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I am wondering if any research-related expenses can be applied toward a personal tax write-off (in the U.S.). For example, assume I traveled to a conference or meeting to present my research, and all the expenses were paid out-of-pocket. Or, assume that I purchase some equipment or supplies that is used for my research. Does a provision in the tax code exist that would allow the expenses to be considered a tax write off? If so, a link to the IRS rule would be greatly appreciated!

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I am not a lawyer and this is not legal/tax advice.

I believe you can deduct these as unreimbursed employee expenses. For 2013, this was Line 21 of Form 1040 Schedule A. Details can be found in IRS Pub. 529. It lists a number of examples of expenses that would be deductible on this line, including:

  • Research expenses of a college professor

  • Travel related to your work

  • Tools and supplies used in your work

  • Subscriptions to professional journals

  • Dues to professional societies

There are a couple of major caveats:

  • Roughly, you can only deduct the amount that exceeds 2% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). More specifically, you take the amount of your unreimbursed employee expenses, add the rest of your miscellaneous itemized deductions if any (see Pub. 529 for the list), and subtract 2% of your AGI; you can deduct the difference. So this may only apply if your research expenses are fairly substantial, or you have other significant miscellaneous itemized deductions. (Note that miscellaneous itemized deductions do not include the big itemized deductions like charitable donations, state taxes, or mortgage interest.)

  • You have to itemize deductions to do this. If you don't have many other itemized deductions, you may be better off just taking the standard deduction.

  • Of course, you cannot deduct expenses that were reimbursed.

Note that you might also get good answers on http://money.stackexchange.com.

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