Now that my child is in college, am I entitled to any education tax credits?
You may be. There are two education tax credits--the American Opportunity credit (Hope credit) and the Lifetime Learning credit. To claim either credit in a given year (you cannot claim both in the same year), you must list your child as a dependent on your tax return. In addition, you must meet income limits. For 2011, the maximum American Opportunity credit is available to single filers with a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) below $80,000 and joint filers with a MAGI below $160,000. 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. For 2011, the maximum Lifetime Learning credit is available to single filers with a MAGI below $51,000 and joint filers with a MAGI below $102,000. A partial credit is available to single filers with a MAGI between $51,000 and $61,000 and joint filers with a MAGI between $102,000 and $122,000.
Now, what credit might you be eligible for? The American Opportunity credit applies to the first four years of undergraduate education and is worth a maximum of $2,500. It is calculated as 100 percent of the first $2,000 of your child's annual tuition and related expenses, plus 25 percent of the next $2,000 of such expenses. To qualify for the credit, your child must be attending college on at least a half-time basis.
The Lifetime Learning credit is worth a maximum of $2,000 per year. It is calculated as 20 percent of the first $10,000 of your child's annual tuition and related expenses. Unlike the American Opportunity credit, the Lifetime Learning credit is available even if your child is enrolled on less than a half-time basis.
If you are eligible to take the credits, remember that you cannot claim both credits in the same year. As a result, you will need to determine which credit offers you the most benefit in a given year. In this analysis, you must consider an important distinction between the two credits. The American Opportunity credit can be taken for more than one child in a given year, provided each child qualifies independently. For example, if you have two children in college, one a freshman and the other a sophomore, you can take a $5,000 credit on your tax return. By contrast, the Lifetime Learning credit is limited to $2,000 per tax return, even if you have multiple children who would qualify independently in the same year.