Please see the response from Opus 17:
I'm going to vote no.
You can include the cost of "Books, supplies, and equipment." I think the presumption is that "equipment" means things that will be used up in the course of education (like a chemistry set), and not be a durable personal object that the student will own for years or maybe decades.
There is also a general principle called the "but for" rule that any personal expense can't be a tax deduction unless it would not have been incurred "but for" some other tax-deductible reason. For example, you can take the cost of an emotional support animal as a medical expense if it is prescribed by a doctor, and if you would not have bought the animal "but for" your medical or emotional condition. (That is, the only reason you bought the animal is for mental health, not personal pleasure.) You can't deduct the cost of a trip to Florida as a business expense unless you would not have taken the trip "but for" the business. (You can't deduct a 2 week vacation at Mouse World as a business expense if you spend one day meeting clients. You can only deduct the extra costs incurred by the meeting that are over and above the costs of the personal vacation expense.)
So I think, if audited, the auditor would be asking you to prove that you would not have upgraded your child's instrument but for their enrollment as a music major. That might be hard to argue. You can't use education as an excuse to do something you already wanted to do and probably would have done anyway. (Now maybe, if the student was a piano major and only had an electronic keyboard, and the school said they must have a baby grand, and you would not have done that otherwise because of the cost, and the expense of getting it into their apartment, and moving it after school, and depreciation, and generally the hassle of putting a baby grand in a loft apartment; you might have an argument. But it would depend on the auditor.)
Not to mention, if you later sell the viola, you have a taxable event because you bought it with tax-free money, which is a whole other long and complicated issue.
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Karen J2 ...thanks for the info. As for making my point to an auditor....that will not be a problem.
Pursing a professional musician career requires a well constructed instrument and top violins and bows cost lots of $$$. The one I purchased -- will provide him that opportunity.
Thanks for clarifying where this item would fall into...having my son home for online college -- hope to get him back on campus next fall.