Bigger, Better College Tax Credit

Updated for Tax Year 2017


OVERVIEW

A key tax credit that helps families pay for college got a major boost in the 2009 stimulus bill. The credit is bigger, covers more years of college, and helps more taxpayers.


The American Opportunity tax credit, previously called the Hope College credit, is valued at $2,500 for 2017, up from $1800 in 2008.

Because a tax credit reduces your tax bill dollar for dollar, this basically means Uncle Sam will give you up to $2,500 per year for each qualifying college student in your family.

And, unlike the old Hope credit, which was available only for a student’s first two years of college, the American Opportunity credit can be claimed for all four years of post-high-school education. You get the maximum credit if you spend at least $4,000 in qualifying expenses, which now include the cost of books as well as tuition and fees.

More credit for lower- and higher-income taxpayers

If you're a lower-income taxpayer and the credit is worth more than your tax bill for the year, up to 40 percent of the credit (as much as $1,000) will be returned to you as a tax refund. The old Hope credit could wipe out your tax bill but never gave you cash back.

There’s also good news for some higher-income taxpayers: The new rules greatly expanded the number of families who qualify for the credit. The old Hope credit was phased out for single taxpayers with Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) of more than $50,000 and it disappeared altogether at $60,000. For couples filing jointly, the credit phased out between $100,000 and $120,000 of AGI. (AGI is basically taxable income before subtracting personal and dependent exemptions and standard or itemized deductions.)

Now the credit starts to decrease at $80,000 for single taxpayers and disappears at $90,000. For married taxpayers filing jointly, those thresholds are now $160,000 and $180,000.

What if you already used the Hope credit for the first two years of a child’s college bills? If your child is a junior or senior in 2017, you can use the American Opportunity credit for these expenses.

Who qualifies?

The other rules for qualifying for the American Opportunity credit are the same as for the Hope credit.

The student must be enrolled at least half-time in a program pursuing an undergraduate degree or other recognized educational credential. You can claim the credit for expenses paid for yourself, your spouse, or a child who is claimed as a dependent on your tax return. If the student is claimed as a dependent on a parent’s tax return, the parent gets the credit, regardless of who actually pays the qualifying expenses.

The changes in the Hope credit do not affect the Lifetime Learning credit (which applies to higher education not covered by the Hope or American Opportunity credit) for education after the first two or four years, or for classes taken (1) less than half-time or (2) not in pursuit of a degree.

The Lifetime Learning credit, which can be claimed for graduate school, for example, or a single post-high-school class, is worth up to $2,000. (The credit is actually 20 percent of the first $10,000 of qualifying costs.) The income phase-out zone is lower than for the new American Opportunity credit. For 2017, the Lifetime Learning credit gradually disappears as AGI rises from $56,000 to $66,000 on single returns and from $112000 to $132,000 on joint returns.

IRS publication 970 has more information about the American Opportunity, Hope and Lifetime Learning tax credits.

Get every deduction you deserve

TurboTax Deluxe searches more than 350 tax deductions and credits so you get your maximum refund, guaranteed.

For only $59.99$39.99*
Start for Free

Looking for more information?

The above article is intended to provide generalized financial information designed to educate a broad segment of the public; it does not give personalized tax, investment, legal, or other business and professional advice. Before taking any action, you should always seek the assistance of a professional who knows your particular situation for advice on taxes, your investments, the law, or any other business and professional matters that affect you and/or your business.


Security is built into everything we do
Here's how
* Important Offer Details and Disclosures
  • TURBOTAX ONLINE/MOBILE

