Education and Taxes

What’s the first word that comes to mind when you think about education…taxes, right? Well, even if it’s not the first thing that you think about, the expenses of higher education for a taxpayer or dependent can save money on taxes, via a deduction or a credit. A deduction will save you taxes based on your top marginal tax rate, so for example, if you’re in the 25% tax bracket, a dollar spent on qualifying education costs will save you twenty five cents in tax. A credit is much more powerful, since it directly reduces your tax, so if you have a tax credit of a dollar, it will save you a dollar in tax. This discussion will tell you about a few ways that Uncle Sam can help you pay for higher education costs.

American Opportunity Credit-this credit can be claimed for four years of post-secondary education per student, with a maximum annual credit of $2,500 per student. The full credit is available to single taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) of $80,000 or less, and married couples filing jointly, with MAGI of $160,000 or less. The credit phases out for MAGIs above those thresholds.

Lifetime Learning Credit-this credit can be claimed for all students enrolled in eligible educational institutions, and is up to $2,000, period, regardless of how many students are claimed on a tax return. Unlike the American Opportunity Credit, there’s no limit on the number of years a student may claim this credit, though only one credit or the other may be claimed in one year, not both. This credit is handy for graduate students (who have already received the maximum of four years of American Opportunity Credit), students who are taking only one course, or people who aren’t pursuing a degree.

Tuition and Fees Deduction-as I mentioned above, credits are more valuable than deductions, but if taking this deduction nets more tax savings than, say, the Lifetime Learning Credit, then you claim the one that saves the most. Similar to the Lifetime Learning Credit, the maximum deduction is $4,000, regardless of how many students are claimed. This deduction phases out with the same thresholds as the American Opportunity Credit.

Student Loan Interest-generally, personal interest paid (other than home mortgage interest) is not deductible. If MAGI is under $75,000 single/$150,000 married filing jointly, interest on student loans to pay for higher education is deductible, up to $2,500 per year.

There are other ways that education expenses can save you tax dollars, and, as with anything having to do with IRS and tax laws, there are numerous requirements, thresholds, and fine print, so make sure you speak to your favorite CPA (hint hint) if you have any questions. Have you saved taxes with higher education expenses? Please leave a comment about how you did it. As always, forward this article to somebody you know who could benefit from it, and let me know other topics you’d like to see me write about.

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