Nurse Successfully Deducts Her MBA Tuition and Beats the IRS!

Lori Singleton-Clarke, a nurse from Maryland, accomplished two rare feats last month. She represented herself before the U.S. Tax Court and won. On January 11, 2010, a Wall Street Journal article featured Ms. Singleton-Clarke who successfully defended her $15,000 deduction for her M.B.A. school tuition.

After 24 years as a distinguished career as a nurse, Ms. Singleton-Clarke wanted to improve her health care risk management skills and earn a masters degree so that she would have greater credibility with highly educated doctors.  So she enrolled in an MBA Health Care Management program, and she successfully completed the program approximately three years later. 

The IRS audited her income tax return and disallowed the $15,000.00 deduction she had claimed for her tuition. After a number of conferences with the IRS and endless paperwork, the matter came before a tax court judge in November, 2008. 

  • Ms. Singleton-Clarke did not have the money to hire a lawyer.
  • She represented herself, a rather daunting task in the face of two IRS attorneys and IRS several assistants. 
  • She held her ground, and carefully explained the time line of her career and her reasons for pursuing the MBA program.

The Tax Court finally issued its decision on December 2, 2009, and upheld the deduction of her educational expenses.  The court found that the MBA program was not a new trade or business for  Ms. Singleton-Clarke, but rather helped her improve her skills in her current employment of nursing.

Some of the key factors in the court’s decision were the facts that Ms. Singleton-Clark was already established in the nursing profession and the MBA was a general course of study the would not lead to a professional license or certification.

The deduction of educational expenses is always a challenge. In light of our current high unemployment economy, this is an important decision since it may encourage taxpayers learn how to prepare to substantiale deduction their education expenses in the pursuit of  additional education to maintain and improve their skills. 

[For a copy of the decision click here] Please note that the decision cannot be relied on by other taxpayers, but it does provide a good discussion of the regulations and applicable tax cases.

Congratulations Ms. Singleton-Clarke!