Staying ahead of the curve (and your clients) as a freelancer often requires extending your own education and sharing your knowledge with others. These efforts can also require the investment of dollars in workshops, classes, seminars, books, and other sources of information. Since these costs can add up, it’s smart to school yourself on what you can and cannot deduct from your freelance taxes so that you can save some dollars.
Educating yourself: what is deductible?
The good news is, if you are expanding your own knowledge base, most work-related education costs are fully tax deductible. The key qualifier is that whatever means you use to acquire new skills or information must add value to your existing business by expanding your current career expertise.
Specifically, the IRS looks at whether each education-related expense maintains or improves skills that are required in your current freelance business. Education expenses are not deductible if they qualify you for a new career or are outside the focus of your business. With this in mind the following education-related expenses can be deducted from your freelance income:
- Classes and workshops that improve skills related to your business
- Seminars, conferences, and webinars
- Subscriptions to trade or professional publications
- Books related to your industry
- Transportation expenses to and from classes, conferences, or workshops
If you are taking college classes at an eligible educational institution (any accredited public or private nonprofit college, university or vocational school), you can claim the following tax deductions or tax credits (you cannot deduct your expenses and then take a credit as well) — which are available to help with qualified college expenses such as tuition, books, and supplies.
The American Opportunity Tax Credit directly reduces the tax you owe. The maximum you can claim is $2,500 per student each year for four years. You must be enrolled in a class for at least three months of the tax year in which you are claiming this credit.
The Lifetime Learning Credit also directly reduces the tax you owe. The maximum you can claim is $2,000 per student per year with no limit on the number of years you can use it.
Regardless of whether you are using a tax credit or deducting your expenses on your taxable income, be aware that classes related to sports, gaming, hobbies, and those for which there is no credit are usually not deductible.
Providing an education experience for clients? Know what expenses you can deduct.
Sharing your knowledge with clients and prospects is one of the best ways to earn their trust and future freelance business. Whether you host a live workshop, speak at an event or create an online training, you can likely deduct at least some of the costs just as you would other business expenses, according to the IRS guidelines.
For example, if you were to host a workshop at a venue where you have to pay for the room, this expense could be deducted — as could the cost of printed materials and 50 percent of the costs of any food you provide. Keep in mind that under the new tax rules, if you hire any entertainment for your workshop or conference, you will not be able to claim any of the costs for it.
If you are creating an online training and you incur expenses such as the production of a video through a third party, that expense could be deducted. However, keep in mind that if you are charging for access to your education module you would have to declare that as income. The same goes for any live events for which you are charging a fee.
Travel costs related to education are deductible. Whether you are attending an education event for your own benefit or for that of your clients, here is a rule of thumb for deducting travel expenses for education events: if your event is local you will be able to deduct the cost of traveling from your freelance business to the location of the class or workshop. If you need to travel further, you can deduct travel expenses in the same way that you would deduct general business travel. That is, you can fully deduct transportation and lodging costs that are directly related to your business activities. Under the tax reform laws that went into place last year, you can deduct only 50 percent of meal costs when you are away from home attending your education event.
Keep track of your education-related costs. As with any expense that you want to claim on your taxes, you must obtain and retain the right documentation such as invoices or receipts which prove the expense, when it was made, and what it was for. This is imperative in case the IRS questions your deductions. It is also important so you can track your freelance business expenses accurately.
Knowledge is power. The value of continuing your education as a freelancer for both yourself and your clients is clear. Not only can you level up your own skills by attending workshops or enrolling in classes related to your freelance business, but you can also solidify your reputation as the go-to source for your clients and win new business by providing education opportunities yourself. Being aware of the various tax benefits related to education will also help you make smart decisions about these investments — which may just lower your freelance taxes in the process.
Jonathan Medows is a New York City based CPA who specializes in taxes and business issues for freelancers and self-employed individuals across the country. He offers a free consultation to members of Freelancer’s Union* and a monthly email newsletter covering tax, accounting and business issues to freelancers on his website, http://www.cpaforfreelancers.com— which also features a new blog, how-to articles, and a comprehensive freelance tax guide.
*Jonathan is happy to provide an initial consultation to freelancers. To qualify for a free consultation you must be a member of the Freelancers Union and mention this article upon contacting him. Please note that this offer is not available March 1 through April 18 and covers a general conversation about tax responsibilities of a freelancer and potential deductions. These meetings do not include review of self-prepared documents, review of self-prepared tax returns, or the review of the work of other preparers. The free meeting does not include the preparation or review of quantitative calculations of any sort. He is happy to provide such services but would need to charge an hourly rate for his time.