Educational Expenses for Engineers: Deducting the Cost of Your MBA Degree

Alan L. Olsen, CPA, MBA (tax)By Alan L. Olsen, CPA MBA (tax)
Managing Partner
Greenstein Rogoff Olsen & Co. LLP

Attention engineers!! You may be able to deduct the cost of your tuition spent for your MBA degree. In order to do so you must connect your MBA degree with a business purpose and it cannot qualify you for a new line of work.

The current tax code gives tax breaks to subsidize education costs through:

  1. Tax-Free scholarships and fellowships for individuals working on degrees,
  2. Lifetime learning credits,
  3. Hope education credits, or
  4. Deducting student loan interest.

However, if your adjusted gross income is above $53,000 (single) or $107,000 (joint) you generally cannot take advantage of the the credits.

However, you still may be able to deduct your higher education expense without regard to the income limitation. In order to qualify for deducting these costs you must already hold a degree and be currently working.

Educational expenses are deductible when the following tests are all met:

  1. Educational expenses are deductible as ordinary and necessary business expenses when it is work-related.
  2. It is qualifying educational expenses which are to improve skills required in the taxpayer’s employment or to meet the express requirements of the employer.
  3. The educational expenses incurred are not to meet minimum education requirements or to enter into a new trade or business.
  4. Deductible educational expenses include tuition, books, supplies, lab fees, certain transportation and travel costs, costs of researching and typing.

Education expenses for an engineer pursuing an MBA degree were allowed in the following instances:

  1. The educational expenses for master’s degree in administration directly related to his employment are deductible if an engineer’s significant portion of his duties consisted of management, interpersonal and administrative skills. (R.C. Beatty, 40 TCM 438, Dec. 36,997(M), TC Memo. 1980-196.)
  2. A manager left his position for 2 years to pursue graduate course and returned to work was allowed to deduct the cost of attending school since he was carrying on a trade or business at the time he incurred the education expenses. (S.G. Sherman, 36 TCM 1191, Dec 34,621 (M), TC Memo. 1977-301.)

Educational expenses for an engineer pursuing an MBA degree were not allowed in the following instances:

  1. An engineer who takes courses in order to increase his earning capacity but not to maintain an existing position or improve his skills, the educational expense is not deductible. (K.F. Larson, 15TCm 956, Dec. 18,007)
  2. An engineer was not allowed to deduct educational expenses incurred while he was a technician and such courses led him to meet the minimum requirements for a position of assistant manager. (B.A. Josephs, 39 TCM 138, Dec. 36,310 (M), TC Memo. 1979-371.)

If the education is job-related, maintaining or improving skills, not for the minimum educational requirement, they are deductible as itemized deduction subject to 2% limitation. So, an engineer whose duties involved management, interpersonal and administrative skills is allowed educational expense deductions for costs incurred in obtaining a master’s degree in administration.

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