A Guide to Tax Credits for Education


With the cost of college increasing an average of 7% per year, tax credits such as the American Opportunity Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit can help to defray some of the cost.  A four year college degree continues to be a good investment, however cost dictates that one take advantage of financial aid and tax credits.  Below is a summary of the current tax credits and deductions that are available.

The following tax credits and deductions apply to you, your spouse or a dependent for whom you claim an exemption on your tax return.

  • Lifetime Learning Credit This credit allows for up to $2000 per year towards the cost of qualified education expenses at an approved educational institution.  The Lifetime Learning Credit is available to taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income below $60,000 ($120,000 married filing jointly)
  • American Opportunity Credit Covers up to $2,500 of qualified educational expenses for the first four years of post secondary education.  Qualified expenses include tuition and fees, books, equipment and supplies.  The American Opportunity Credit is available to taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income below $80,000 ($160,000 for married couples filing a joint return).  This tax credit is set to expire at the end of 2012.
  • Student Loan Interest Deduction Interest on a Student Loan used for qualified higher education expenses may be deductible if your modified adjusted gross income is less than $75,000 ($150,000 if married filing a joint return).  Even if you don’t itemize, this credit can reduce your income subject to tax by $2,500.  This tax credit may change after 2012
  • Tuition and Fees Deduction You can reduce taxable income by up to $4,000 for 2011 for qualified higher education tuition and fees if your modified adjusted gross income is below $80,000 ($160,000 if married filing jointly)

For each student in college you can only use one of the tax credits per tax year.  If you have more than one student in college, you may take advantage of tax credits for each student.  If you want you could use the Lifetime Learning Credit for one child and use the American Opportunity Credit for your other child.  You may only use the tax credit or take a deduction, you may not use both.

Do you plan on taking advantage of these tax credits or deductions to help finance a college education?

 

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17 Responses to A Guide to Tax Credits for Education

  1. SB @ One Cent At A Time 11/01/2011 at 4:52 am #

    We do have to repay the credits some day, right? I had claimed lifetime learning for my wife when she was studying.

    • Paul 11/01/2011 at 6:17 am #

      No. As long as the credit was used for qualified tuition and required fees. It provides a credit of up to 20% on the first $10,000 of qualified tuition and fees, max credit of $2000 per year.

  2. Aloysa 11/01/2011 at 11:37 am #

    Helpful post! I actually used some of those credits and they did help me out. Right now I am using only the deduction and that’s it. It helps but not much as our blances are going down. Which is still good!

    • Paul 11/01/2011 at 8:48 pm #

      Even though the credits are relatively small, combining them with other financial aid can reduce your overall bill.

  3. Shaun @ Smart Family Finance 11/02/2011 at 3:58 am #

    Lots of great information here. I could use an I graduated from college credit.

  4. Paul 11/02/2011 at 6:21 am #

    I like your thinking Shaun!

  5. Eric J. Nisall 11/02/2011 at 6:36 am #

    And it’s also important to note 3 key points:

    1. that only the person claiming the student as a dependent is allowed to also claim the credits. A grandparent or other family member paying for the student’s education costs is excluded from taking the credit on their 1040. It’s also not available for people filing “married filing separate” or those who qualify as a dependent of another (whether or not they are actually claimed as the dependent)

    2. Only the fees and expenses that are requirements of attendance are allowed in the credit or deduction calculation. Transportation, insurance, room/board, or other living/personal expenses are not qualified expenses.

    3. Only accredited institutions are qualified for the credits or deductions. Classes offered by places like holistic or homeopathic medical “schools”, vocational training centers and the like that aren’t nationally accredited cannot be used for this purpose.

    • Paul 11/02/2011 at 7:26 am #

      Thanks for the clarification on eligibility Eric.

  6. Eric J. Nisall 11/02/2011 at 7:42 am #

    No problem bro. I just did work on this stuff a couple weeks ago for a client so it was pretty fresh in my head.

  7. Investment Insight 11/02/2011 at 8:24 am #

    These credits and deductions helped me out big time when I was in college. Even at a community school, I still required assistance. I certainly had to jump through hoops to get some of these, but they panned out in the long run.

    • Paul 11/02/2011 at 4:05 pm #

      It makes sense to take advantage of all financial assistance that is available including tax credits.

  8. Jeff @ Sustainable life blog 11/02/2011 at 5:34 pm #

    I used to use these credits when I was in school, but now i”m not taking any classes so I cant claim them. It’s a shame too, because I need tax breaks.

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