties and back taxes from the IRS.

See how the facts and circumstances of each case can be different? There is not bright line test in worker classification. The determination if your homeschool program teacher is an employee or Independent Contractor depends on the facts and circumstances of each case.

If you would like help determining your teacher’s status or have me write a “comfort” letter, contact me. We’ll set up a phone call where I ask you a bunch of questions. The phone call will be followed up with an email containing a fact-based determination and information to help you take the next steps.

My book Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization is a great place to start to understand how to properly classify your workers.

I released a podcast on creative ways that homeschool co-ops hire teachers without paying them as employees. It runs about 9 minutes long.

Creative Ways to Run Your Co-op Without Employees

I hope that helps,

Carol Topp, CPA
HomeschoolCPA.com
Helping homeschool leaders