Education Tax Credit Back-to-School Tax Savings & Deductions (1440 x 600)

Education Tax Credit: Back-to-School Tax Savings & Deductions

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School tuition and related fees, especially paying for college and a postgraduate degree, can be expensive. However, the tax code provides some relief via education tax credits and deductions to combat the ever-increasing price of these costs. You may be able to deduct qualified expenses paid during the year for yourself, your spouse, or your dependent. 

Federal education tax deductions and credits focus on postsecondary education. If you have a child between kindergarten and high school, you may have to check with your state to find other benefits or financial aid options.

For now, let’s focus on higher education and how paying for undergraduate, graduate, professional degrees and courses to improve or acquire job skills might impact your taxes. 

Education Tax Credits Explained

Any education credit helps reduce the amount owed on your tax return. That means they don’t directly pay your education expenses or student loan interest; instead, they take into account that you’re paying these fees and give you “tax breaks.”

Here’s the background on education credits:

Eligibility Criteria

According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), not everyone is eligible to claim an education credit. You must be able to check all of these boxes:

  • You, your dependent or a third party pay qualified expenses.
  • The student is enrolled at an eligible educational institution.
  • The student is you, your spouse or a dependent on your tax return.

Qualified Expenses 

A qualified educational expense can be anything from tuition to required campus fees. Depending on the credit you claim, you may be able to include the cost of books, supplies and equipment, too. These expenses qualify whether you pay for them with cash/check/card or a loan.

Qualified Educational Institutions

A student needs a Form 1098-T showing they attend a qualifying college. Most accredited institutions count, such as public, nonprofit, and privately-owned for-profit schools. This includes:

  • Colleges.
  • Universities.
  • Trade schools.
  • Postsecondary educational programs.

Top Education Tax Credits

The two education tax credits available are the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit.

American Opportunity Tax Credit 

The American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) is available to a large number of taxpayers. To claim the full credit, your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) must be $80,000 or less (or $160,000 or less if you’re married filing jointly). You will receive a reduced amount of the credit if your MAGI is over $80,000 but more than $90,000 individually (over $160,000 but less than $180,000 married filing jointly). You can get a maximum credit of $2,500 for each qualifying student. 

To be a qualifying student to claim AOTC, the student must meet the following criteria: 

  • Be enrolled at least half-time for a minimum of one academic period beginning in that tax year. An academic period could be a semester, trimester, quarter, or even a summer school session.  
  • Pursue a degree or some recognized education credential if they want to claim this credit. 
  • Be in the first four years of higher education. 
  • Not have claimed this credit (or the former Hope credit) for more than four tax years. 
  • Cannot have a felony drug conviction at the end of the tax year. 

The credit is calculated based on a maximum of the first $4,000 worth of qualified education expenses per eligible student. The amount of credit is 100% of the first $2,000 you spend on qualified education expenses you paid for each eligible student. For the next $2,000 you spend on qualified education expenses, 25% is covered by the AOTC credit for a maximum total credit of $2,500. This applies to each eligible student — so if you’re a parent with multiple kids in college, you can claim the credit for each one. 

Better yet, part of this tax credit is refundable, meaning it can actually pay you by increasing your tax refund. If the credit brings your taxes owed down to zero, you can get 40% of any remaining amount of the credit added to your refund up to $1,000.

Tip: Remember that you may be able to claim this credit for up to four tax years for each different student as long as it’s for different eligible education expenses. That’s one more reason it’s helpful to keep track of your paperwork, especially Forms 1098-E and 1098-T.

Lifetime Learning Tax Credit

Unlike the American Opportunity Tax Credit, you can claim the Lifetime Learning Credit for as many years as you pay qualifying expenses for undergraduate, graduate, professional degree courses and courses to improve or acquire job skills.  While there is no limit on the number of years you can claim this credit on your tax return, it is worth up to $2,000 per tax return. 

Tip: While you can claim both of these tax credits on the same tax return, it can not be for the same student or the same qualified expenses. TurboTax will help you determine which education credits you qualify for depending on your tax situation. 

