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IRS.gov Website
Publication 17
taxmap/pub17/p17-177.htm#en_us_publink1000174558

Chapter 34
Education Credits(p236)

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For 2011, there are two tax credits available to persons who pay expenses for higher (postsecondary) education. They are: The chapter will present an overview of these education credits. To get the detailed information you will need to claim either of the credits, and for examples illustrating that information, see chapters 2 and 3 of Publication 970.
taxmap/pub17/p17-177.htm#en_us_publink1000174572

Can you claim more than one education credit this year?(p236)

rule
For each student, you can choose for any year only one of the credits. For example, if you choose to take the American opportunity credit for a child on your 2011 tax return, you cannot, for that same child, also claim the lifetime learning credit for 2011.
If you are eligible to claim the American opportunity credit and you are also eligible to claim the lifetime learning credit for the same student in the same year, you can choose to claim either credit, but not both.
If you pay qualified education expenses for more than one student in the same year, you can choose to take the American opportunity and the lifetime learning credits on a per-student, per-year basis. This means that, for example, you can claim the American opportunity credit for one student and the lifetime learning credit for another student in the same year.
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Table 34-1. Comparison of Education Credits

Caution. You can claim both the American opportunity credit and the lifetime learning credit on the same return—but not for the same student.

 American Opportunity Credit Lifetime Learning Credit
Maximum creditUp to $2,500 credit per eligible studentUp to $2,000 credit per return
Limit on modified adjusted gross income (MAGI)$180,000 if married filling jointly;
$90,000 if single, head of household, or qualifying widow(er)
$122,000 if married filling jointly;
$61,000 if single, head of household, or qualifying widow(er)
Refundable or nonrefundable40% of credit may be refundableCredit limited to the amount of tax you must pay on your taxable income
Number of years of postsecondary educationAvailable ONLY for the first 4 years of postsecondary education Available for all years of postsecondary education and for courses to acquire or improve job skills
Number of tax years credit availableAvailable ONLY for 4 tax years per eligible student Available for an unlimited number of years
Type of degree requiredStudent must be pursuing a degree or other recognized education credentialStudent does not need to be pursuing a degree or other recognized education credential
Number of coursesStudent must be enrolled at least half time for at least one academic period beginning during the tax yearAvailable for one or more courses
Felony drug convictionNo felony drug convictions as of the end of the tax yearFelony drug convictions are permitted
Qualified expensesTuition, fees, and course materials required for enrollment. Course-related books, supplies, and equipment do not need to be purchased from the institution in order to qualify. Tuition and fees required for enrollment or attendance (including amounts required to be paid to the institution for course-related books, supplies, and equipment).
Payments for academic periodsPayments made in 2011 for academic periods beginning in 2011 and in the first 3 months of 2012
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Differences between the American opportunity and lifetime learning credits.(p236)

rule
There are several differences between these two credits. These differences are summarized in Table 34-1, later.

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Useful items

You may want to see:


Publication
 970 Tax Benefits for Education
Form (and Instructions)
 8863: Education Credits (American Opportunity and Lifetime Learning Credits)
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Who Can Claim an Education Credit(p236)

rule
You may be able to claim an education credit if you, your spouse, or a dependent you claim on your tax return was a student enrolled at or attending an eligible educational institution. The credits are based on the amount of qualified education expenses paid for the student in 2011 for academic periods beginning in 2011 and in the first 3 months of 2012.
For example, if you paid $1,500 in December 2011 for qualified tuition for the spring 2012 semester beginning in January 2012, you may be able to use that $1,500 in figuring your 2011 education credit(s).
EIC
You cannot use any amount paid in 2010 or 2012 to figure your 2011 education credit(s).
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Academic period.(p236)

rule
An academic period includes a semester, trimester, quarter, or other period of study (such as a summer school session) as reasonably determined by an educational institution. In the case of an educational institution that uses credit hours or clock hours and does not have academic terms, each payment period can be treated as an academic period.
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Eligible educational institution.(p236)

rule
An eligible educational institution is any college, university, vocational school, or other postsecondary educational institution eligible to participate in a student aid program administered by the U.S. Department of Education. It includes virtually all accredited public, nonprofit, and proprietary (privately owned profit-making) postsecondary institutions. The educational institution should be able to tell you if it is an eligible educational institution.
Certain educational institutions located outside the United States also participate in the U.S. Department of Education's Federal Student Aid (FSA) programs.
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Who can claim a dependent's expenses.(p236)

rule
If a student is claimed as a dependent on another person's tax return, only the person who claims the student as a dependent can claim a credit for the student's qualified education expenses. If a student is not claimed as a dependent on another person's tax return, only the student can claim a credit.
Generally, qualified education expenses paid on behalf of the student by someone other than the student (such as a relative) are treated as paid by the student. However, qualified education expenses paid (or treated as paid) by a student who is claimed as a dependent on your tax return are treated as paid by you. Therefore, you are treated as having paid expenses that were paid from your dependent student's earnings, gifts, inheritances, savings, etc.
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Who cannot claim a credit.(p238)

rule
You cannot take an education credit if any of the following apply.
  1. You are claimed as a dependent on another person's tax return, such as your parent's return.
  2. Your filing status is married filing separately.
  3. You (or your spouse) were a nonresident alien for any part of 2011 and did not elect to be treated as a resident alien for tax purposes.
  4. Your MAGI is one of the following.
    1. American opportunity credit: $180,000 or more if married filing jointly, or $90,000 or more if single, head of household, or qualifying widow(er).
    2. Lifetime learning credit: $122,000 or more if married filing jointly, or $61,000 or more if single, head of household, or qualifying widow(er).
Figure 34-A may be helpful in determining if you can claim an education credit on your tax return.
Deposit
There are a number of factors, such as your filing status, your MAGI, and whether you are subject to the alternative minimum tax, that will affect the amount of any education credit you are eligible to claim. When you figure your taxes, you may want to compare the different education credits in order to choose the method(s) that gives you the lowest tax liability. If you qualify, you may find that a combination of credit(s) and other education benefit(s) gives you the lowest tax. See Publication 970 for information on other benefits.