Can You Deduct Moving Expenses for Going Back to School?

No, but active-duty military can still deduct moving expenses

Woman packing for college rests by her car

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If you moved to a different state to attend school, you can't deduct moving expenses on your tax return. Only active-duty military can deduct moving expenses.

Prior to the 2018 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), taxpayers could deduct moving expenses if they relocated for work reasons and met two requirements: the time test and the distance test. If you intended to work in addition to attending school somewhere far from home, you might have qualified.

But as of 2018, there is no more tax deduction for moving expenses unless you are an active-duty military member who must relocate due to military orders.

Key Takeaways

  • You can't deduct moving expenses from taxes unless you are a member of the armed forces or active-duty military and you moved due to military orders.
  • Prior to 2018, you could deduct moving expenses when you moved for work. So technically, you'd only be able to deduct moving expenses for school if you also worked.
  • While this tax deduction is no longer available, you can still amend prior year tax returns if you should have deducted it in a tax year prior to 2018.

Deducting Moving Expenses on Prior-Year Returns

If you relocated for work prior to 2018, you likely qualified for a moving expense tax deduction. If you did not claim it back then, you could have claimed it by amending your federal tax return for that year (2017 or earlier). To do so, you would have needed to make changes to your filed return by using Form 1040-X to file an amended tax return within three years.

You're probably thinking that it's too late to file an amendment, and you're right. To receive a credit or refund for a moving expense in 2017 (the last year with this tax deduction), you would have had to file the amendment by April 15, 2021.


Some states still offer moving expense deductions on state tax returns. For example, California offers a moving expense deduction. You would need to file California Form FTB 3913.

The Distance and Time Tests 

When the moving expenses tax deduction was possible, your move had to pass two tests in order to be eligible to claim it, even for prior-year tax returns.

The first was the distance test, which required that taxpayers move at least 50 miles away from their old workplace and home. So if your old home was 10 miles away from your old workplace, your new workplace would need to be at least 60 miles away in order for you to move and deduct those moving expenses.

Under the time test, a taxpayer needed to work full-time for at least 39 weeks during the 12 months following the move. If you were self-employed, you had to work full-time for at least 78 weeks in the 24 months after your move.

If you were married and filed a joint return, either spouse could meet the work test, and the expenses would still have been deductible. The IRS allowed 12 months from the time of your move to meet this test. If you didn't deduct your moving expenses on your 2017 return when you filed in 2018, but later met the time test, you could still file an amended return as described above.

You would have had to meet both these tests to qualify to claim this deduction for the 2017 tax year.


If you deducted moving expenses in 2017 but ended up not meeting the time test within 12 months of moving, you would have had to file an amended return for tax year 2017 or claim this deduction as other income on your return for the year you didn't meet the test.

How the Moving Expenses Deduction Affected Students

Students could claim the moving expenses deduction for tax years before 2018 if they met both the distance and time tests, just as anyone else. In other words, as long as you worked at your new location and didn't only attend school, then you qualified to deduct moving expenses on your tax return. There was no rule that says you couldn't also attend school in addition to working full time. You simply needed to meet the requisite number of full-time work hours.

For example, a part-time grad student might have had a full-time day job or worked full-time as an independent contractor while in school. That would have qualified them for the tax deduction. But if they work just part-time, they couldn't claim it.

Remember that the pivotal date was when the move occurred. For example, if you relocated between semesters in December 2017, and if you were able to arrange your schedule to work full time for 39 weeks in 2018, you would still have qualified for the moving expenses deduction for the 2017 tax year. That's because the IRS gave you 12 months from the time of your move to meet the time test.

For students whose class schedule didn't allow for full-time work, one solution was to start their own consulting or freelance business so that they could have the flexibility to work around their school hours, as long as they met the requirements for self-employed workers.

Additional Tax Break Options for Students

If you're a student, you still have some options for tax breaks, such as the Lifetime Learning Credit and the American Opportunity Tax Credit.

Estimate your tax obligation in conjunction with either of these credits. You might realize that you're actually better off claiming one over the other, and it may work out that you save more on taxes than you would if the moving expenses deduction was still available.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Which states still allow a moving expense deduction?

A handful of states still offer a moving expenses tax deduction on state tax returns including, Arkansas, California, Massachusetts, Hawaii, and New York. Check with your state's tax authority to understand more about deductions allowed in your state.

Who qualifies for the moving expenses tax deduction?

Active-duty military and members of the armed forces are the only people who qualify for the federal moving expenses deduction.

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  1. IRS. "Instructions for Form 3903."

  2. IRS. "Topic No. 308 Amended Returns."

  3. State of California Franchise Tax Board. "2021 Instructions for Form FTB 3913."

  4. IRS. "Publication 521, Moving Expenses (2017)."

  5. IRS. "Publication 521, Moving Expenses (2017)."

  6. IRS. "Compare Education Credits."

  7. "Moving Expense Deduction."

  8. State of Hawaii Department of Taxation. "Moving Expenses."

  9. Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration. "Arkansas Individual Income Tax Moving Expenses."

  10. New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. "Tax Basics: Real Property Tax Information for New Homeowners."

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