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Tax Benefits Explored

Who typically qualifies for tax benefits?

According to IRS Form 970, eligibility requirements for the Hope Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit include:

  • Expenses paid for higher education must be qualified
  • The student who receives the benefit of the credit must be eligible based on the requirements for each credit
  • The student is yourself, a spouse, or a dependent that you claim a tax exemption for.

What are qualified expenses?

For most tax credits, qualified expenses include:

  • Tuition for each academic period you are enrolled
  • Related expenses paid with student loans or other borrowed funding
  • Expenses related to student activities including books and other school supplies
  • Expenses that are not refunded by the college or university when a student withdraws from a course

What are the differences between the two credits?

One major difference is that students who have been convicted of a drug-related felony are ineligible for the Hope Credit can still qualify for the Lifetime Learning Credit. Additionally, the Lifetime Learning Credit can be taken for all years of education, but the Hope Credit is only an option in the first two years of post-secondary education.

If my tax credits reduce the tax I owe below $0 does the IRS pay me?

It would certainly be nice, but no the IRS does not send you a check for any credit that reduces your owed tax below $0. If I am married and my spouse is also in school, can we both take a credit? Usually if you are married and both in school, each spouse can take the tax credit of his or her choice. This is good news as it means that married couples can potentially qualify for up to $4,000 in tax credits. Such a reduction can significantly reduce the burden of tuition.

What is the difference between a tax credit and a tax deduction?

A tax credit is usually more to the individual’s advantage than a tax deduction. While a deduction allows you to reduce the total amount of your taxable income, a credit actually reduces the amount of tax you pay by the credit amount. For example, a $2,000 tax deduction may save you a couple hundred dollars but an equal tax credit actually saves you the full $2,000.

Can I claim a Hope Credit and a Lifetime Learning Credit in the same year?

No. Students/parents must choose the deduction for which they qualify. The IRS does not allow you to take all deductions, so it is best to take the one that lends you the greatest tax advantage.

What income brackets are these credits available to?

Income restrictions change frequently, so it is best to investigate these requirements every year. If your income exceeds $53,000 or $107,000 for a joint return, it is likely that you are ineligible for most credit and deduction options. For more detailed information about the tax benefits of higher education, visit the Internal Revenue Service website.

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