A Guide to Personal Finance for Teachers
Teachers of all levels play a critical role in our communities, teaching and inspiring our future leaders and professionals. While teaching can be incredibly gratifying, being a teacher comes with financial challenges such as purchasing classroom supplies from their own budget. However, there are many ways teachers can prepare for these challenges and set themselves up for financial success.
Learn valuable tactics and resources on personal finance for teachers to help educators become financially savvy and take control of their budgets.
Take Advantage of Teacher Benefits
Teachers are eligible for several benefits that can keep personal expenses down, assist with personal necessities, such as insurance policies and health care, and prepare them for retirement. The amount of discounts, benefits and pension payouts varies by state, so teachers should check with their own school district about the following benefits.
A pension is a retirement fund available to most public school teachers. Pension rules differ depending on the school district, but most guarantee a set payout amount to teachers when they retire. The pension amount is determined by a formula set by the state and is based on a teacher's final salary and years of service. About 85% of public school teachers are enrolled in pension programs to help prepare for retirement. States have vesting requirements that require teachers to work a certain number of years before qualifying for pension — typically five to 10 years of service is required in most states, so all teachers are encouraged to check with their school district on the local requirements for their individual pension plan to understand what is expected to receive benefits.
Many insurance companies offer discounts for teachers and school district staff. While discount percentage and insurance rates will vary by state, it’s best to speak with your current insurance provider about the homeowner's insurance, life insurance, and car insurance discounts they offer or ask when shopping for insurance of any kind. You will have to provide proof of profession to qualify.
CAR INSURANCE DISCOUNTS
Finding discounts on car insurance is a great way to cut back your annual expenses. Teachers are eligible for car insurance discounts at several insurance providers. Let your insurance agent know that you are a teacher to learn more about educator discounts, and compare car insurance quotes from at least three companies to make sure you’re getting the best and cheapest car insurance for your needs.
- Geico Educational Organization Membership Discounts: Geico offers discounts for education professionals who belong to a list of industry-specific organizations and associations. Examples of these organizations include the Association of American Educators, the Association of Teacher Educators and the National AfterSchool Association.
- Horace Mann Educator Discounts: Since Horace Mann was founded “by educators for educators,” they always have the best interest of America’s teachers in mind. They offer a variety of auto insurance discounts for teachers.
- Liberty Mutual Teachers’ Auto Insurance Discount: Liberty Mutual offers discounts for teachers that provide significant savings on features like vandalism loss protection, collision coverage and more.
HOME INSURANCE DISCOUNTS
Another way to save extra each year is to ask your homeowner insurance provider if they offer teacher discounts. Teachers are eligible for a variety of discounts through many insurance companies. You can compare home insurance quotes using your teacher’s discount to see which company has the best price and coverage.
- California Casualty Educators Insurance: California Casualty offers home and renters insurance benefits for teachers and school support staff. One exciting benefit includes the summer or holiday payment skip option, which can help you manage your monthly budget.
- Horace Mann Educator Advantage: The Homeowner Educator Advantage Endorsement provides additional coverage for educators with an existing Horace Mann policy at no additional cost.
- NEA Membership Benefits: Members of the National Education Association can save hundreds of dollars a year on home insurance just by being a member. They may also be able to bundle their home coverage with their car insurance.
While it can be financially burdensome to pay out-of-pocket for classroom supplies, you should be able to offset some of the costs when you file your yearly income taxes. The educator expense tax deduction allows you as a teacher to deduct classroom expenses provided you meet the following criteria:
- You worked as a K-12 teacher, instructor, counselor, principal or aide in the tax year for which you are claiming the deduction.
- The school you worked at is state-certified for elementary or secondary education. It can be public or private, but it must be certified.
- You worked at least 900 hours during the entire year in your capacity as an educator.
College and homeschoolers can’t claim this deduction. While not as good as a tax credit, it can still help out professional k-12 teachers at tax time.
Purchasing School Supplies
In order to thank teachers for their hard work and dedication and make quality school supplies available for all students, many companies offer discounts for teachers purchasing classroom supplies. Businesses like the Container Store, Michael’s and Target offer discounts, so be sure to ask how to qualify.
