The IRS has issued back-to-school reminders for parents and students about education-related tax benefits,including the two college tax credits. In general, the American Opportunity Tax Credit or Lifetime Learning Credit are available to taxpayers who pay qualifying expenses for an eligible student. The definition of “qualifying expenses” for the two credits differ slightly, so it is important to note which credit you are taking or researching when making tax related decisions. Eligible students include the taxpayer, spouse and dependents.The American Opportunity Tax Credit also treats any money provided to the eligible student’s qualified educational institution by someone other than the taxpayer as paid for by the taxpayer. In short, this means that if your brother pays for a semester of your son’s college courses, as long as you claim your son as a dependent on your return, you can treat your brother’s payments as coming from you. While both credits are taken for money spent on higher education, they differ in two major ways.

The American Opportunity Tax Credit provides a credit for each eligible student, while the Lifetime Learning Credit provides a maximum credit per tax return. The American Opportunity Credit has a maximum of $2,500 (100% of the first $2,000 in qualified expenses and 20% of the excess expenses up to $2,000) and the Lifetime Learning Credit provides a maximum credit of up to $2,000 calculated as 20% of the first $10,000 in qualified expenses. Although a taxpayer may qualify for both of these credits, only one can be claimed per student/per year. To claim these credits, the taxpayer must file Form 1040 or 1040A and complete Form 8863, Education Credits.The credits apply to eligible students enrolled in an eligible college, university or vocational school, including both nonprofit and for-profit institutions. The credits are subject to income limits that could reduce the credit amount allowed on their tax return. Also, eligible parents and students can get the benefit of these credits during the year by filling out a new Form W-4, claiming additional withholding allowances, and giving it to their employer.There are a variety of other education-related tax benefits including:

  • Scholarship and fellowship grants are generally tax-free if used to pay for tuition, required enrollment fees, books and other course materials, but taxable if used for room, board, research, travel or other expenses.

  • Student loan interest deduction of up to $2,500 per year.

  • Interest on savings bonds used to pay for college can be tax free in certain circumstances; income limits apply, and the bonds must have been purchased after 1989 by a taxpayer who, at time of purchase, was at least 24 years old.

  • Qualified tuition programs, also called 529 plans, are used by many families to prepay or save for a

child’s college education.

In addition, taxpayers with qualifying children who are students up to age 24 may be able to claim a dependent exemption and the Earned Income Tax Credit. Visit the IRS’ website for more details regarding the income limitations and definitions of key phrases for the American Opportunity Tax Credit or Lifetime Learning Credit.

For more information on how the Hillhurst Tax Group located right off of Los Feliz and the 5 Freeway can help you with all of your IRS tax problems or general tax questions, email us at info@hillhursttaxgroup.com or call us to set up a free consultation with our Los Feliz IRS tax attorney and Enrolled Agents at (323) 486-3314