Many people do not realize that education credits are not only available for your child’s tuition. Instead, they are also available for you, your spouse, or your dependents. Even if you attend school part-time, these credits may still be available.
There are two education-related credits available: the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) and the Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC). For either credit, the student must be enrolled in an eligible educational institution for at least one academic period (semester, trimester or quarter) during the year. An eligible educational institution is any accredited public, nonprofit, or proprietary post-secondary institution that can participate in the U.S. Department of Education’s student aid programs.
The credits phase out for higher-income taxpayers who are married filing jointly (MFJ) or who are unmarried. Those who are married filing separately (MFS) do not qualify for either credit.
The following table provides the qualifications for both credits:
QUALIFICATIONS AOTC LLC Allowance Period First 4 years of post-secondary education Any post-secondary education for any number of years Enrollment Must be considered at least a half-time student by the educational institution Not required to be enrolled at least half-time Program Type Must be pursuing a program leading to a degree or another recognized educational credential Not required to be enrolled for the purpose of obtaining a degree or other credential Credit Applied Per student Per family Credit Amount 100% of the first $2,000 and 25% of the next $2,000 in qualified expenses 20% of up to $10,000 in qualified expenses Qualified Expenses Qualified tuition and related expenses, which include books, supplies and equipment required for enrollment or attendance Qualified tuition and related expenses; the books, supplies and equipment must be purchased from the educational institution High Income Phase-out Based upon filing status and adjusted gross income (inflation-adjusted annually; 2017 amounts shown) MFJ: $160,000 to $180,000MFS: No credit allowedUnmarried: $80,000 to $90,000 MFJ: $112,000 to $132,00MFS: No credit allowedUnmarried: $56,000 to $66,000 Refundable* Partially; 40% of the credit is treated as refundable No
*Generally, credits are nonrefundable, meaning that they can only be used to offset your tax liability; any amount exceeding your current-year tax liability is lost. However, unlike other credits, the AOTC is partially refundable in most cases.
Many individuals who both work and attend school can be enrolled less than halftime and still qualify for the LLC.
Another interesting twist to education credits is that the taxpayer who qualifies for and claims the student’s exemption for the year gets the credit—even if someone else pays the expenses. Thus, for example, even if a noncustodial parent pays a child’s college expenses, the custodial parent gets the credit if he or she is otherwise qualified. The same applies when grandparents help pay for their grandchild’s education; the grandparents do not qualify for the credit unless they, and not the child’s parents, claim the student as a dependent.
Generally, the educational institution sends a Form 1098-T to the taxpayer (or dependent); this includes the information necessary to complete the IRS form and claim the credit. Unless the IRS has exempted the educational institution from having to file a 1098-T, the law requires the taxpayer to have this 1098-T in hand to claim either of the credits.
If you have questions about how this these education tax credit provisions apply to you, please give Dagley & Co. a call.
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Divorced or separated parent with a child/children? Commonly encountered but an often-misunderstood issue is who claims the child or children for tax purposes. This is sometimes a hotly disputed issue between parents; however, tax law includes some very specific but complicated rules about who profits from the child-related tax benefits. At issue are a number of benefits, including the children’s dependency tax exemption, child tax credit, child care credit, higher-education tuition credit, earned income tax credit, and in some cases even filing status.
This is actually one of the most complicated areas of tax law, and serious mistakes can be made by taxpayers preparing their own returns or inexperienced tax preparers, especially if the parents are not communicating well. Where parents will cooperate with each other, they often can work out the best tax result overall, even though it may not be the best for them individually, and compensate for it in other ways.
Where a family court awards physical custody of a child to one of the parents, tax law is very specific in awarding that child’s dependency to the parent with physical custody, regardless of the amount of child support provided by the other parent. However, the custodial parent may release the dependency (exemption) to the non-custodial parent by completing the appropriate IRS form.
On the other hand, if the family court awards joint physical custody, only one of the parents may claim the child as a dependent for tax purposes. If the parents cannot agree between themselves as to who will claim the child and the child is actually claimed by both, the IRS tiebreaker rules will apply. Per the tiebreaker rules, the child is treated as a dependent of the parent with whom the child resided for the greater number of nights during the tax year, or if the child resides with both parents for the same amount of time during the tax year, the parent with the higher adjusted gross income claims the child as a dependent.
Child’s Exemption – The parent who claims the child as a dependent is entitled to the child’s tax exemption – which is actually a deduction from income of $4,050 in 2016. However, the exemption begins to phase out for higher-income taxpayers with an AGI of $259,400 for single taxpayers, $285,350 for those qualifying for head of household filing status and $311,300 for married taxpayers filing jointly.
Head of Household Filing Status – An unmarried parent can claim the more favorable head of household, rather than single, filing status if the parent is the custodial parent and pays more than one-half of the cost of maintaining as his or her home a household which is the principal place of abode for more than one-half the year for that child. This is true even when the child’s dependency (and therefore the $4,050 exemption deduction) is released to the non-custodial parent.
Tuition Credit – If the child qualifies for either the American Opportunity or the Lifetime Learning higher-education tax credit, the credit goes to whoever claims the child’s exemption. Credits are significant tax benefits because they reduce the amount of tax dollar-for-dollar, while deductions reduce income to arrive at taxable income that is then taxed according to the individual’s tax bracket. For instance, the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) provides a tax credit of up to $2,500, 40% of which is refundable. However, both education credits phase out for higher-income taxpayers. For instance, the AOTC phases out between $65,000 and $80,000 for unmarried taxpayers and $130,000 and $160,000 for married taxpayers.
Child Care Credit – A nonrefundable tax credit is available to the custodial parent for the care of the child while the parent is gainfully employed or seeking employment. To qualify for this credit, the child must be under the age of 13 and be a dependent of the parent. However, a special rule for divorced or separated parents provides that where the custodial parent releases the child’s exemption to the non-custodial parent, the custodial parent would still qualify to claim the childcare credit, and it cannot be claimed by the noncustodial parent.
Child Tax Credit – A credit of $1,000 is allowed for a child under the age of 17. That credit goes to the parent claiming the child as a dependent. However, this credit phases out for higher-income parents, beginning at $75,000 for unmarried parents and $110,000 for married parents filing jointly.
Affordable Care Act – Parents must keep in mind that where the child does not have medical insurance during periods of the year, the parent claiming the child as a dependent (claims the $4,050 exemption) is the one responsible for any applicable penalties when the child does not have health insurance coverage.
Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) – Lower-income parents with earned income (wages or self-employment income) may qualify for the EITC. This credit is based on the number of children (under age 19 or a full-time student under age 24) the custodial parent has, up to a maximum of three children. Releasing the dependency exemption to the noncustodial parent will not disqualify the custodial parent from using the children to qualify for the EITC. In fact, the noncustodial parent is prohibited from claiming the EITC based on the child or children whose exemption has been released by the custodial parent.
As you can see, there are some complex rules that apply to the tax benefits provided by children of divorced parents. It is highly recommended that you consult with Dagley & Co. for the preparation of your return. If you are the custodial parent you should also consult with this office before making the decision to release a child’s exemption.
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