Do homeschool teachers get the Educators Expense deduction?

IRS

I am frequently, “Are there any tax breaks for homeschooling parents?”  My usual reply is, “No; there are no tax credits or deductions for homeschool expenses at the federal level.” There are tax breaks offered by some states that I discuss in another blog post.

But here’s a bit of a new twist on the question from a homeschool mother.

I spoke with an IRS representative just today about an educator’s expense tax break.
The IRS rep stated that IRS laws specifically prohibit homeschoolers from getting up to $250 credit for educational items purchased. However, he stated congressional law overrides IRS law and that congressional law requires teachers work in a school as defined by state law. In our home state, Kentucky, we are considered private schools. The IRS rep suggested I give the credit a go next year but be prepared for an audit. Can you shed some light on the situation?

She is referring to the Educators Expense deduction of up to $250 in unreimbursed expenses.

The IRS guidelines say to be an eligible educator:

“You work at least 900 hours a school year in a school that provides elementary or secondary education, as determined under state law.”

To work means to get paid (to the IRS, not to all of us SAHMs!).  Homeschool parents are not employees of a school.  We do not get paid; we do not get a W-2.  I attended a tax workshop where we were told that the IRS will check for a W-2 from a school if a taxpayer takes the Educator Expense deduction. Homeschoolers would not have a W-2 from a school, even if your state classifies your homeschool as a private school.

The intention of the tax deduction was to move the deduction from the Schedule A (Itemized deductions) Miscellaneous Deductions where it was subject to a 2% of Adjusted Gross Income limit (meaning anything over 2% of your AGI could be deducted) and put the deduction on the front page of the 1040, so even teachers who don’t itemize deductions can take advantage of the $250 deduction.

The Educator Expense Deduction was nearly eliminated in 2006, but received an extension.  I predict the deduction will not be around for much longer.  IMHO, it was President Bush’s attempt to get a few votes from paid teachers.

So in short, I do not take the Educators Expense deduction, nor recommend that other homeschool families take the deduction.  The IRS rep was right, be prepared for an audit.  But without a W-2 from a school, you won’t win.

HTH,
Carol

P.S.  Here are my required “lawyer” words:
Internal Revenue Service Circular 230 Disclosure:  Advice relating to federal taxes that is contained in this communication (including attachments) is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of  avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or  promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any transaction or matter addressed herein.

Bank account for your family homeschool

BankXSmall

This homeschooling mother in NC ran into a problem when she tried to open a bank account for her family homeschool.

I live in North Carolina, homeschool my children and want to do some fund raising for some projects and field trips and also school supplies.

I went to the bank, wanting to open an account in the homeschool’s name and they said that I would have to open up an account in my name doing business as my homeschool’s name.

My question to you is, how do I go about paying taxes on the money? I do not want to get into trouble with the IRS. Was that the right thing for me to have done? Waiting to hear from you soon!
Kim

Dear Kim,

I’ve been asked questions like yours before. I answered them in two posts on my blog.

Can we (an individual homeschool) be allowed to do fund raising similar to youth sports groups, scouts,etc?

Yes, you can participate in a fund raiser if the fund raising organization allows it. BUT, the profit you make is taxable income and you’ll need to report it on your tax return.

Can my individual homeschool have a fundraiser?

Individual fundraisers and homeschool groups

I hope that answers your question; let me know if it doesn’t.

Carol Topp, CPA

IRS Intimidates Homeschool Group

I have helped several homeschool groups obtain tax exempt status with a 100% successful track record (no one has ever been denied by the IRS). One homeschool group even received their tax exempt status letter from the IRS in only three weeks!  That’s amazingly fast for the IRS; it typically takes 3 months!

But recently a homeschool group in Texas e-mailed me for help. They had applied for tax exempt status as a 501c3 educational organization.  I did not prepare their application, but looked over their website and they appeared to be similar to hundreds of homeschool organizations across the US. But the IRS was going to deny their application, keep their $750 application fee, bar them from applying again and claimed to be building a file to be used against other organizations like them seeking tax exempt status!

This was horrible and could have had a huge negative impact on homeschool co-ops and support groups across the US.  I recommended they speak to the attorneys at Homeschool Legal Advantage. There is a time and a place to hire a lawyer and this was it!

