Did you have a college student in your family last year? Were you a student yourself? If so, you may be eligible for some valuable tax breaks on your 2016 return. To max out your higher education breaks, you need to see which ones you’re eligible for and then claim the one(s) that provide the greatest benefit. In most cases you can take only one break per student, and, for some breaks, only one per tax return.
Credits vs. deductions
Tax credits can be especially valuable because they reduce taxes dollar-for-dollar; deductions reduce only the amount of income that’s taxed. A couple of credits are available for higher education expenses:
- The American Opportunity credit — up to $2,500 per year per student for qualifying expenses for the first four years of postsecondary education.
- The Lifetime Learning credit — up to $2,000 per tax return for postsecondary education expenses, even beyond the first four years.
But income-based phase outs apply to these credits.
If you’re eligible for the American Opportunity credit, it will likely provide the most tax savings. If you’re not, the Lifetime Learning credit isn’t necessarily the best alternative.
Despite the dollar-for-dollar tax savings these credits offer, you might be better off deducting up to $4,000 of qualified higher education tuition and fees. Because it’s an above-the-line deduction, it reduces your adjusted gross income, which could provide additional tax benefits. But income-based limits also apply to the tuition and fees deduction.
Be aware that the tuition and fees deduction expired December 31, 2016. So it won’t be available on your 2017 return unless Congress extends it or makes it permanent.
How much can your family save?
Keep in mind that, if you don’t qualify for breaks for your child’s higher education expenses because your income is too high, your child might. Many additional rules and limits apply to the credits and deduction, however. To learn which breaks your family might be eligible for on your 2016 tax returns — and which will provide the greatest tax savings — please contact us.