Forking over thousands of dollars to cover college expenses can be a hard pill to swallow but it does have its perks.  Aside from the degree you’ll eventually earn, your expenses may qualify you for an education credit at tax time.  Tax credits reduce the amount of taxes you owe and can help you walk away with a bigger refund.

American Opportunity Tax Credit

Are you enrolled in your first four years of college?  If so, you may qualify for the American Opportunity Tax Credit.  This credit is worth up to $2,500 for students who paid for tuition, books and other related expenses.  The best part is if you don’t owe any taxes, you can receive up to $1,000 back as a refund.  To qualify, eligible students must:

  • Be working towards an associates, bachelors or another recognized credential
  • Be in their first four years of study
  • Attend at least part-time for one semester
  • Have not claimed the American Opportunity credit more than four years
  • Have no prior felony drug convictions

To claim the full credit, your modified adjusted gross income (or your parents if they’re paying your education bills) must be less than $80,000 ($160,000 if filing a joint return).

Lifetime Learning Credit

The Lifetime Learning Credit is worth up to $2,000 for students who paid for tuition and other related expenses at a qualified institution.  Unlike the AOTC, this credit can be claimed whether you’re pursuing a degree or just taking a few courses to boost your job skills.  There’s also no limit on the amount of times the credit can be claimed.  To qualify, eligible students must be:

  • Enrolled or taking classes at an eligible school for at least one semester
  • Working towards a degree or looking to improve job skills

To claim the full credit, your modified adjusted gross income must be less than $55,000 ($110,000 if filing a joint return).

You can’t claim both

Even if you qualify for both credits, you can only claim one on your tax return.  Don’t worry, ezTaxReturn makes the decision easy.  Just use us to do your taxes and we’ll help you choose the best credit for your situation.

Form 1098-T

By February 2018, your school will send you a Form 1098-T, Tuition Statement to help calculate your education credit.  Your 1098-T will report any payments they received for qualified expenses as well as scholarship or grant information.  Some eligible expenses such as the cost of textbooks may not be reflected on the form but feel free to add them in when you prepare your tax return.  Please note, there are some expenses you cannot claim.  Room and board, transportation, insurance premiums and living expenses all fall into this category.