Homeschool Legal Advantage recently e-mailed this update

https://app.e2ma.net/app/view:CampaignPublic/id:8078.2491060969/rid:4166d5ca89236cc41a5c872dd1372e97

As you can read they were a great help to this homeschool organization and resolved the matter quickly with the IRS.

The article mentioned the difference between 501c3 and 501c7 status and you may find that  a bit confusing. Additionally, the groups use of the word ‘co-op’ confused the IRS as to their purpose. What is right for your homeschool organization? How should you present your group tpo the IRS when applying for tax exempt status?

Feel free to email me to arrange a private consultation via telephone.  Each group is unique and an individual consultation will be very helpful

Carol Topp, CPA

P.S. I was so pleased to meet the attorneys with Homeschool Legal Advantage at the Midwest Homeschool Convention in Cincinati in 2009. They were so helpful in desiring to work with homeschool organizations as well as indiviual families.

Banker wants IRS letter to open a checking account

Hi Carol,

At your leader meeting a few months back, you had recommended that all of our groups have the same EIN number.  When a group leader tried to change their account to one using our EIN, the banker wanted a copy of our original letter from the IRS.   I told the banker that we have never had to provide anything except a letter from me (one who obtained the number in 2002) and the EIN number which we provided.  He said it was just a personal preference of his.  Have you heard of this?  I am uncomfortable doing more than what is usually required and providing personal paperwork to him.  Am I being unreasonable, or do you think it is okay to provide it?   Thanks for any insight.

Debi in Indiana

Debi,

I’m with you-the banker should not need an IRS determination letter (I assume that’s what’s he is talking about) to open a nonprofit checking account. Some nonprofits never get a tax exempt determination letter from the IRS because they self declare their tax exempt status and never formally apply. (Note: only churches, social clubs and charities with less than $5,000 in annual income can self declare tax exempt status; all other organizations must apply for tax exempt status).

Most nonprofits need a checking account before getting IRS tax exempt status because the IRS charges a fee to process a tax exempt application!

Don’t believe the banker if he says an IRS 501c3 determination letter is required to open a checking account (fortunately he said it was his personal preference).  I once had a bank teller  tell me that nonprofits couldn’t earn interest on their savings accounts because they were nonprofit!  She was greatly mistaken. Bankers don’t always know what they are talking about (outside of banking…)

Carol Topp, CPA

Debi followed up my reply with the following

I think there is some confusion on what the bank manager is asking for.

I don’t think he is asking for us to prove that we are a 501c3 non-profit as recognized by the IRS. I think that all he wants is a copy of the letter from the Department of the Treasury that assigned us the EIN number. He probably doesn’t even know the right terms for what he is asking.

Yes, I think you are correct.  The banker may have only been asking for the EIN paper from the IRS, not a 501c3 determination letter.
I guess he’s being careful about getting the EIN correctly from the IRS letter itself.  I can’t blame him for that.

Carol Topp, CPA

Update on teachers as independent contractors

In Is Your Hired Teacher Really an Employee? I mentioned a homeschool group dealing with the IRS over teacher classification as an employee or independent contractor (IC).

They replied to the IRS via a letter stating their case for worker status as an Independent Contractor. They heard back from the IRS and the IRS determined that the teacher was misclassified as an independent contractor and should be reclassified as an employee.  The IRS wants $500 in back taxes (at least there are no penalties!)  The homeschool organization strongly disagrees and contacted a labor law attorney to help draft a letter back to the IRS.

Update:  The IRS issue was settled with the IRS winning the issue. The homeschool organization reclassified all their teachers as employees. There were no penalties to pay to the IRS, but then the State of Ohio audited this homeschool group and has fined them  $3,000-$4,000 a year for three years for unpaid unemployment taxes.  The State of Ohio sided with the IRS that the workers were employees and the organization should have been paying unemployment taxes on them.  Thankfully, the state can only audit back for three years.

The issue brought to light that many (perhaps most) homeschool organizations that hire teachers pay them as independent contractors.  Most homeschool groups are small nonprofits without accounting staff to manage the paperwork of withholding and paying employment taxes, creating W-2s, etc.  It’s easier to deal with an IC than an employee.  But the IRS reminds us the the facts of the situation determine worker status, not the organization’s preference.

