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Tax Talk with George Saenz

Ask the tax adviser

Is private-school tuition deductible?

Dear Tax Talk:
My son goes to a Catholic elementary school. Am I able to claim the amount of the tuition as a deduction? A tax adviser I spoke to said yes. The school, however, said no. Which is the correct answer?

Dear Madonna:
Your tax adviser is only trying to sell you on his services.

Although the checks you write to pay for your son's education may be payable to a charitable organization, that does not mean they are necessarily deductible.

Contributions to any charitable organization are not deductible to the extent they represent quid pro quo or, in other words, you receive something of value for your contributions. For example, payments for a child's attendance at Sunday school are not deductible, the same as payments for a child's tuition for regular classes.

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In fact, contributions of $250 or more during the year to any one organization requires the organization to provide you substantiation that you did not receive goods, services, benefits or privileges in exchange for the contribution. The exception to this rule is the intangible religious benefit received from donating, for example, to your place of worship. You must obtain the substantiation for your contribution prior to filing your tax return.

This latter requirement is probably the basis for the school telling you that the payments for the tuition are not deductible. The school probably will not acknowledge the contribution as it represents a quid pro quo. Of course, contributions you make to the school in excess of your child's tuition remain deductible.

-- Posted: Jan. 25, 2002

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See Also
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Best tax-free ways to save for education costs

Start early to find college funds

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