(UPDATE: The giveaway is now closed. We have a winner! See the comments for more info.)
It’s Back To School on the blog!
When my son was in kindergarten, you could find me in his classroom every Friday morning. Like many of my friends, I was a classroom mom since funding cuts meant that there were no teacher’s aides at school.
Each child in kindergarten had a cubby where they stashed their belongings, including school supplies dutifully labeled with Sharpie markers. There was one cubby that was almost always empty. That cubby belonged to a sweet little boy whose mom couldn’t afford to stock it with crayons, pencils and school scissors that the other kids – like mine – were fortunate enough to have. Yet, that same little boy was always prepared at his desk, crayons, pencils and school scissors at the ready. I finally figured out what was happening: his kindergarten teacher slipped supplies onto his desk every morning. None of the other kids noticed, which is how it should be.
Over the year, I also discovered new books in the reading nook, refilled soap pumps at the sink, fresh paints in the art center and even a stash of clean underwear – just in case. They were, after all, kindergarteners.
Those supplies weren’t being topped up by the school. They were paid for out of pocket by the teacher. When I asked one day if I could help out, she shook her head. “But,” I pushed, “This is your money.” She looked at me and said, simply, “These are my kids.” And they were.
With many schools struggling to keep the lights on, teachers often find themselves dipping into their own pockets to buy books and supplies for “their” kids.
For the 2013 tax year, the IRS offered teachers and other eligible educators a little bit of a break. Under the rules, if you were an eligible educator, you could deduct up to $250 of any unreimbursed expenses paid or incurred for books, supplies, computer equipment, other equipment, and supplementary materials used in the classroom; those expenses must have been paid or incurred during the 2013 tax year. If your spouse had qualified out of pocket educator expenses and you file jointly, you could claim up to $500. Report the deduction on either line 23 of the federal form 1040 or line 16 of form 1040A – it’s available even to those eligible educators who did not itemize in 2013. For purposes of the deduction, eligible educators were defined as teachers, instructors, counselors, principals or aides for kindergarten through grade 12 who put in at least 900 hours during the school year in a school that provides elementary or secondary education, as determined under state law.
It was a nice break for educators but one that Congress didn’t see fit to renew. The educator expense deduction expired after December 31, 2013. That means that you may claim it on your tax year 2013 tax return (if you’re still on extension) but you may not claim it on your 2014 tax return (assuming that Congress doesn’t renew it retroactively).
Without the educator expense deduction, teachers and other school employees still have one more bite at the apple in 2014: those taxpayers who itemize may claim unreimbursed employee expenses on a Schedule A subject to the 2% rule. The 2% rule means that you can only deduct expenses which are in excess of 2% of your adjusted gross income (AGI).

As an example, if your AGI is $50,000 and your unreimbursed employee expenses are $1,500, you can claim $500 ($50,000 x 2% = $1,000 which means that you can only deduct the amount ($500) of your expenses which exceed $1,000).

In contrast, if your AGI is $50,000 and your unreimbursed employee expenses are $700, you may not claim any of those expenses ($50,000 x 2% = $1,000 which is greater than $700).

You don’t have to be a teacher to claim the unreimbursed employee expenses but the rules make it clear that educator expenses not claimed elsewhere on your return qualify for the deduction. For purposes of the deduction, unreimbursed employee expenses must be:

  • Paid or incurred during your tax year,
  • For carrying on your trade or business of being an employee, and
  • Ordinary and necessary.

As with all of your deductions, you’ll want to keep excellent records (save those receipts!).
And that brings us to today’s giveaway – the first of the Back to School series! Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores will provide a gift card worth $100 to one lucky reader. It’s perfect for teachers who are already ponying up for supplies. Jo-Ann offers some specific teacher-only benefits: check out http://www.joann.com/teacherrewards/ to learn more about the Jo-Ann rewards program, product offering, classroom inspiration and to get your free 2014-2015 lesson planner.
You don’t have to be a teacher to win the gift card – it’s open to everyone who is not otherwise restricted (read the fine print below)! To enter to win, just post a comment below telling me the name of one of your most memorable teachers. I’ll go first to get you started: Mr. Matros.
Entries must be posted in the comments section for this blog post in the space below by 5:00 p.m. EST on September 10, 2014. It’s just that easy. I’ll choose the winner randomly (using a number generator) out of all of the qualifying entries.
Be sure and read the fine print for more rules because, as you know, I’m a lawyer and I like rules:

  • Don’t panic if your comment doesn’t show immediately. If it goes to moderation because, for example, you’re new here, the time stamp on your comment is what counts. If you have difficulty registering, please send an email to tech@taxgirl.com so that I can help if I need to/can.
  • I love my Twitter followers and my Facebook fans but for this particular giveaway, tweets and Facebook comments will not be counted. Ditto for emails. You must leave your comment on the blog at this post.
  • You can enter as many times as you like but you must leave a different answer each time you comment.
  • Offensive comments or comments that otherwise violate the comment policy will be deleted and will not be considered valid for purposes of the contest. Similarly, pingbacks and other links will be disregarded for purposes of the contest.
  • I will need your full name and your email address: be sure to use your real information when you register to leave a comment. I won’t publish your email address but I do need contact information for the winning entry. If your entry is selected and I can’t reach you, you lose your right to claim the prize.
  • Due to shipping considerations, you must have a valid United States address. Sorry, Canada, eh?
  • I respect your privacy and I will not send you anything unrelated to your entry in this contest. By entering the contest, you agree that I may post any part or all of your submission including your name as a part of the contest announcements or promotions, with the exception of your email address.
  • Prizes are provided directly by our sponsors and are not exchangeable or redeemable for other prizes. Sponsors do not pay for placement and do not receive any compensation for contributions – neither do I! I have no affiliation, paid or otherwise, with any of our sponsors.
  • If you aren’t allowed to participate in giveaways because of the laws in your state or your age or an agreement that you’ve made with your mother, consider this giveaway not applicable to you. In other words: void where prohibited or restricted.
  • Like Judge Judy, my determination is final.
  • Finally, the giveaway is about me, me, me. It’s not affiliated with or endorsed by Forbes. So leave them out of it, okay?

Ready? Comment away! And thanks for participating in Back To School 2014!

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Kelly Erb is a tax attorney, tax writer and podcaster.

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