Also, most hired homeschool teachers are only teaching about one hour a week and are given a lot of freedom in how to conduct their class.  This was all true for my client, but the IRS still determined the teacher was an employee. She even signed a IC agreement three years in a row, so even a contract was not enough evidence for the IRS.

Here’s what I’m doing:

1. Telling my homeschool clients that hire teachers to carefully consider worker classification.  Having a signed IC agreement is not enough.
2. Advising some of my homeschool clients to reclassify teachers as employees and start withholding federal income tax, Social Security and Medicare taxes.  These clients hire several teachers for several hours a week and exert a lot of control over what and how they teach.  One group also does teacher training and evaluations so the workers definitely look like employees.

3. Change the way my small co-op pays teachers.  The IRS letter stated , “if the worker had been an independent contractor, the parents would have directly paid the worker for the services she provided for their children.” Starting next semester we will have parents pay the hired teachers directly. See Paying teachers in a homeschool co-op to read our story

4. Trying to get out the word to homeschool leaders about the potential problems of worker misclassification and in general the employment laws regarding hiring paid teachers.

5. Encourage homeschool leaders to read my book Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization. It can buy you a lot of peace of mind.

 

Please pass on this information to homeschool groups that you know hire paid teachers.  It doesn’t pay to be ignorant.

Carol Topp, CPA

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W-2s and tax filings for homeschool co-op teachers

A homeschool co-op treasurer asks about the tax filings for paid teachers:

Hi,
I am the treasurer for a new co-op we have setup this summer, and will be starting our class days in the beginning of September. I am looking to get some advice from you on how we need to define our mentors (teachers), and if we need to give them W-2’s, and if we need to with-hold taxes, etc.

We will have about 12 mentors, each teaching a class of 8-9 kids on Fridays. We follow a curriculum that the parents buy on their own. We try to keep the cost very low, so the mentors, which are all mom’s of kids in the program get paid $800 for the year.

We have already been setup as a South Dakota non-profit corporation, and would like to work towards a 501c3 in the future, but not this year. Our main issue right now is we need to move forward with setting up a checking account, which requires an EIN, and to get that we need to know if we have employees. Also, I want to determine how I need to be paying them, as far as tax with-holdings, etc.

Thank you,
Doug M, SD

Doug,
Congratulations on your new co-op. It sounds as if you are off to an great start! You should be very proud of all that you have accomplished.

As you described the co-op’s relationship with the paid mentors, they should all be classified as employees. Your co-op exercises quite a bit of control by telling them what curriculum to use, so they are not independent contractors.

IRS Publication 15 Employers Tax Guide has a nice checklist of forms and dates that you’ll need to file:

You should collect a Form W-4 from each employee for their information and federal tax withholding To make your job simpler you can tell your employees that the co-op will not withhold federal or state income tax since their wages are relatively small. The W-4 is kept by you and not mailed into the IRS.

The co-op will be responsible for paying federal employer taxes (Social Security and Medicare) and filing quarterly statements with the IRS (called a Form 941). See IRS Publication 15

If you have 501(c)(3) tax exempt status, your co-op would be exempt from Federal Unemployment tax. But the tax is rather small at 0.8% (See Form 940 and its Instructions)

At the end of the year you will issue a W-2 to each employee and mail copies of the W-2 and W-3 to the Social Security Administration. See Pub 15 (above) for details.

South Dakota may have unemployment tax requirements and workers compensation payments. Contact your state’s department of taxation or employment for details. I’m no expert on SD taxes, but here is a place to start: SD New Hire Reporting

Try not to be overwhelmed by all this. My new book Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization can help you understand your payroll obligations.

Carol Topp, CPA


payingworkerscoveroutlined

Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization-2nd edition

$9.95 paperback
130 pages
Copyright 2017
ISBN 978-0-9909579-3-5

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Update on the IRS and Booster Club Fundraising

I mentioned in a previous post that three booster clubs in KY were being fined by the IRS for their fund raising practices. The issue was that the booster club was giving parents credit for their fund raising efforts.

The IRS and Fundraising

The booster clubs have appealed to their congressmen for help.  But it appears the IRS is digging in its heels on this issue. From the Lexington Herald-Leader:

Lois G. Lerner, Director of Exempt Organizations for the IRS, explained in a letter to the booster clubs that any booster club that raises money to benefit an individual student rather than a group is in violation of federal law and stands to lose its tax-exempt status. Lerner said the practice was against federal law.

