Tax Benefits for Education
Tax credits, deductions and savings plans can help taxpayers with their expenses for higher education.
- A tax credit reduces the amount of income tax you may have to pay.
- A deduction reduces the amount of your income that is subject to tax, thus generally reducing the amount of tax you may have to pay.
- Certain savings plans allow the accumulated earnings to grow tax-free until money is taken out (known as a distribution), or allow the distribution to be tax-free, or both.
- An exclusion from income means that you won’t have to pay income tax on the benefit you’re receiving, but you also won’t be able to use that same tax-free benefit for a deduction or credit.
An education credit helps with the cost of higher education by reducing the amount of tax owed on your tax return. If the credit reduces your tax to less than zero, you may get a refund. There are two education credits available: the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit.
Who Can Claim an Education Credit?
There are additional rules for each credit, but you must meet all three of the following for either credit:
- You, your dependent or a third party pays qualified education expenses for higher education.
- An eligible student must be enrolled at an eligible educational institution.
- The eligible student is yourself, your spouse or a dependent you list on your tax return.
If you’re eligible to claim the lifetime learning credit and are also eligible to claim the American opportunity credit for the same student in the same year, you can choose to claim either credit, but not both. You can’t claim the AOTC if you were a nonresident alien for any part of the tax year unless you elect to be treated as a resident alien for federal tax purposes.
Tuition and Fees Deduction
You may be able to deduct qualified education expenses paid during the year for yourself, your spouse or your dependent. You cannot claim this deduction if your filing status is married filing separately or if another person can claim an exemption for you as a dependent on his or her tax return. The qualified expenses must be for higher education.
The tuition and fees deduction can reduce the amount of your income subject to tax by up to $4,000. This means you can claim this deduction even if you do not itemize deductions on Schedule A (Form 1040). This deduction may be beneficial to you if, for example, you cannot take the lifetime learning credit because your income is too high.
You may be able to take one of the education credits for your education expenses instead of a tuition and fees deduction. You can choose the one that will give you the lower tax.