Cash in on That Education: Go to School on Educational Tax CreditsPublished:
Wow, that degree is worth something before you even finish it!
What are Education Credits and Two Common Tax Credits?
Education tax credits are tax benefits that help taxpayers offset the costs of qualified education expenses: the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) and the lifetime learning credit (LLC).
The AOTC is a valuable education tax credit that is available to eligible taxpayers who are enrolled at least half-time in their first four years of undergraduate studies. The AOTC provides a credit of up to $2,500 per eligible student and is 100% refundable as a tax refund, up to $1,000.
Meanwhile, the LLC is another tax credit that helps offset the costs of qualified education expenses. This credit provides a maximum credit of up to $2,000 per tax return, regardless of the number of students. The LLC is available to eligible taxpayers who are enrolled in undergraduate or graduate courses, including courses to acquire or improve job skills.
To qualify, taxpayers must meet certain qualifications and eligibility requirements. For the AOTC, taxpayers must be enrolled at least half-time in a program leading to a degree, certificate, or other recognized educational credential at an eligible educational institution. Additionally, taxpayers must have a modified adjusted gross income below certain income limits and meet other requirements.
On the other hand, to claim the LLC, taxpayers should have paid qualified education expenses for higher education courses taken by you, your spouse, or a dependent student. The taxpayer should also meet certain income and eligibility requirements. The LLC credit will only apply if the educational institution is eligible.
Who is eligible?
Education credits can help offset the cost of college or vocational school by allowing taxpayers to reduce their tax liability. However, not everyone is eligible.
Each education tax credit has its own income limits, which can vary depending on your filing status.
One of the most popular is the American opportunity tax credit (AOTC). To qualify for this credit, your modified adjusted gross income must be less than $80,000 if you’re a single filer or $160,000 on a joint return. If your income falls within these limits, you may be eligible for a credit of up to $2,500 per eligible student per year.
Another is the lifetime learning credit (LLC). To qualify for this credit, your modified adjusted gross income must be less than $68,000 if you’re a single filer or $136,000 if you’re married filing jointly. The LLC allows you to claim a credit of up to 20% of your eligible expenses, up to a maximum of $2,000 per tax return.
Keep in mind that these income limits apply to your modified adjusted gross income, which includes your adjusted gross income plus any tax-exempt interest you may have earned during the year.
Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN)
Having a Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) is essential. A TIN is a unique identification number that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) uses to track an individual or entity’s tax-related activity. There are several types of TINs, including Social Security Numbers (SSNs), Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs), and Employer Identification Numbers (EINs), among others.
For taxpayers who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents, an SSN is the most common type of TIN. This number is assigned by the Social Security Administration and is used for a wide range of purposes beyond just tax-related matters. For individuals who are not eligible for an SSN, such as nonresident aliens or foreign nationals, an ITIN can serve as a TIN for tax-related purposes. This number is issued by the IRS and is used exclusively for tax-related matters. An ITIN can be used to claim education tax credits, report income, and pay taxes.
For businesses, an EIN serves as their TIN. This number is assigned by the IRS and is used to identify the business entity for tax-related purposes. It can be used to claim education tax credits if the business is eligible.
Educational Institution Eligibility
When it comes to claiming education credits on your tax return, the educational institution you attend must meet certain eligibility requirements. To be considered an “eligible educational institution,” the school must meet specific criteria set by the IRS.
Firstly, the institution must be postsecondary, which means it must offer education beyond high school level. This includes colleges, universities, vocational schools, or other postsecondary educational institutions.
Secondly, the institution must participate in federal Student Aid programs. This criterion includes schools that participate in programs such as Federal Pell Grants, Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, or Federal Work-Study programs.
Additionally, the institution must be accredited by a recognized accrediting organization. Accreditation is a process of evaluating educational institutions and programs to ensure they meet certain standards of quality and rigor. It requires institutions to undergo a rigorous evaluation by an independent accrediting agency, which reviews the school’s academic programs, faculty qualifications, and student services.
Accreditation is crucial for an educational institution to receive eligibility for education credits. In fact, without accreditation, schools cannot participate in federal Student Aid programs, which is one of the criteria for eligibility.
Eligible Student Requirements
When it comes to claiming education tax credits, there are specific requirements that students must meet to be eligible. One of the most critical eligibility criteria is that the student must be enrolled at an eligible educational institution and pursuing a program that leads to a degree or other recognized education credential. The student cannot have a filing status of married filing separately to claim these education tax credits.
