Depending on the school and the coursework, school supplies may include textbooks, notebooks, pens or a laptop. At the college level, you have multiple ways to write off the cost and multiple rules for whether school supplies are deductible. At the K-12 level, you're out of luck. Neither home schooling nor private school gets you any sort of tax break at the time of this publication.
Federal Tax Credits
The American Opportunity and Lifetime Learning credits allow you to deduct qualified education expenses from your tax bill, rather than your taxable income. Lifetime Learning only allows you to deduct supplies if buying them from the university is a condition of enrollment. American Opportunity allows you to write off books, equipment and supplies you need for school, no matter where you buy them. That includes computers, if the university requires you buy one.
Education Tax Deductions
The tuition and fees deduction lowers your taxable income rather than your tax bill. Like the American Opportunity credit, you can only deduct supplies if the college makes buying books, equipment or supplies from the school a condition of attendance. If you're taking continuing education as a job or license requirement, the rules are looser. You can write off books, equipment and supplies as a business expense if you're self-employed. Employees may be able to claim the cost as an itemized deduction.
While you can't get a tax credit or tax deduction for K-12 costs, you can pay for them out of a Coverdell account. There's no tax deduction for contributing to a Coverdell, but your investments grow tax free until you withdraw them. No tax applies to withdrawals from a Coverdell account for educational expenses. At the college level, books and supplies are only qualified spending if the school requires them. The costs of any books, supplies and equipment needed for K-12 are deductible, even if the school doesn't mandate them. School uniforms, however, are only deductible if they're mandatory.
Choosing the Path
Each different credit and deduction has its own rules for which students qualify, how much you can write off and whether income limits disqualify you for the deduction. The American Opportunity credit, for example, lets you write off $2,500 per qualifying college student for up to four years of school. Lifetime Learning offers a $2,000 total credit -- not per student -- but there's no limit to how many years you can take it.
A Durham, NC resident, Fraser has written about law, starting a business, balancing your budget and fighting evictions, among other legal and financial topics.