  • Try for Free/Pay When You File: TurboTax online and mobile pricing is based on your tax situation and varies by product. Absolute Zero $0 federal (forms 1040EZ/1040A) + $0 state limited time offer only available with TurboTax Free Edition; offer may change or end at any time without notice. Actual prices are determined at the time of print or e-file and are subject to change without notice. Savings and price comparisons based on anticipated price increase. Special discount offers may not be valid for mobile in-app purchases.
  • QuickBooks Self-Employed Offer with TurboTax Self-Employed: To receive your complimentary subscription to QuickBooks Self-Employed through 4/30/19, you must pay for your 2017 TurboTax Self-Employed return by 4/17/18 and sign-in and access your QuickBooks Self-Employed account via mobile app or at https://selfemployed.intuit.com/turbotax at least twice by 7/15/18. You will have the option of renewing your QuickBooks Self-Employed subscription by 4/30/19 for another year at the then-current subscription rate. You may cancel your subscription at any time from within the QuickBooks Self-Employed billing section. See QuickBooks.com for price comparison. Offer not valid for existing QuickBooks Self-Employed subscribers already on a payment plan.
  • Pays for itself (TurboTax Self-Employed): Estimates based on deductible business expenses calculated at the self-employment tax income rate (15%) for tax year 2017. Actual results will vary based on your tax situation.
  • Anytime, anywhere: Internet access required; standard data rates apply to download and use mobile app.
  • Fastest refund possible: Fastest tax refund with e-file and direct deposit; tax refund time frames will vary.
  • Pay for TurboTax out of your federal refund: A $X.XX Refund Processing Service fee applies to this payment method. Prices are subject to change without notice.
  • TurboTax Help and Support: Access to a TurboTax specialist is included with TurboTax Deluxe, Premier, Self-Employed and TurboTax Live; not included with Free Edition (but is available as an upgrade). TurboTax specialists are available to provide general customer help and support using the TurboTax product. SmartLook on-screen help is available on a PC, laptop or the TurboTax mobile app. Service, area of expertise, experience levels, wait times, hours of operation and availability vary, and are subject to restriction and change without notice.
  • Tax Advice, Expert Review and TurboTax Live: Access to tax advice and Expert Review (the ability to have a Tax Expert review and/or sign your tax return) is included with TurboTax Live or as an upgrade from another version, and available through October 15, 2018. These services are provided only by credentialed CPAs, EAs or tax attorneys. State tax advice is free. Some tax topics or situations may not be included as part of this service, which shall be determined in the tax expert's sole discretion. In the event your return is reviewed by a tax expert and requires a significant level of tax advice or actual preparation, the tax expert may be required to sign your return as the preparer at which point they will assume primary responsibility for the preparation of your return. Expert Review [and TurboTax Live] not available on the TurboTax mobile app or when using a web browser on your mobile phone. On-screen help is available on a PC, laptop or the TurboTax mobile app. Service, area of expertise, experience levels, wait times, hours of operation and availability vary, and are subject to restriction and change without notice.
  • Tax Return Access and My Docs features: Included with TurboTax Deluxe, Premier, Self-Employed, TurboTax Live or with PLUS benefits. Access to all tax-related documents we have on file for you is available through 10/31/2019. Terms and conditions may vary and are subject to change without notice.
  • #1 best-selling tax software: Based on aggregated sales data for all tax year 2016 TurboTax products.
  • Most Popular: TurboTax Deluxe is our most popular product among TurboTax Online users with more complex tax situations.
  • CompleteCheck: Covered under the TurboTax accurate calculations and maximum refund guarantees.
  • #1 rated online tax prep provider: Based on independent comparison of the best online tax software by TopTenReviews.com March 13, 2017.
  • Get tips based on your tax and credit data to help get you to where you want to be: Tax and credit data accessed upon your consent.
  • TURBOTAX CD/DOWNLOAD SOFTWARE

  • TurboTax CD/Download products: Price includes tax preparation and printing of federal tax returns and free federal e-file of up to 5 federal tax returns. Additional fees apply for e-filing state returns. E-file fees do not apply to New York state returns. Savings and price comparison based on anticipated price increase. Prices subject to change without notice.
  • Fastest refund possible: Fastest tax refund with e-file and direct deposit; tax refund time frames will vary.
  • Pay for TurboTax out of your federal refund: A $X.XX Refund Processing Service fee applies to this payment method. Prices are subject to change without notice. This benefit is available with TurboTax Federal products except TurboTax Business.
  • About our TurboTax Product Experts: Customer service and product support vary by time of year.
  • About our credentialed tax experts: Live tax advice via phone is included with Premier and Home & Business; fees apply for Basic and Deluxe customers. State tax advice is free. Service, experience levels, hours of operation and availability vary, and are subject to restriction and change without notice. Not available for TurboTax Business customers.
  • #1 best-selling tax software: Based on aggregated sales data for all tax year 2016 TurboTax products.
  • Data Import: Imports financial data from participating companies; may require a free Intuit online account. Quicken and QuickBooks import not available with TurboTax installed on a Mac. Imports from Quicken (2016 and higher) and QuickBooks Desktop (2012 and higher); both Windows only. Quicken import not available for TurboTax Business. Quicken products provided by Quicken Inc., Quicken import subject to change.