Additional Programs, Offers and Discounts
If you’re like most teachers, you’re looking for additional ways to cut back on expenses and make your hard-earned dollars go further. Beyond discounts for insurance, there are other ways teachers can save money through a variety of programs designed to help teachers.
Purchasing a home is a big financial decision for anybody, but fortunately for teachers, many organizations offer homeownership assistance in the form of special programs and financing options to make the process a little easier.
- Educator Mortgage Program: This program, offered by Supreme Lending, helps educators save money on real estate agent fees and closing costs when purchasing their home.
- Good Neighbor Next Door: The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Good Neighbor Next Door program offers discounts up to 50% off the list price of a home for teachers. Program participants must commit to living in their new home a minimum of 36 months as their principal residence. Teachers who work with pre-kindergarten to 12th-grade students are eligible.
- Homes for Heroes: Homes for Heroes offers savings for teachers, health care professionals, military members and more, including reduced lending fees.
- Teacher Next Door: All prekindergarten through 12th-grade teachers are eligible to receive several discounts, down payment assistance, grants and other benefits towards purchasing their next home.
Credit cards for teachers offer special benefits and deals, such as low rates and special rewards for teachers and school staff, making any teachers' finances more manageable. Pay off high-interest credit cards and look into credit cards with low interest and rewards for teachers.
- National Education Association Cash Rewards Card: This National Education Association card offers NEA members a low intro APR, no annual fee and other valuable benefits. The card also offers teachers up to 3% cash back in the category of their choice.
- Teachers Federal Credit Union Teachers Visa Cash Back Credit Card: The TFCU cash back card offers low rates and gives teachers cash back on everyday purchases, including school supplies and educational programs.
- Teachers Federal Credit UnionTeachers Visa Platinum Card: The Teachers Federal Credit Union (TFCU) offers the Teachers Visa Platinum Card, which comes with low rates, special platinum member benefits and a high credit limit.
CHILD CARE ASSISTANCE
According to Brookings, about 48% of public school teachers in the U.S. have children living at home, many of which require constant supervision. The average child spends 33 hours per week in child care, making child care assistance a concern for many teachers. While the cost of child care is a concern for most parents, there are some child care options and programs teachers can take advantage of to make sure the needs of their children are met.
- Child Care and Development Fund: This fund helps families who are low income and need help paying for child care. To qualify, you need to be a parent or primary caregiver responsible for children who are 13 years old and younger, or younger than 19 if they are incapable of self-care or under court supervision, indicating a need for assistance to pay for child care.
- High School Day Care Programs: A new trend taking shape is local high schools providing "early childhood education" programs that benefit teachers and students. With these programs, teachers or other parents can leave their children under the care of students (and qualified supervisors) to teach the students about early childhood education and care.
- Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R): This CCR&R search tool can help you find local child care options around your home or work. You can search by zip code, county and state, or city and state.
- School District Day Care: To assist teachers needing child care, some school districts run child care centers. These centers operate during school hours, so parents don't have to pay for holidays or days that their kids don't need to attend the center, which helps cut down on monthly expenses.
- YMCA Partial- and Full-Day Child Care: Teachers should check their local YMCA for services like early learning and child care, virtual learning spaces and out-of-school programs.
Finding Debt Support
A serious financial challenge that many Americans face, including teachers, is debt. Understanding where debt comes from and how deeply it impacts overall financial wellness is a critical step in eliminating it. Student loans, credit cards and car and home purchases are all common contributors to debt, but there are many resources available to teachers looking to decrease their debt.
Student Loan Forgiveness Programs
Teaching requires a bachelor's degree at minimum, and many teachers rely on student loans to pay for their higher education. The average student loan borrower can expect to pay $200 to $300 towards their loans every month, and teachers are no exception. However, there are resources teachers can use to ease the burden of student loan debt and in some cases get their federal student loans canceled or forgiven.
TEACHER LOAN FORGIVENESS PROGRAM
The Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program provides forgiveness up to $17,500 on Subsidized and Unsubsidized Direct Loans and Federal Stafford Loans. To be eligible, teachers must have taught full time for a minimum of five complete and consecutive academic years in a low-income school, among other qualifications.