Education Tax Deductions and Expenses

Although education tax credits are a golden opportunity to get a break from those college fees, you have other options, too — especially when it comes to loans and interest. Here are a few tax breaks you might qualify for:

Student Loan Interest Deduction

The federal government allows you to deduct up to $2,500 of the interest you repaid on your student loans. Better yet, you can do that each year. You’re only eligible for the deduction if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is less than $90,000 for single filers and less than $185,000 if married filing joint.

You will not be able to qualify for a student loan interest deduction if you are married and filing separately. 

Tip: Keep good records of all your expenses and spending over the tax year. This makes it easier to get the credits you deserve.

Tuition Reimbursement

If you’re a student with a job, you might have a leg up. Ask your employer if you are eligible for tuition reimbursement from your company.

Take Advantage of Your Education

Pursuing postsecondary education is a big step — and often a pricey one. Fortunately, you can take qualified tuition and related expenses down a peg with a few well-chosen credits, deductions and tax breaks.

172 responses to “Education Tax Credit: Back-to-School Tax Savings & Deductions”

  1. Is it true that you have to have a minimum of $4,000.00 in deductions to file long form? If so, what is the best way to claim those deductions? Mileage/car expenses or gas expenses for someone who is no longer a home owner & rents, but will also soon be a student , head of household, minor dependent, claims self & am considering claiming my son’s disabled father, whom I support & live with, but NOT married to…and what about tithing to our church? What are the rules there? Is that considered a contribution? Is there a minimum when it comes to things of that nature? What are the benefits of filing long/itemized form as opposed to not? Is it worth all the saving of every receipt for every expense? Can you give me examples of the comparisons? Just asking…inquiring minds want to know, lol.

  2. Hello, I would like to take advantage of the American Opportunity Credit. If i will be attending graduate school next August and am graduating undergrad in December would i be able to use this to buy a laptop (1000$) and get 100% return considering my parents income will be less than 80,000 and will be taking loans for graduate school in August.

  3. We received money from Fafsa. This money was for tuition. We paid for room and board and all of the other expenses which amounted to well over $4000. Does room and board count as a qualified expense under this tax rule?

    • Hi Denise,
      You would not be able to claim the loss if it’s a principal residence. If it is an investment property then you may be able to claim the loss. TurboTax will help you figure out tax implications of your loss.
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

  4. My son quite school and came home in Sept of this year can I still claim him as a full time student. On my taxes for this year?

  5. I have set up “529” investment accounts for each of my five grandchildren. Are my contributions to those accounts eligible for either credit or deductions?

  6. my daughter is age 19, a full time college student with a part time job on campus. although i claim her, will she still be required to file a tax form based on the income she’s made this year? it’s less than 3 thousand. thank you.

    • My son is married and I am paying for his
      Collage. Can I claim the money that I am
      Paying for his collage? They do not live with
      Me. Thank you.

  7. My son was in college untile august of this year and decided to quit and come home, can I still put him as a full time student on my taxes since he came home?

  8. Our daughter is attending undergraduate school out of town and has received a variety of scholarships (academic, not need based) that cover 95% of her tuition. We pay for the remaining 5% of tuition in addition to the cost of books, rent, food, utilities etc. She is also required to work 60 hours a semester for her scholarships. What portion of these expenses are deductible?

  9. Hi,
    I’m 27 years old and full time student with a seasonal partime, gross income by the end of this tax year won’t exceed $7000. The tuition in the University is 3000 per semester. I have Financial Aid and I’ve been taking all my loans.How the American Opportunity Tax Credit will benefit me and what impact will have the Obama Care law on my taxes. Thank you!

  10. I have a situition where for the last three now my husbsnd and I being supporting my nephew he is 34 yr old, he injuryed his back and has not been able to work . He started going to school and study for a career that does not require standing. But he was also declared disable by a judge a few months ago his condition is getting worse. Would I be able to claim him.

  11. My dependent is now 18 and I will not be able to claim him this year. Can he file taxes for the education credit even though he has no job and I pay the college expenses?

    • Hi Brenda,
      No they have to be claimed as a dependent on your taxes in order to get the education tax credit or deduction.

