Education, Families

Back to school tips and tax savings for parents

By Robin Taub, CPA, CA and Tax Expert

My kids attended both public and private schools during the elementary, middle and high school years. With every new academic year, came many school-related expenses. If your family is getting ready to send the kids back to school, here are some of the costs you will face. Fortunately, some come with tax breaks.

Tuition

Unlike post-secondary tuition, most private school tuition is not tax deductible. There are exceptions, however. Both of my kids started off at parochial school and some of the tuition qualified for a charitable donation tax credit. A portion of the tuition also qualified as child care expenses and the receipt from the school provided the breakdown.

Another exception is for certain courses in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which because they are basically considered university courses, qualify for the tuition, education and textbook amount. My daughter moved to a private girls’ school for high school that offered the IB program. We received a tax receipt, Form T2202A, and claimed the tuition amount when we filed her tax return.

Up to $5,000 of these tax credits can be transferred to a supporting parent, grandparent or spouse, but before you can transfer the credits, they must be applied to reduce the tax the student owes to zero. They can also be carried forward indefinitely, as long as they are claimed in the first year the student has to pay tax.

One of the best things about moving my son to public school was no more tuition!

Extracurricular activities

Did you know that 84% of Canadian youth aged 3 – 17 participate in sports of some kind? With Canadian families spending nearly $1,000 annually per child on sports, being a “soccer mom” or “hockey dad” does not come cheap! Luckily the children’s fitness tax credit allows you to claim a refundable tax credit worth up to $150 for the cost of eligible sports or fitness actives for kids under 16 at the beginning of the year the expenses were paid.

There is also a non-refundable tax credit worth up to $75 per child for children’s arts programs, such as visual arts, dance or cultural activities.

Tutors

If your child needs help with their studies, the cost of private tutoring qualifies for the children’s arts tax credit. There are also free options, like peer to peer tutoring, “sittings” with teachers, and online resources.

Student activity fees and donations

Both public and private schools charge mandatory student activity fees, which cover things like an agenda, workbooks, a yearbook, school dances, performances and some extra-curricular activities.

Schools may also ask for donations to fund scholarships, extra-curricular activities or in the case of private schools, new wings! Schools will provide you with an official charitable donation receipt, so hold onto it when you do your taxes.

Transportation and trips

Field trips to a museum or a conference may require a nominal fee to cover transportation and admission. Overnights or retreats at local camps may cost a few hundred dollars. And if your child wants to go to Paris with the French club, or participate in a “voluntourism” trip to Africa to build a school, these optional trips may run into the thousands. At least you can claim the public transit amount when filing taxes for older kids who take public transit to school and buy monthly passes.

Books and school supplies

My son’s books were free at public school but we had to buy my daughter’s books at private school. Buying used and then reselling her old books helped defray the cost, which was substantial. School supplies such as binders, paper, pens, pencils, pencil cases, and backpacks to hold it all are usually the responsibility of the student. Try to reuse and recycle within the family as much as possible. And if your child needs a computer or tablet for school, be sure to shop around and take advantage of back-to-school promotions and sales.

Parents normally focus on the cost of post-secondary education, but as you can see, there are plenty of school expenses before your kids head off to university. Once you’re aware of these extras, as well as the tax savings, you can build them into your household budget.

About Robin Taub

Robin Taub is a financial literacy consultant, speaker and blogger and the best-selling author of A Parent’s Guide to Raising Money-Smart Kids.

She holds a Bachelor of Commerce (with High Distinction) from the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and earned her Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA, CA) designation in 1989.

Robin is also passionate about improving opportunities for women CPAs to advance into positions of leadership and is Chair of the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada’s Women’s Leadership Council.

She is an avid cyclist, snowboarder, music lover and concert goer and is themother of two university age children.