PUBLIC SERVICE LOAN FORGIVENESS
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program gives loan forgiveness to full-time employees who work for federal, state, local or tribal government or nonprofit organizations, including teachers. To be eligible, applicants must have made a minimum of 120 qualifying payments towards their loans.
PERKINS LOAN CANCELLATION
Graduates can qualify for cancellation of up to 100% of their Federal Perkins Loan if they have served full time in a public or nonprofit school as a teacher serving low-income families or special education students. Teaching in subjects experiencing teacher shortages can also qualify for full or partial loan cancellation.
How to Consolidate Your Debt
Debt consolidation allows people to combine multiple forms of debt from credit cards, loans and other bills into one monthly payment. Debt consolidation can help lower your interest rate and monthly payments to pay down debt faster. For teachers, debt consolidation can help pay off student loans, home or auto loans and credit card bills. Teachers should speak to their credit card company about the consolidation programs it offers to resolve their debt.
MANAGING CREDIT CARDS
Right now, the average household in America has $5,700 in credit card debt, and teachers with student loans may carry even more debt. Managing credit cards properly is a must for teachers living with debt, and it's important to set a monthly budget that includes making payments towards credit card debt and sticking to it. Understanding where one's debt comes from and understanding the interest rates and other credit card fees is an important first step to managing debt properly and becoming credit card debt-free.
UNDERSTANDING CAR AND MORTGAGE LOANS
Managing your mortgage and car loans properly is an important part of achieving financial success. When making these large purchases, it's important to develop a plan before applying for the loan. Ask yourself, "how much can I afford towards a monthly payment?" and "how long can I maintain those payments if my situation changes (i.e., loss of job)?"
Speak with your lender about any fees or conditions associated with your loan, and understand the interest before signing. You can also use a mortgage calculator or car loan calculator to help you estimate or budget.
To pay off your car loan or mortgage faster, once you’ve tackled your other debts, you might consider paying more than the minimum payment, making bi-weekly payments and refinancing.
Get Creative With Your Finances
In addition to the teacher benefits and programs discussed above, teachers often need to get creative with their finances, like anybody living on a budget. This can mean adjusting your monthly or annual budget to include student and classroom needs, applying for grants to receive additional funding or turning a hobby into a side hustle. There are many ways teachers can take control of their personal finances to get the most out of their paychecks.
Financial Planning and Budgeting
Budgeting isn't always a stimulating project, but it's necessary to achieve personal financial success. You'll be illuminated and perhaps even inspired. Teachers should start by tracking o a month's average expenses to understand where their money is going, and build a financial plan that supports their personal and professional needs, including setting money aside for classroom needs.
TIPS TO BUDGET FOR STUDENT NEEDS
Many teachers are expected to provide supplies for their classrooms, often out of their personal budget. While a few pencils here and a few books there might not seem like a lot, those expenses can add up, and teachers can become overwhelmed by the financial stress these purchases become. Teachers set aside time each month to budget for their classroom to provide for their students.
- Ask parents to help with classroom supplies. While not every parent will be able to contribute, some might be willing to donate extra supplies to their child’s classroom.
- Ask local businesses for donations. Teachers can reach out to the businesses in their community for donations to their school or individual classroom. Many local businesses have excess amounts of office supplies, and their donations can be filed as a tax write-off.
- Shop where the teacher discounts are. Teachers should seek out teacher discounts and only shop at those stores whenever possible. Saving 10% here and there will really add up, and those savings can go back into their personal pockets.
- Meet with a financial planner for help. When in doubt, consulting with a professional can ease financial stress. Many financial planners offer services specifically for teachers to help them meet their personal and professional needs.
WRITE A GRANT FOR FUNDING
Grants are a great way for teachers to receive extra funding, as they don't require any amount to be paid back out of the teacher's pocket. Every grant-funding source is different, so teachers should do their research before submitting a proposal. Decide your approach or determine why you're applying for a grant, establish your funding goals and give yourself time to write multiple drafts to submit a successful grant proposal.
