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Tax Credits and Deductions for College

College students and their parents need all the help they can get to pay for college. Here are four college-related federal tax benefits that might help put a few more dollars back in your pocket when you file your 2016 tax return.

American Opportunity credit

The American Opportunity Tax Credit is worth up to $2,500 per year for a student's first four years of college. The credit applies only to qualified tuition and fees (room and board expenses aren't eligible) and is calculated as 100% of the first $2,000 of qualified tuition and fees plus 25% of the next $2,000 of such expenses.

There are two main eligibility restrictions. First, the student must be enrolled at least half-time. Second, a parent's modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) must be below a certain level. In 2016, a full tax credit is available to single filers with a MAGI of $80,000 or less and joint filers with a MAGI of $160,000 or less; a partial credit is available to single filers with a MAGI between $80,000 and $90,000 and joint filers with a MAGI between $160,000 and $180,000.

The American Opportunity credit can be claimed on behalf of multiple students on a single tax return in the same year, provided each student qualifies independently. For example, if Mom and Dad have triplets in college and each meets the credit's requirements, then Mom and Dad can claim a total credit of $7,500 ($2,500 x 3).

Lifetime Learning credit

The Lifetime Learning credit is another education tax credit that's worth up to $2,000 per year per tax return. As its name implies, the Lifetime Learning credit is for courses taken throughout one's lifetime, whether to acquire or improve job skills. As such, it is broader than the American Opportunity credit; for example, it's available to graduate students and to students enrolled less than half-time. The Lifetime Learning credit is calculated as 20% of the first $10,000 of qualified tuition and fees (again, room and board expenses aren't eligible).

There are also income restrictions. In 2016, a full credit is available to single filers with a MAGI of $55,000 or less and joint filers with a MAGI of $111,000 or less; a partial credit is available to single filers with a MAGI between $55,000 and $65,000 and joint filers with a MAGI between $111,000 and $131,000.

One disadvantage of the Lifetime Learning credit is that it's limited to a total of $2,000 per tax return per year, regardless of the number of students who qualify in a family in a given year. So, in the example above, Mom and Dad would be able to take a total Lifetime Learning credit of $2,000, not $6,000, in 2016. Also, the American Opportunity credit and the Lifetime Learning credit can't be taken in the same year for the same student — you have to pick one or the other.

Tuition and fees deduction

Undergraduate and graduate students (or their parents) may be able to deduct qualified tuition and fees paid in 2016. A $4,000 deduction is available to single filers with a MAGI of $65,000 or less and joint filers with a MAGI of $130,000 or less, and a $2,000 deduction is available to single filers with a MAGI between $65,000 and $80,000 and joint filers with a MAGI between $130,000 and $160,000. An important note: you can't use the same education expenses to qualify for both a tuition deduction and an education tax credit.

Student loan interest deduction

The student loan interest deduction lets undergraduate and graduate borrowers deduct up to $2,500 of interest paid on qualified student loans during the year, provided income limits are met. In 2016, a full deduction is available to single filers with a MAGI of $65,000 or less and joint filers with a MAGI up to $130,000; a partial deduction is available for single filers with a MAGI between $65,000 and $80,000 and joint filers with a MAGI between $130,000 and $160,000.

Comparison chart: 2016 figures

Maximum Credit / Deduction Income Limits for Maximum
American Opportunity credit $2,500 $80,000 or less single; $160,000 or less joint filer
Lifetime Learning credit $2,000 $55,000 or less single; $111,000 or less joint filer
Deduction for tuition and fees $4,000 $65,000 or less single; $130,000 or less joint filer
Deduction for student loan interest $2,500 $65,000 or less single; $130,000 or less joint filer

For more information, see IRS Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education.

Education tax credits and deductions can help defray some of the costs associated with college or graduate school. Do you or your child qualify for one of these federal tax benefits?



IMPORTANT DISCLOSURES Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. does not provide investment, tax, legal, or retirement advice or recommendations. The information presented here is not specific to any individual's personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances. These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable — we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice.

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2019.