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Fundranker Blog—Education Tax Credits for 2009

Education Tax Credits for 2009

If you, your spouse, or one or more dependents had qualifying postsecondary education expenses in 2009, don’t miss claiming your education tax credit on federal Form 8863. The American Opportunity credit is new for 2009, and the Hope and Lifetime Learning credits are still available, as well, although the Hope credit is useful now only if you need to claim qualifying educational expenses for a student who attended a school in a Midwestern disaster area. Instead of the above education credits, you also still can claim the tuition and fees deduction on federal Form 8917 for 2009. It is limited to $2,000 or $4,000 depending on your gross income less other deductions, is deducted from your gross income, and lowers your AGI. As such, it hardly ever lowers your federal tax as much as the above credits, and we won’t discuss it any further in this post. As an aside, you may be able to reduce your state income tax for 2009 by claiming qualifying education expenses, as well.

The American Opportunity education credit, new for 2009, allows you to claim a tax credit of 100% of the first $2,000 and 25% of the next $2,000 of qualified education expenses for each student, for up to a maximum $2,500 tax credit per student, for the first four years of postsecondary education. Even better, if you are at least 24 years old (see Form 8863 instructions if you were younger than 24 at the end of 2009), 40% of each student’s tax credit is refundable, meaning it will increase your tax refund, even if you donít owe that much tax. If you claim the American Opportunity credit for any student, you cannot claim the Hope credit for other students, but you can claim the Lifetime Learning credit for other students. The American Opportunity credit is phased out beginning at $80,000 AGI for single taxpayers and $160,000 AGI for married taxpayers who file jointly.

If you have a student who attended school in a Midwestern disaster area, the Hope education credit allows you to claim a tax credit of 100% of the first $2,400 and 50% of the next $2,400 of qualified education expenses for each student, for up to a maximum $3,600 tax credit per student, for the first two years of postsecondary education. If you have other students who did not attend school in a Midwestern disaster area, the Hope education credit allows you to claim a tax credit of 100% of the first $1,200 and 50% of the next $1,200 of qualified education expenses for each student, for up to a maximum $1,800 tax credit per student, for the first two years of postsecondary education. If you claim the Hope credit for any student, you cannot claim the American Opportunity credit for other students, but you can claim the Lifetime Learning credit for other students. None of the Hope credit is refundable, and it is phased out beginning at $60,000 AGI for single taxpayers and $120,000 AGI for married taxpayers who file jointly.

The Lifetime Learning education credit allows you to claim a tax credit of 20% (or 40%, if your student attended school in a Midwestern disaster area) of the first $10,000 of qualified education expenses for all students together, for up to a maximum $2,000 (or $4,000) tax credit. This credit can be used for any number of years of postsecondary education. None of it is refundable, and it is phased out beginning at $60,000 AGI for single taxpayers and $120,000 AGI for married taxpayers who file jointly.

Check various combinations of the three credits to see which is best for you. For example, if you have only one student, she attended school in a Midwestern disaster area, and she had $10,000 of qualifying expenses, you could claim a $2,500 American Opportunity credit, a $3,600 Hope credit, or a $4,000 Lifetime Learning credit. If you have two students, neither attended school in a Midwestern disaster area, and they each had $5,000 of qualifying expenses, you could claim a $5,000 American Opportunity credit, a $2,500 American Opportunity credit along with a $1,000 Lifetime Learning credit, or a $2,000 Lifetime Learning credit. If you have two students, one attended school in a Midwestern disaster area and had $10,000 of qualifying expenses, and the other had $4,000 of qualifying expenses, you could claim a $5,000 American Opportunity credit for both students, a $5,400 Hope credit for both students, a $4,000 Lifetime Learning Credit for both students, or a $4,000 Lifetime Learning credit for the student who attended school in a Midwestern disaster area along with a $2,500 American Opportunity credit for the student who didn’t.

When you are figuring out which option is best for your situation, remember that, if the nonrefundable portion of your education credit is limited by the amount of your income tax, it’s possible a smaller American Opportunity credit, which is partly refundable, may be better than a larger Hope or Lifetime Learning credit.

Posted 3/16/10 10:35am ET in Tax Tips

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