Make the Most of Side Hustles
One great way for teachers to stretch their finances even further is to invest any time and talents into a side hustle. Side hustles allow teachers to make extra cash after school hours or during summers to help with needs like school supplies. The good news is that there are lots of options these days that teachers can do from home.
- Become a Private Tutor: Either in person or virtually, private tutors make an average of about $17 an hour. Teachers can focus their tutoring on one subject or age or help older students prep for tests like the SAT and ACT.
- Drive for Rideshares or Deliver Food: Many people earn extra cash by driving with Uber or Lyft. Teachers can also drive for delivery services like Uber Eats, DoorDash and Postmates.
- Freelance Writing: Freelance writing is a great side hustle that teachers can do on their own time. Many publications pay $100 or more per article, depending on the required length.
- Launch an Online Shop: Teachers can turn their hobbies into income by putting their creative side to work. Try flipping thrifted furniture, adding your original artwork to everyday items on Redbubble, or launching an Etsy shop to sell crafts and products. The amount teachers can make from craft projects varies widely on the uniqueness and demand for the product.
Some teachers need summer jobs to fill holes in their finances, while others look for work to keep themselves busy during the months that schools are closed. Either way, adding a summer job can help any teacher earn some extra money. Companies value teacher hires, so teachers should mention their profession when inquiring about a seasonal job.
Expert Insight on Personal Finance for Teachers
Douglas Lynam, Partner at LongView Asset Management
What unique challenges do teachers face regarding finances that are not common in other professions?
Teachers face a variety of challenges that aren’t often seen in other professions, including:
- Low pay. Teachers typically work 60 hours or more a week, and the national average starting teacher salary is $38,617. This means new teachers are making $12.38 per hour on average during the school year. According to the Economic Policy Institute, public school teachers earn 19.2% less relative to other college-educated workers.
- Teachers have limited opportunities for career advancement unless they are willing to move into administration.
- Teacher 403(b) retirement plans are often poorly designed with little or no fiduciary oversight, leading to financial abuse.
How should teachers incorporate school supplies and the needs of their students into their personal budget?
Teachers should never have to pay for school supplies out of their own pocket, but most do. This is why the IRS allows teachers to deduct up to $250 of unreimbursed out-of-pocket expenses. To be eligible for this deduction, educators must:
- Teach any grade from kindergarten through twelfth grade.
- Be a teacher, instructor, counselor, principal or aide.
- Work at least 900 hours during the school year.
- Work in a school that provides elementary or secondary education.
It is important for teachers to keep receipts of their out-of-pocket expenses and build these expenses into their personal budgets. A good rule of thumb is to set aside $30 a month during the nine-month school year. However, teachers are most likely to purchase supplies at the start of the school year and then at the beginning of each new quarter, and they should plan appropriately.
Resources for Teachers
There are many resources available for teachers looking for help in managing their finances and being the best teacher they can be. Taking advantage of free resources is a great way for educators to build a reserve of classroom supplies while putting money towards their debt, savings or other personal expenses.
- Bored Teachers Resources: The Bored Teachers blog has compiled a list of grants and funding, mapped out by category, to make finding grants easy for educators.
- Fund for Teachers Application Learning Center: Fund for Teachers offers grants and tools to help teachers prepare for their grant application.
- GoFundMe: Nonprofit organizations can use crowdfunding platforms such as GoFundMe and Kickstarter for fundraising. Teachers can use these platforms to fund specific classroom projects or needs.
- The U.S. Department of Education’s Blog: Homeroom, the official blog of ED.gov, offers information on various financial assets, including student loan forgiveness and loan consolidation plans.
- TurboTax – Educator Expense Tax Deduction: Turbotax, a tax software preparation product, has compiled a list of tax tips for teachers on deducting out-of-pocket classroom expenses on your federal income taxes.
About the Author
Nicole Duxbury is a writer for MoneyGeek and a marketing and communications professional based in Reno, Nevada. She has more than five years of professional marketing and communications experience working with clients in finance, travel, food and beverage, CPG, non-profit, higher education and politics. Her work has an emphasis on content writing, social media management, content and digital marketing.