TurboTax / Tax Calculators & Tips / All Tax Guides / College / Bigger, Better College Tax Credit

Bigger, Better College Tax Credit

Updated for Tax Year 2015


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 2015, 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 2015, 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 2015, the Lifetime Learning credit gradually disappears as AGI rises from $55,000 to $65,000 on single returns and from $110,000 to $130,000 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 $54.99$34.99*
Start for Free

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.

* Important Offer Details and Disclosures
  • Try for Free/Pay When You File: TurboTax online and mobile pricing is based on your tax situation and varies by product. Actual prices are determined at the time of print or efile and are subject to change without notice. Special discount offers may not be valid for mobile in-app purchases.
  • TurboTax CD/Download products: Price includes tax preparation and printing of federal tax returns and free federal efile of up to 5 federal tax returns. Additional fees apply for efiling state returns. E-file fees do not apply to New York state returns. Prices subject to change without notice.
  • TurboTax Mobile: Actual prices are determined at the time of print or efile and are subject to change without notice. Come back here before you file to confirm that the price has not changed, especially if it's been a while since you downloaded this app.
  • Anytime, anywhere: Internet access required; standard message and data rates apply to download and use mobile app features and content. TurboTax mobile app devices supported include Android 4.1 and above, iOS 8 on iPhone 4s and above, and iPad 2.
  • Fastest refund possible: Fastest tax refund with efile and direct deposit; tax refund timeframes will vary.
  • Pay for TurboTax out of your federal refund: A $34.99 Refund Processing Service fee applies to this payment method. Prices are subject to change without notice.
  • About our TurboTax Product Experts: Customer service and product support (phone or chat) vary by time of year. Phone support not included with Free Edition.
  • About our credentialed tax experts: Live tax advice service is available for your toughest tax questions; fees may apply. Service, experience levels, hours of operation and availability vary, and are subject to restriction and change without notice. Click here for full terms and conditions. Not available for TurboTax Business customers.
  • Get up to 10% on top of your federal refund: Amazon.com Gift Card offer is for federal refunds only. Limits apply ($2000 per e-card, maximum $10,000 per customer). Offer available only for TurboTax Online (except Federal Free Edition) or CD/download versions sold and shipped, or downloaded directly from Intuit or Amazon. Except as required by law, Amazon.com Gift Cards cannot be canceled, transferred for value or redeemed for cash.

    Amazon.com is not a sponsor of this promotion. Except as required by law, Amazon.com Gift Cards ('GCs') cannot be transferred for value or redeemed for cash. GCs may be used only for purchases of eligible goods at Amazon.com or certain of its affiliated websites. For complete terms and conditions, see www.amazon.com/gc-legal. GCs are issued by ACI Gift Cards, Inc., a Washington corporation. All Amazon ®, ™ & © are IP of Amazon.com or its affiliates. No expiration date or service fees.
  • #1 best-selling tax software: Based on aggregated sales data for all tax year 2013 TurboTax products.
  • 4.8 out of 5 stars: Average based on customer ratings on TurboTax.com for TurboTax Online and CD/download products tax year 2014, as of January 2015.
  • Most Popular: TurboTax Deluxe is our most popular product among TurboTax Online users with more complex tax situations.
  • TurboTax CD/Download priority phone support: Priority phone support for TurboTax CD/Download Premier and Home & Business is accessible exclusively via the TurboTax.com Help Center.
  • Benefit Assist: After you file, TurboTax automatically shows you a full list of government benefits you may qualify for, like Food Stamps or reduced phone & utilities. Plus, we help you apply, saving you time and making it easier than ever to get more money! Estimate based on calculation of Benefit Assist users from tax year 2013 and published reports of average benefit and savings amounts from federal and state programs. Actual amounts and qualifications based on your individual situation; some individuals will not qualify. Feature may not be available for all customers.
  • Simplified State Experience: New, simplified state tax preparation available for most filers.
  • Eligibility for $25 cash back for returning Deluxe customers: Customers who have completed their 2013 taxes in TurboTax Deluxe (CD or download), and have completed their 2014 taxes in either TurboTax Premier or TurboTax Home & Business (CD or download), and apply here before 11:59PM PDT April 20, 2015, are eligible for $25 back. 2014 TurboTax Advantage users are ineligible for this offer. Terms and conditions are subject to change without notice.
  • $0 Upgrade Offer: Valid for customers who filed their 2013 taxes with TurboTax Deluxe (CD or download), completed prior year data transfer this year, and encounter an upgrade to either 2014 TurboTax Premier or 2014 TurboTax Home & Business (CD or download). Valid February 6, 2015 through April 20, 2015. TurboTax Advantage users are ineligible for this offer. This offer may not be combined with our $25 cash back offer. Terms and conditions are subject to change without notice.