I had a tax question about unpaid internships and being able to deduct the expenses of that internship on your taxes. From all of the research I did I was unable to find anything that would allow for such a thing. It seems that without a 1099 or w-2 from the company the person doing the internship is inelgible for any type of tax break for the cost she spent to participate in this unpaid internship. A client of mine recently moved for a few months to work on an unpaid internship, and she has to pay to live while doing this intern.. She was wondering if any of those expenses are deductible.
This is a great question. I had to think about it for a bit. Here’s what I think (I think).
The best chance for your client to claim a deduction would be as an educational expense. To be deductible as an educational expense, the expense must be for (1) education that maintains or improves job performance or (2) serves the purpose of the employer and is required by the employer or by law to keep salary, status or job, and (3) the education is not part of a program that will qualify for a new trade or business.
If your clients meet that criteria, then she can deduct tuition, books, supplies, lab fees, and similar items; certain transportation and travel costs; and other education expenses. Moving expenses, however, would not be included.
In fact, even if the client wasn’t a student and could prove that she qualified as an employee, a seasonal internship (paid or unpaid) wouldn’t qualify for a moving expense deduction because it would not satisfy the “time test” requirement piece of the moving expenses criteria.
If the internship was paid, the intern could claim certain expenses on a Schedule C or Schedule A. I don’t think there’s any good argument for claiming expenses against zero income in this case on a Schedule C (unless one of my colleagues wants to make it for me). But I do think you might have a decent case for itemizing some expenses on a Schedule A, Miscellaneous Deductions as unreimbursed job expenses. I think you can make an argument that an intern could be considered an employee despite the lack of compensation.
Of course, the icky part of the Schedule A deductions is that you have to itemize to claim them. I’m guessing that an unpaid intern is also not a homeowner and likely doesn’t have enough deductions to itemize. But if, if, if the intern is itemizing, I think a deduction under Schedule A, Miscellaneous Deductions would work.
To qualify as an unreimbursed employee expense, the expense must be:
- Paid or incurred during your tax year;
- For carrying on your trade or business of being an acquired in your trade or business; and
- Ordinary and necessary.
This was my best guess on this one – it’s a tricky question for sure. I’d be interested to hear what my colleagues think…
Like any good lawyer, I need to add a disclaimer: Unfortunately, it is impossible to give comprehensive tax advice over the internet, no matter how well researched or written. Before relying on any information given on this site, contact a tax professional to discuss your particular situation.
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