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

My homeschool is a private school. Can I use 529 funds?

I explained in “Can homeschoolers use 529 plans? Maybe!” that you can use 529 savings account funds for tuition paid to a public, private, or religious school.

Some homeschool students take classes from private schools (locally or online). The tuition payments to these schools can use 529 funds without  penalty or taxes.

So that begs the question,

“In my state, my homeschool is considered a private school. So can I use 529 funds for my private school/homeschool expenses?”

No. Sorry!

Here’s why:

The expenses must be to pay tuition. You don’t pay yourself tuition! That would be silly and not tax-smart.

Your other homeschool expenses such as books, curriculum, school supplies, field trips and are not paymnets for tuition and so you cannot use 529 funds without paying a hefty penalty!

Tuition payments to organizations that are not schools like your local co-op, Classical Conversations, etc.  cannot use 529 funds either (without incurring taxes and a 10% penalty!)

Carol Topp, CPA

Does using a distance learning program mean I can use 529 funds?

 

If you are homeschooling using an accredited, distance learning program like Mother of Divine Grace where you pay tuition, can you then use your 529 plan money?

Katie in Indiana

 

Katie,

529 plans have been a popular way to save for college expenses and have the gains be tax-free when used for qualified educational expenses. The Tax Cut and Jobs Act or 2017 expanded the use of 529 plans to include K-12 expenses. The laws says this about using 529 plans for K-12 expenses:

the term ‘qualified higher education expense’ shall include a reference to expenses for tuition in connection with enrollment or attendance at an elementary or secondary public, private, or religious school.” (emphasis added)

There are 2 conditions for you to use 529 funds for K-12 expenses:

1) the costs must be for tuition and

2) the institution you pay must be “a public, private, or religious school

Mother of Divine Grace (MODG) is a California for profit corporation that describes itself as a private school and a private distance school in their California filings.

So if your children are enrolled at MODG (or similar private schools offering distance learning), you paid MODG tuition, and MODG is a school, then you can use your 529 plan to pay for tuition.

Homeschool parents should check with the program to whom they are paying tuition to determine if it is a school according to their state’s definition. If you have any concern about their status as a school, then do not use 529 funds to pay for the tuition. Withdrawals from a 529 fund that are not “qualified” (i.e. tuition paid to a public, private, or religious school) then you must pay income tax and a penalty of 10%. Ouch!

Your other homeschool-related expenses such as books, supplies, equipment, and payments to organizations that are not schools (like a homeschool co-op) cannot use 529 funds.

Carol Topp, CPA

 

 

Where to find the Taxes for CC Directors ebook

 

I know its the day AFTER tax filing season ended, but I just learned from two helpful people (thank you!!) where to find the ebook Taxes for Licensed CC Directors.

 

Here is what I was told:
The link is in an updated (updated March 29th) version of the Director’s Licensing Guide (DLG) on page 54.
At the end of a paragraph on that page, there is a sentence saying for more information see Appendix M and “this document,” which is the link to the ebook. 
Appendix M is a letter from Robert Bortins talking about the book. The title of the book is not mentioned, except if you click the little blue “this document” link you will see the book itself.

 

Please help out your fellow CC Directors and point them to the Directors Licensing Guide (which I believe is available online for licensed CC Directors) page 54, Appendix M and click on “this document.” 

 

Why can’t I get the ebook from Carol Topp, CPA, the author?
Unfortunately, I cannot distribute the ebook myself. My contract with Classical Conversations states that only CC may distribute the book. I am so sorry that it was not available sooner in this tax season and that it seems to be difficult for many of you to find.

 

What if I messed up my taxes?
If you read the ebook and believe you have made an error in filing your 2017 tax return, please consult a tax professional. If you prepared your tax return yourself, please contact a local tax professional to help you amend your tax return. It’s a confusing and complicated process to amend a tax return so I don’t recommend you doing it yourself. How to find a local tax professional

 

I hope that helps.
Again I apologize that the book was not available earlier in the tax season. It went through several reviews and edits and that delayed its release.

 

Carol Topp, CPA
Helping Homeschool Leaders and Organizations

Can homeschoolers use 529 plans? Maybe!

Congress decided to expand 529 savings plans to be used for K-12 expenses in the Tax Cut and Jobs Act or 2017. 529 plans were originally set up to save for college. The earnings on the savings is tax free. But they specifically excluded homeschool expenses from using 529 funds.

That seemed unfair to a lot of homeschoolers.

But there may be a way for homeschoolers to use their 529 savings accounts for some K-12 expenses.

The Tax Cut and Jobs Act or 2017 says this:

the term ‘qualified higher education expense’ shall include a reference to expenses for tuition in connection with enrollment or attendance at an elementary or secondary public, private, or religious school.”. (emphasis added)

There are 2 conditions for you to use 529 funds for K-12 expenses:

1) the costs must be for tuition and

2) the institution the family pays must be “a public, private, or religious school”

Some homeschool students take classes from private schools (locally or online). The tuition payments to these schools can use 529 funds.

But the cost of books, supplies, equipment, and payments to organizations that are not schools cannot use 529 funds.

Be careful that the tuition payments are going to a public, private, or religious school. In my experience most homeschool programs (co-ops, tutorials, etc) are NOT schools.

Homeschool parents should check with the program that they are paying tuition to to determine if it is a school according to their state’s definition.

