In a ruling on Monday, a Tax Court judge denied Adam Hart of
Florida, who was studying for a Master of Business Administration
degree in finance, a $17,138 tax deduction he claimed for his
tuition costs in 2009. The IRS billed Hart for $2,572 in unpaid
Hart, now 31, who graduated in 2011 from the Rollins College MBA
program in the state, did not have enough consistent work experience
prior to starting school to claim the deduction, the judge ruled.
"There is no evidence in the record that (the) petitioner was
carrying on a trade or business before he enrolled in the MBA
program," wrote Tax Court Judge Kathleen Kerrigan.
Claiming MBA tuition as an ordinary, cost-of-business deduction is a
narrow needle to thread, tax professionals said. The tax break
cannot be claimed by law or medical students.
MBA students may be able to convince the IRS their education is an
expense if they have years of consistent experience built up before
starting a program, and then return to that career after graduation,
The Tax Court decision will prevent MBA students without an
established career path from claiming the tax break, lawyers and
"Given where we are economically, it may be more difficult for
younger professionals to establish themselves in careers. This in
turn could make it more difficult to take advantage of the
deduction," said John DeBoy, a tax lawyer at Covington & Burling
Tax and accounting expert Robert Willens, who teaches MBA classes at
Columbia University, said the tax break accounts for about one-third
of the tuition cost a year for the students he knows who have been
able to claim it.
Following Hart's Tax Court loss, "the IRS could decide to read it
more broadly than it should be read and begin challenging people,"
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Josh Nowack, an accountant in California, said he does between 30
and 50 tax returns a year that claim MBA tuition as a business
expense. Students in high-tax states like New York and California
can save between $5,000 and $10,000 with the MBA tax break.
He said a strong candidate for the tax break is an engineer, for
example, who has worked for 15 years then gets an MBA to broaden his
or her career opportunities.
But for Hart, who started his MBA program two years after receiving
an undergraduate degree, the Tax Court ruling "was not surprising,"
In an interview on Thursday, Hart said he would ask the Tax Court to
reconsider his case with new evidence that shows he had more work
experience before starting the MBA program.
Hart said he works now for McKesson Corp, a drug wholesaler, as a
sales representative. He said he could owe the IRS up to $10,000 if
he ultimately loses his case.
"I'm fighting this all the way to the end," Hart said.
(Reporting by Patrick Temple-West; editing by Howard Goller and
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