To meet the eligibility requirements for education tax credits, the student must attend an eligible educational institution. This includes postsecondary institutions that offer education beyond high school level, such as colleges, universities, and vocational schools. Furthermore, the eligible institution should participate in federal Student Aid programs and be accredited by a recognized accrediting organization.
Student must be enrolled for at least one academic period, including a qualifying program mid-year. Also, if a student attends multiple academic periods during a tax year, they may claim the credit for each period.
Marital Status Requirements
To be eligible for education tax credits, filers must meet certain requirements, including their marital status. For most cases, a taxpayer must file as either single, married filing jointly, head of household, or qualifying widow(er) with a dependent child to be eligible for these credits.
It’s crucial to note that filing separately as a married couple disqualifies both members from claiming education tax credits. However, there are exceptions for nonresident aliens who file a joint return with a U.S. citizen or resident alien spouse. Additionally, dual-status aliens may choose to be treated as a U.S. resident for the entire year and file a joint return to be eligible for education tax credits.
Another important requirement for filers is that they cannot claim education credits if they’re being claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return. This provision applies to both the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit, and it is designed to prevent double-dipping of tax benefits.
Felony Drug Conviction Disqualification
In addition to the disqualification criteria for education tax credits mentioned earlier, it’s important to note that a felony drug conviction can also make a filer ineligible for certain credits. Specifically, filers with a felony drug conviction on their record are not eligible for the American Opportunity Tax Credit. This disqualification criterion applies to both state and federal drug felonies.
However, it’s important to mention that a filer or dependent with a drug conviction may still be able to claim the Lifetime Learning Credit. They may be able to itemize their deductions for educational expenses on their tax return.
Education Tax Credit Calculation and Usage
One of the benefits of pursuing higher education is the ability to claim education tax credits, which can help offset the cost of tuition and other educational expenses. These tax credits include the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit, both of which have their own eligibility requirements and maximum credit amounts. Understanding how to calculate and use these credits can help maximize the tax savings for filers and their dependents.
American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC)
The American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) is a valuable education tax credit that provides financial assistance to eligible students who have not yet completed their first four years of undergraduate education. The credit expands the previous Hope Credit under the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015, allowing more families to be able to afford sending their children to college.
To be eligible for the AOTC, the student must be enrolled at least half time for one academic period as determined by the school. The credit is available for a maximum of four tax years per eligible student, and there are income limits that determine eligibility. The maximum credit is $2,500 per year, per eligible student, and it is partially refundable.
To claim the AOTC, the taxpayer must provide proof of expenses for qualified tuition and education fees. Form 1098-T, Tuition Statement, is the primary document that the eligible student must receive from their eligible educational institution.
Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC)
The Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC) is another valuable education tax credit that can help taxpayers offset their educational expenses. The LLC is available to eligible students who are pursuing post-secondary education, including undergraduate, graduate, and non-degree or vocational students. Unlike the AOTC, there’s no limit on the number of years you can claim the LLC credit.
To be eligible for the LLC, you must be enrolled in one or more courses at an eligible educational institution, and there are income limits. The maximum credit you can receive is $2,000 per tax return, and it’s non-refundable, which means it can only reduce your tax liability but cannot result in a refund.
Eligible expenses for the LLC include tuition, fees, and other related expenses required for enrollment. However, the eligible expenses do not include living expenses or transportation costs. To claim the LLC, the eligible student should receive Form 1098-T from their educational institution, and they must use Form 8863 to calculate and claim the credit.
The AOTC vs the Lifetime Learning Credit
One major difference is the maximum credit amount. The AOTC provides a higher maximum credit of $2,500 per eligible student, while the Lifetime Learning Credit maxes out at $2,000 per tax return.
You can’t claim both credits for the same student. It’s also important to note that both credits cannot be claimed for the same student in the same tax year.
The AOTC is also more limited in terms of who can claim it and for what expenses. It can only be used for undergraduate expenses, and the student must be enrolled at least half-time in a program that leads to a degree, certificate, or other recognized educational credential. Additionally, the AOTC can only be claimed for four tax years per student.
In contrast, the Lifetime Learning Credit is more flexible. It can be claimed an unlimited number of times for undergraduate, graduate, and vocational students, as long as they are enrolled in at least one course for an academic period. This credit can be used for a wider range of expenses, including undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree courses, as well as courses to acquire or improve job skills.