Tax Breaks for Private K-12 Schooling

In most circumstances, you won’t get a significant break on your taxes by sending your kids to a private school from kindergarten to grade 12.

  • The Internal Revenue Service doesn’t allow you to deduct private school tuition to lower your federal tax liability.
  • But in some states, like Arizona, you can claim private school tuition to help reduce the amount of state tax you’ll owe.

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If your child is attending private school for special needs, however, you may be able to get a tax break on your K-12 private school tuition. To qualify, you’ll need a physician’s referral proving that your child requires access to specialized private education. And, if your child qualifies, you may also be able to deduct the cost of special tutoring or training in addition to tuition.

  • To claim this deduction, you must itemize rather than choosing the standard deduction.
  • The expenses would need to qualify as deductible medical expenses that are reduced by 10% of your adjusted gross income (AGI) for 2019 and 2020 (7.5% of AGI for 2017 and 2018).

Coverdell Education Savings AccountsWhile you can’t generally use private school tuition to directly reduce your tax liability, the government may offer some tax relief in the form of Coverdell Education Savings Accounts, or ESAs. These accounts allow you to invest your education savings without paying tax on the earnings. ESA funds must be used to cover qualified education expenses, like

  • tuition,
  • textbooks, or
  • other supplies required by your child’s program.

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The tax benefits of contributing to a Coverdell ESA are capped—contributions for each beneficiary are limited to $2,000 a year. For example, if your child’s grandparents contribute $1,000 to her Coverdell account, you'd only be able to contribute $1,000.Your income might also reduce your contribution limits.

  • If your modified adjusted gross income is above $95,000 (or $190,000 if you're filing jointly), you'll notice a gradual reduction in your contribution limits.
  • If you're eligible, you can contribute to the account until your child turns 18, or beyond age 18 if your child has special needs.

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529 Education Savings PlansLike the Coverdell accounts explained above, beginning in 2018, you can also use savings from 529 plans to pay for K through 12-grade tuition. Each year, up to $10,000 per student can be withdrawn tax-free from these accounts. However, unlike Coverdell accounts, to retain the tax-free benefit, the 529 money can only be used for tuition and not for textbooks, computers, or other fees or activities. Tax Breaks on Post-Secondary EducationYou’ll get the majority of potential tax breaks if your children attend private or public colleges or universities. You—or your child—can use education tax credits to deduct the costs of tuition fees, books, and other required supplies that you pay to a qualified education institution.

Other Potential Tax DeductionsIf your school offers child care services outside of school hours, such as daycare before and after school for the convenience of working parents, you may be able to deduct some of the cost of that care via the Child and Dependent Care Credit. To qualify, you must pay child care costs separate from tuition and other expenses.

  • You can claim the credit for up to $3,000 for care for one child or $6,000 for care for two or more children.
  • The credit can be up to 35% of your qualifying expenses.

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