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-- Posted: Aug. 3, 2000

Dorothy Rosen -- The Dollar Diva Ask the Dollar Diva

Can I deduct private school tuition?

Dear Dollar Diva,
My son was recently diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Central Auditory Processing Deficit (CAPD). We plan to put him in a private school that deals with these types of problems. Is there any tax relief for the cost of tuition?


Your son was dealt a double whammy; he's lucky to have a parent like you to help him play the lousy hand. As far as tax relief goes for the private school, it depends on the school's primary function.

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If it's a special school with a curriculum designed to help severely handicapped children overcome or compensate for their disabilities, tuition is deductible. The handicap can be mental or physical, including neurological disorders, and a doctor must recommend that the child attend the school. To qualify as a special school, the primary focus of the school has to be teaching the child how to deal with his handicap; understanding Shakespeare's sonnets or why heat rises is secondary.

If your son's school does qualify as a special school, meals, lodging and ordinary education costs are deductible as medical expenses.

If it doesn't qualify, but you have to pay extra for tutoring by a teacher who is specially trained and qualified to work with ADHD or CAPD children, the tutoring fees would be deductible.

If you take a deduction for this kind of medical expense, make sure you get a note from your doctor recommending the special treatment and stating why your son needs it. Keep it with your tax records so you'll be able to support your position if you get audited.

For more details on medical deductions, read the IRS Publication 502, Medical and Dental Expenses.

How do I get the deduction?

You take the deduction on Schedule A, Itemized deductions. To be deductible, medical and dental expenses have to be more than seven and a half percent of your adjusted gross income. For example, if your AGI is $80,000, the first $6,000 in medical and dental expenses is on you.

If you're married, and medical expenses are enormous because of a special school, drug treatment center, or other expensive treatment, consider the filing status of "married filing separate return" instead of the customary "married filing joint return." Draft the Form 1040, U.S. Individual tax return, both ways, and file the one that gives you the smallest tax liability.

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