Education Tax Deductions and Credits Can Help Save You Money

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The cost of college is always increasing; however, there is some relief with education tax deductions and credits. Qualified education expenses may be deducted for your dependents, yourself or your spouse. These tax deductions and credits help more parents and students pay for college expenses.

 American Opportunity Tax Credit

 The American Opportunity Tax Credit helps taxpayers save money on the cost of post-secondary education. It is a tax credit for undergraduate college qualified expenses. This credit was extended until Dec. 31, 2017, when the 2012 American Taxpayer Relief Act was passed.

Tax credits are better than tax deductions because credits reduce the total amount of tax owed or it increases the total amount of your refund in the credit amount. This means that your tax liability will be reduced one dollar for each eligible credit. There is a $2,500 maximum per student for the American Opportunity Tax Credit. In order to qualify, you need to have paid a minimum of $4,000 during the year in qualified education expenses. If you do not incur a tax liability during the year, this credit is still partially refundable up to 40%.

What Expenses Qualify For The Education Tax Credits?

The American Opportunity Tax Credit is unlike other education-related tax credits because, in addition to tuition, it also includes expenses for supplies, equipment and course-related books that are not always paid directly to the educational intuition. Computers qualify for the tax credit if the computer is needed as a condition of attendance or enrollment at the educational institution. These expenses for course materials must be needed for the course of study.

This credit is allowed to be claimed for expenses that are incurred during the first 4 years of post-secondary education. The expenses must be paid during the taxable year and relate to the academic period that begins during the same year or the academic period that begins during the first 3 months or the following taxable year.

There are several expenses that do not qualify for the education tax credits. These expenses include:

  • Transportation
  • Room and board
  • Medical expenses
  • Insurance
  • Student fees that are not required as a condition of attendance or enrollment
  • Expenses that are paid with tax-free assistance
  • Expenses that are used for another educational benefit, tax credit or tax deduction

Do I Qualify For The American Opportunity Tax Credit?

The education expenses must relate to the first 4 years of college after high school to qualify for this tax credit. Although graduate students do not qualify for the American Opportunity Tax Credit, there may be other tax deductions and credits that may be eligible for including the Tuition and Fees Deduction and the Lifetime Learning Credit. The American Opportunity Tax Credit is not available for single filers with a modified AGI (adjusted gross income) higher than $90,000 or people filing jointly with income higher than $180,000.

What is the Tuition and Fees Deduction?

 If you have paid a minimum of $4,000 in education tuition and fees, the tuition and fees deduction maximizes out at $4,000. This is a tax deduction and is not the same as a tax credit. Additionally, it is different than the American Opportunity Tax Credit because the deduction for upper income is phased out at a slightly lower income range. This deduction is not available for single filers with a modified AGI (adjusted gross income) higher than $80,000 or people filing jointly with income higher than $160,000.

It is important to understand that you cannot use the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Tuition and Fees Deduction in the same year. You need to choose between taking the Tuition and Fees Deduction or claiming the American Opportunity Tax Credit.


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