Guide to the educational expense tax deduction

If you’re a freelancer, sole-proprietor, or otherwise self-employed, then you probably have tax deductible education expenses. Whether it’s keeping up with the latest industry news, or learning a relevant skill for a new project, you may be able to deduct these expenses from your taxes.

However, navigating the IRS rules for which educational expenses count as tax deductions can be tricky. Let’s discuss.

Which educational expenses can I claim?

According to the IRS, in order for your education expenses to count as a write-off, it might be to “maintain or improve your job skills.” In essence, that boils down to two requirements:

Requirement #1: It must be related to your current line of business

This first rule means you can’t write-off an educational expense for a field you’re looking to enter. For example, if you’re not a real estate agent yet then you can’t write-off a real estate agent exam prep course. Also, you can’t write off an accounting class if you’re a delivery driver. You can only deduct the education within the field you currently work.

Requirement #2: It must maintain or improve your skills

This second rule is more straightforward. In order for an educational expense to count as a write-off, you need to tie it back to improving your freelancing skills. Not all skills are things you might put on a resume -- like Photoshop or Node.js -- you can also include soft skills, such as industry knowledge and public speaking.

What education expenses are tax deductible?

Here we will go over some examples for which education expenses are tax deductible.

Online web development course 

Let’s say you’re a freelance designer who typically works with small business clients to prepare their branding and marketing assets. You start learning web development on Coursera, in order to add website creation to your services. That’s considered work-related education!

Claim books on tax return

Books, podcasts, and videos are a common way to stay up-to-date on your industry and best practices. If you also use your subscription for personal reading, then simply apply a percentage tax deduction.

Real Estate license renewal

If you’re in an industry that requires a license or a certification periodically renewed, then all fees related to the preparation for those renewals are tax-deductible. Just remember -- you have to work  in that field currently. Costs associated with getting your real estate license initially can’t be written off. Here is a list of more write-offs for real estate agents.

A Wall Street Journal subscription

A news subscription can be an effective way to stay up-to-date with policy and industry at large. If it helps you with client small-talk and ensures that you sound professional at meetings and conferences, it’s a write-off!

School tuition 

If you are working toward a part-time degree while freelancing, then you may be able to claim your tuition and other associated fees as continuing education expenses. For example, if you’re a freelance consultant getting an MBA on the side. Just remember -- you have to already be working as a freelancer in a related field in order to claim this benefit. Here is our guide to carrying losses forward for educational expenses.

Improv classes

If you do a lot of public speaking or even client development discussions, then an improv class can really help you loosen up and feel more comfortable in your freelancing. 


Justin W. Jones, EA

Justin W. Jones, EA

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Justin is an IRS Enrolled Agent, allowing him to represent taxpayers before the IRS. He loves helping freelancers and small business owners save on taxes. He is also an attorney and works part-time with the Keeper Tax team.

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Note: at Keeper Tax, we're on a mission to help freelancers overcome the complexity of their taxes. That sometimes leads us to generalize tax advice. Please reach out via email if you have questions.