      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

  12. I have question. My father has been living with me for the last 4 years. He is 83 years old and collects only social security. Can I claim him as a dependent? Thanks, Sharrie

    • Hi Sharrielea,
      You would be able to claim him as long as his social security doesn’t cover over half of his own support and you provide over half of his support.
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

  13. I have a son who is an undergrad and a dependent, plus my wife is going to grad school. I have paid more that $4,000 in tuition and fees for each of them. Since it involves two family members, can I get both the American Opportunity tax credit because of my son and the tuition and fee tax deduction because of my wife?

  14. My mother just sold a home (not her homestead) and purchased another of a higher value. Would she have to pay on the first amount as income?
    She is thinking of selling another piece of land, that was left to her. If she sells it this year, would she be paying on that as income, or would part of that amount equal out the previous transaction? So she would only pay income on the remainder.
    Thank you

    • Besides books and computer purchase. What are some of the things that can be deducted for taxes when you have a new freshman in college

    • Hi Tracie,
      The gain on the sale (selling price-purchase price-selling expenses-depreciation) is taxable income. If she had a qualified 1031 exchange, she would only have to include as much gain as she received in cash or debt reduction.
      Selling land is also a taxable event if there is a profit. Each transaction would be reported separately.
      Thank you,
      Mary Ellen

  15. My son start. ted trade school in Sept. he took out at student loan to pay for it. Can he claim the full tuition as under credit this year?

  16. We are paying our granddaughter’s college expenses which include tuition and room and board. She is not a dependent of ours. Can we claim a tax credit?

    • According to IRS Publication 970 – Tax Benefits for Education, “Someone other than you, your spouse, or your dependent (such as a relative or former spouse) may make a payment directly to an eligible educational institution to pay for an eligible student’s qualified education expenses. In this case, the student is treated as receiving the payment from the other person and, in turn, paying the institution. If you claim an exemption on your tax return for the student, you are considered to have paid the expenses.”
      For more information:

      Thank you,
      Mary Ellen

  17. I paid a portion of tuition from my traditional IRA, are there any tax breaks or exemptions on the early withdrawal tax law?

  18. I have a few Q’s.

    1.) I’m an independent contractor (who’s working under a W9) and the gentleman I’m working for is going to send me a 1099 form at the end of the year. Does Turbo Tax have a section for this form?

    2.) If so, will I need any other documentation when filling this section out on Turbo Tax? (I ask because I will be out if the country when I do my taxes this year).

    3.) Lastly, will there be any issues with me filling out/submitting my taxes on Turbo Tax if I’m outside of the U.S?

    Thanks for your time

      • I tried this site, and the part where i put in my info. It stated I do not qualify. I need to know if MY dependent does? I have paid over $1000 for his expenses this semester alone. He has put over 4,800 miles on his car for travel JUST for his college back and forth to home for fall semester. Isn’t there a travel credit somewhere?

  19. Hi, my son stared working part time this March (2013) he pays for his education (tuition ,books, fees) But he’s still live at home with both parents, so we pay rent and bill’s Does he has to do he’s own taxes? And can we claim him as a dependent? transportation (gas) can be added as school expense? Thanks

  20. Can both myself and my son qualify for tax credit if he paid for the Fall semester 2013 and I paid for the Spring semester 2013?

    • Hi Cathy,
      Only one of you can claim the tax credit, but not both depending on whether your son claims an exemption for himself or if you claim him as a dependent. If you claim him as a dependent, then you would get the credit. If your son claims himself then he would get the tax credit.
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

  21. If I paid tuition$4,000 to a private online school, that I will receive a certificate, does this count? And which credit wold I receive? Or does it have to be a college?

  22. My daughter was denied the education tax credit, because “someone could have claimed her as a dependent.” She filed her own return and we did not claim her. Everything worked out as far TurboTax paperwork was concerned, but when the IRS looked at it they said no. This seems like a pretty big glitch.

    • Hi Kathleen,
      The term “some could have claimed her as a dependent” means just that; based on her age and income (under 23 and you provided more than half of her support), she could be a dependent on your tax return, even though you did not claim her. Without seeing exactly how she prepared her tax return, it is hard to say why TurboTax gave her the credit and the IRS did not.