If you have any concern about their status as a school, then do not use 529 funds to pay for the tuition. Withdrawals from a 529 fund that are not “qualified” (i.e. tuition paid to a public, private, or religious school) then you pay income tax and a penalty of 10% on the withdrawn funds. Ouch!

Carol Topp, CPA

What homeschool expenses can I deduct on my taxes?

Here’s a list of homeschool expenses you can deduct on your federal income tax return (Form 1040):

1.

Yes, that’s the list! It’s empty. There are NO homeschool expenses that you can deduct on your individual federal income tax return.

(Sorry for the click bait in the title!)

Homeschooling expenses are personal expenses, like groceries or clothes, and are not tax deductible on the US federal income tax return.

You cannot deduct your groceries or your clothes on your tax return and you cannot deduct your homeschooling expenses on your federal income tax return, either.

A few states may allow a tax deduction, a tax credit, or an educational saving account. But not your Uncle Sam (the US federal government).

 

Clever ideas to dodge taxes (that won’t work)

Sometimes homeschool families try to get clever and think that they will form a homeschool business and deduct the expenses. The idea is for the dad to hire his wife to teach their children. Then they can deduct school supplies, the mom’s wages as a homeschool teacher, etc.

Sounds pretty clever, huh? Except it doesn’t work anymore than paying mom to cook and feed the family by running an “in-house restaurant” won’t work. That’s because in both these plans (homeschooling as a business and in-house restaurant) there are no customers that are paying for the mom’s services.

Also, the mom has to declare her income to the IRS and she will have to pay taxes on it! That’s why families don’t hire mom to run an in-house restaurant and they shouldn’t hire mom to homeschool the kids either.

So forget the idea of forming your family homeschool as a business.

Homeschools as private school. Any tax breaks?

Some states treat homeschools as private schools, so some families think they can avoid taxes by declaring their private homeschool as a nonprofit organizations and get tax exempt status as a private school. That’s pretty clever too, huh? Only it won’t work.

Briefly, a nonprofit organization exists to serve a group, not an individual. The IRS will not grant “recognized charity” 501(c)(3) tax exempt status to a group that is formed solely to benefit the founder’s family. A tax exempt organization must serve a public good.

The IRS forbids private “inurement” in 501(c)(3) tax exempt organizations. Inurement means to be beneficial or advantageous. Inurement occurs when an organization is formed or operates with an incorrect charitable purpose that allows individuals in control to directly and personally benefit from the organization. 501(c)(3) organizations can lose their tax exempt status for practicing inurement.

So forget the idea of your family homeschool becoming a nonprofit organization.

 

In the end, do what the rest of use do, pay your taxes.

Don’t look to Uncle Sam to give you a tax break because you choose to educate your children at home. Instead appreciate the freedom we have an Americans to homeschool.

 

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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Any Tax Deductions for Homeschoolers This Year?

 

Are there any tax deductions for homeschoolers this year?

Carol Topp, CPA answered this question originally back in 2014, but the answer is still the same-even with the new tax laws passed in 2017. Additionally, Carol gives some details on college expenses that are tax deductible and tax advantaged college savings plans.

This is a repeat of a podcast episode aired in 2014. I (Carol) caught a nasty cold and sinus infection and couldn’t talk without coughing for several weeks. I hope you find the re-broadcast of this episode helpful!

 

In the podcast Carol mentioned these resources:

Home School Legal Defense Association has an explanation of some states’ tax breaks or credits:http://www.hslda.org/docs/nche/000010/200504150.asp

Ann Zeise of A to Z Home’s Cool has a great, detailed and lengthy post of tax write-offs for homeschoolers:
https://a2zhomeschooling.com/laws/homeschool_laws_legalities/tax_deductions_educational_writeoffs/

 

Carol Topp, CPA

 

Taxes for Classical Conversations Directors

Last tax year I was asked a lot of questions about taxes by Classical Conversations directors and tutors. Things like:

  • What tax form should I to use to report my income and expenses?
  • What expenses were tax deductible?
  • What tax forms do I need to give to my tutors?
  • How should tutors be paid?
  • How do I pay myself as a CC Director?

Fortunately, there is an ebook in the works to help CC Directors titled:

Taxes for Classical Conversions Directors

The ebook is available only to Licensed CC Directors from Classical Conversations, Inc

You can find the ebook here

 

I recommend 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

Consult a local small business CPA. To find a local tax preparer I recommend two sources:

Both of these websites allow you to search for a local tax preparer who is knowledgeable about taxes for small sole proprietor businesses.

 

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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How to Find a Local Tax Professional

I like local!

I try to support local businesses and frequently tell tax clients in other states or cities to use a local tax professional.

How do you find a local tax professional?

Here are some tips:

I am no longer accepting tax clients for individual tax preparation, but I can help you with :

  • Business consultations by phone, especially of you operate a homeschool business like Classical Conversations, etc.
  • Nonprofit consultations by phone, especially of you are a homeschool organization or local Cincinnati nonprofit.
  • Assistance with applying for 501(c)(3) tax exempt status, especially of you are a homeschool organization or local Cincinnati nonprofit.
  • Filing annual IRS Form 990/990-EZ for tax exempt organizations

Please contact me via email, tell me a little about your business or nonprofit, and what questions and issues you have. We’ll see if I can help you or if you need to go local.

 

Carol Topp, CPA