“The requirement that each parent/member of the club must participate in the fund-raising activities in direct proportion to the benefits they expect to receive toward their children’s expenses directly benefits specific individuals and the parents instead of the class of children as a whole,” she wrote.

Do a Google search on “KY Booster Club IRS” to read more on the story (copyright prohibits a direct link)

So my advice is as before: If your organization is sharing, dividing or distributing fund raising proceeds to individuals or families, stop the practice and leave all fund raising proceeds in the general fund to benefit the group at large.

I’ll keep watching this issue. If the congressmen have any success with the IRS, I’ll let you know via this blog and my monthly newsletter (subscribe in the upper right hand corner of this page)

Carol Topp, CPA

The IRS and Fund Raising

The IRS is playing Santa Claus this Christmas!

No, the IRS is not giving out presents this Christmas, but they are like Santa Claus and “making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty and nice...” and they have found some naughty children.

It seems that several booster clubs in KY were audited by the IRS and were fined for their fund raising practices. The issue was that the booster club was giving parents credit for their fund raising efforts. Like a lot of organizations, the parents worked at concessions stands, car washes, candy sales and bongo games. The booster club awarded parents monetary credit for working the fundraisers. The IRS fined one organization $61,000! The group is even facing losing 501c3 tax exempt status. Sounds like the IRS is playing Scrooge and not Santa!

It is a common practice to set up individual accounts and split the fund raising proceeds among the parents that participated in the fund raising effort. If Johnny sold the most candy, he gets the largest share of the fund raising proceeds in his account. The IRS is concerned about private benefits. They expect to see the entire group of students benefit from fund raisers, not individuals.

If your organization is sharing, dividing or distributing fund raising proceeds to individuals or families, you are on the IRS naughty list! You had better restructure your fund raising efforts and get on the IRS nice list.

If you care to read more, do a Google search on : “KY Booster IRS.” The report from the Lexington Herald-Leader at Kentucky.com is most thorough in telling the story about KY’s booster clubs. (copyright prohibits me from a direct link)

Merry Christmas everyone!

Update posted January 14, 2009: Update on the IRS and Booster Club Fundraising

Carol Topp, CPA

Homeschool group avoids IRS tax notices

A homeschool group in Georgia asked for my help because they had been getting letters from the IRS about back taxes.

We are in dire need of your help. Our homeschool group has received notices from the IRS saying that we need to contact them regarding our overdue taxes. Our group was incorporated (in 2003) but we have not filed any paper work (tax returns or corporate updates) since. Please advise, as soon as possible.
TD, Georgia

I e-mailed and spoke to this homeschool leader several times, so I’ll summarize the resolution:

The treasurer e-mailed me because she had been getting letters from the IRS stating that the homeschool group was late in filing their corporate income tax return. The group ignored these letters for a few years until they found my website. It seems that the original founder had mistakenly thought that the group owed corporate income tax on their surplus. She had filed a Form 1120 (Corporate Income Tax Return ) with the IRS and paid them $71 several years ago. The IRS expected to see corporate tax returns every year thereafter and was mailing the letters when the returns were not filed.

Fortunately, the group had filed for nonprofit incorporation status with the State of Georgia several years before. This was solid documentation that the group was a nonprofit organization (even they did not have 501 tax exempt status with the IRS).

I called the IRS on behalf of the group and the IRS employee told me to mail a cover letter and a copy of the nonprofit incorporation certificate from the State of Georgia. I did so and when I called the IRS two weeks later, the IRS employee told me that the situation was taken care of, the case was closed and the group wouldn’t be getting any more letters! (We didn’t ask for a refund of the $71 previously paid, though!)

That is an excellent example of how nonprofit incorporation status helped one group avoid paying federal corporate income tax. I’m not sure that I could have convinced the IRS of their nonprofit status without the nonprofit incorporation certificate from the State of Georgia.

This is NOT to say that state nonprofit incorporation is the same as tax exempt status with the IRS. Tax exempt status with the IRS (granted by applying to the IRS using Form 1023 and paying the IRS fee) is the only way to guarantee that your group’s financial surplus will truly be classified as tax exempt.

You can read more about the benefits of nonprofit incorporation and tax exempt status in my book The IRS and Your Homeschool Organization.

Carol Topp, CPA