  23. my daughter is a graduate assistant-graduate student starting this fall. She had moving expenses (SD to CA) What kind of deductions can we claim fon her. We are still paying her living expenses

  24. Do I qualify for some deduction or tax credit if i take a loan for private school even if I’m already a university graduate?
    XXXXXXXXXXXplease respond

    • Hi Terry,
      According to Publication 970 – Tax Benefits for Education, you must be a candidate for a degree at an educational institution that “provides a program that is acceptable for full credit toward a bachelor’s or higher degree, or offers a program of training to prepare students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation; and is authorized to provide such a program and is accredited by a nationally recognized accreditation agency.”
      Your school will issue a form 1098-T showing your eligible expenses if it qualifies.
      Borrowed money will qualify for the deduction or credit.

  25. If my daughter is filed as a dependent of my ex-wife, but I pay all the college expenses, can anyone claim the deduction?

    • Hi Jeff,
      According to IRS Publication 970 – Tax Benefits for Education, “Someone other than you, your spouse, or your dependent (such as a relative or former spouse) may make a payment directly to an eligible educational institution to pay for an eligible student’s qualified education expenses. In this case, the student is treated as receiving the payment from the other person and, in turn, paying the institution. If you claim an exemption on your tax return for the student, you are considered to have paid the expenses.” If you pay the money directly to your daughter and she pays for college, the result is the same. The person claiming the exemption for the student (in this case, your ex-wife) claims the education credit or deduction.

  26. are any costs related to college searching deductible? Live in NJ and flying back and forth to Florida is expensive.

    • Hi Tina,
      Yes, she may qualify for the American Opportunity Tax Credit, the Tuition or Fees deduction, or the Lifetime Learning Credit if she has eligible education expenses and no one else claims her as a dependent.
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

      • if your daughter is in high school and going to college and you are claiming her on your return then you would have to claim all of her education tax credit with your return. even if she is going to file a tax return of her own she will not be able to claim her education tax credit with her return.

    • Hi Vee,
      If your grandchild is claimed as a dependent on your tax return, you may be able to exclude the interest on the savings bonds from taxable income. In addition, the education tuition and fees may qualify for the American Opportunity Tax Credit, the Tuition or Fees deduction, or the Lifetime Learning Credit. Education benefits are only available for you, your spouse (if filing a joint tax return) and dependents you claim on your tax return. There are income limits as well.

  27. Is there a different upper limit on the tax credit for a Head of Household filing or is it $80K just like a single filing?

    • Hi Aliseasea,
      The upper Modified Adjusted Gross Income limit is the same for Head of Household as for Single.

    • Hi Jacky,
      If you pay qualified education expenses to a qualified institution, even if you borrow the money, you may qualify for education tax benefits.

    • For 2012 tax returns, there was a delay in the IRS accepting returns with Education Credits, due to late tax legislation. There is no guarantee that something similar will not happen again, but it is unlikely at this time.

  28. Hi Colvin,

    Yes, you may be able to deduct your laptop as a part of your education expenses. TurboTax will guide you through it all…it will ask you a few simple questions and then let you know which education deductions and credits you qualify for and if you can deduct your laptop based on your specific situation.


    • Hi Gary,
      Union dues are deductible as a miscellaneous deduction. Miscellaneous deductions must be more than 2% of your adjusted gross income, so there may not have been much tax benefit, but you can always enter them in TurboTax and let the program determine the amount of your deduction.

  29. I have a question regarding a credit or deduction for private schools, K-8. Are there any tax breaks this year? I read something in our paper for that. Or is it for state only. We reside in Wisconsin. If you could let me know, I would appreciate it. Thank you for your time.

    • I have a question regarding a credit or deduction for private schools, K-8. Are there any tax breaks this year? I read something in our paper for that. Or is it for state only. We reside in Wisconsin. If you could let me know, I would appreciate it. Thank you for your time.

    • Hi Colvin,
      For the American Opportunity Credit, the laptop will qualify. For the Lifetime Learning Credit or the Tuition and Fees Deduction, the cost of the computer must be paid to the school as a condition of enrollment or attendance.

  30. It would be particularly helpful if TurboTax could release the income tax calculators sooner. I do much of my planning during the year I’m filing for next, and your calculators are wonderful and always available way too late.

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