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What are Education Tax Credits?

Updated for Tax Year 2016


OVERVIEW

If you or your dependent is a student, you may want to determine whether you are eligible for one of the two educational tax credits that cover common student expenses. Find out more about these tax credits and how you may benefit from them.


Introduction

If you or your dependent is a student, you may want to determine whether you are eligible for one of the two educational tax credits that cover common student expenses. These credits provide greater tax savings than a tuition deduction since they reduce your tax bill on a dollar-for-dollar basis. If you are eligible to claim both credits, you should choose the one that provides the greatest tax savings for you.

American Opportunity Credit

The American Opportunity Credit can save you up to $2,500 in tax for the education expenses of each eligible student. To qualify, the student must pursue a degree at a school that is eligible to participate in the federal student aid program. The credit is only available to students in their first four years of attendance, who enroll at least half time for one academic period during the tax year and do not possess a felony drug conviction.

The credit amount includes the costs you incur for tuition, fees and course-related books, supplies and equipment necessary to attend the institution. If the credit amount exceeds the amount of tax you owe, you can receive up to $1,000 of the credit as a refund.

Lifetime Learning Credit

Lifetime Learning Credits are available to all taxpayers who attend at least one course during the year at an institution eligible to participate in the federal student aid program. It is not necessary that the student pursue a degree or certification to qualify, and it's available for any year of study. The credit covers the cost of tuition and fees plus any amount for books and supplies you are required to purchase directly from the school.

This credit is of particular value to those students attending postgraduate programs. As of 2016, the maximum benefit of the credit is $2,000. However, the lifetime learning credit is nonrefundable if it exceeds your tax bill for the year.

Tuition deductions

If you prefer to claim a deduction for your school expenses rather than a credit, the IRS allows you to deduct some of your tuition and fee payments. Since this is not an itemized expense, anyone can take the deduction. One thing to keep in mind is that you can never claim more than one educational tax benefit per student, per year. You cannot claim a tuition deduction and a tax credit in the same year for the same student.

Preparing Form 8863

If you claim either of the tax credits, the IRS requires you to fill out Form 8863 and attach it to your tax return. Form 8863 requires you to calculate the appropriate credit amount based on your eligible school expenses. In order to claim the tax credit for yourself, you cannot be claimed as a dependent on a different taxpayer's tax return. Otherwise, only that taxpayer is eligible to claim the credit on your behalf.

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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.


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