2.   American Opportunity Credit

Introduction

For 2013, there are two tax credits available to help you offset the costs of higher education by reducing the amount of your income tax. They are the American opportunity credit (this chapter) and the lifetime learning credit ( chapter 3 ).

This chapter explains:

  • Who can claim the American opportunity credit,

  • What expenses qualify for the credit,

  • Who is an eligible student,

  • Who can claim a dependent's expenses,

  • How to figure the credit,

  • How to claim the credit, and

  • When the credit must be repaid.

What is the tax benefit of the American opportunity credit.   For the tax year, you may be able to claim an American opportunity credit of up to $2,500 for qualified education expenses paid for each eligible student.

  A tax credit reduces the amount of income tax you may have to pay. Unlike a deduction, which reduces the amount of income subject to tax, a credit directly reduces the tax itself. Forty percent of the American opportunity credit may be refundable. This means that if the refundable portion of your credit is more than your tax, the excess will be refunded to you.

  Your allowable American opportunity credit may be limited by the amount of your income. Also, the nonrefundable part of the credit may be limited by the amount of your tax.

Overview of the American opportunity credit.   See Table 2-1, Overview of the American Opportunity Credit , for the basics of this credit. The details are discussed in this chapter.

Can you claim more than one education credit this year.   For each student, you can elect for any year only one of the credits. For example, if you elect to take the American opportunity credit for a child on your 2013 tax return, you cannot use that same child's qualified education expenses to figure the lifetime learning credit for 2013.

  If you pay qualified education expenses for more than one student in the same year, you can choose to take the American opportunity credit on a per-student, per-year basis. If you pay qualified education expenses for a student (or students) for whom you do not claim the American opportunity credit, you can use the adjusted qualified education expenses of that student (or those students) in figuring your lifetime learning credit. 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.

Differences between the American opportunity and lifetime learning credits.   There are several differences between these two credits. For example, you can claim the American opportunity credit based on the same student's expenses for no more than 4 tax years, which includes any tax years you claimed the Hope Scholarship Credit for that student. However, there is no limit on the number of years for which you can claim a lifetime learning credit based on the same student's expenses. The differences between these credits are shown in Appendix B, Highlights of Education Tax Benefits for Tax Year 2013 near the end of this publication.

If you claim the American opportunity credit for any student, you can choose between using that student's adjusted qualified education expenses for the American opportunity credit or the lifetime learning credit. If you have the choice, the American opportunity credit will always be greater than the lifetime learning credit.

Table 2-1.Overview of the American Opportunity Credit

Maximum credit Up to $2,500 credit per eligible student
Limit on modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) $180,000 if married filing jointly; $90,000 if single, head of household, or qualifying widow(er)
Refundable or nonrefundable 40% of credit may be refundable; the rest is nonrefundable
Number of years of postsecondary education Available ONLY if the student had not completed the first 4 years of postsecondary education before 2013
Number of tax years credit available Available ONLY for 4 tax years per eligible student (including any year(s) Hope Scholarship Credit was claimed)
Type of program required Student must be pursuing a program leading to a degree or other recognized education credential
Number of courses Student must be enrolled at least half time for at least one academic period that begins during the tax year
Felony drug conviction As of the end of 2013, the student had not been convicted of a felony for possessing or distributing a controlled substance
Qualified expenses Tuition, required enrollment fees, and course materials that the student needs for a course of study whether or not the materials are bought at the educational institution as a condition of enrollment or attendance
Payments for academic periods Payments made in 2013 for academic periods beginning in 2013 or beginning in the first 3 months of 2014

Can You Claim the Credit

The following rules will help you determine if you are eligible to claim the American opportunity credit on your tax return.

Who Can Claim the Credit

Generally, you can claim the American opportunity credit if all three of the following requirements are met.

  • You pay qualified education expenses of higher education.

  • You pay the education expenses for an eligible student.

  • The eligible student is either yourself, your spouse, or a dependent for whom you claim an exemption on your tax return.

Student qualifications.   Generally, you can take the American opportunity credit for a student only if all of the following four requirements are met.
  1. As of the beginning of 2013, the student had not completed the first four years of postsecondary education (generally, the freshman through senior years of college), as determined by the eligible educational institution. For this purpose, do not include academic credit awarded solely because of the student's performance on proficiency examinations.

  2. Neither the American opportunity credit nor the Hope Scholarship Credit has been claimed (by you or anyone else) for this student for any four tax years before 2013. If the American opportunity credit (and Hope Scholarship Credit) has been claimed for this student for any three or fewer tax years before 2013, this requirement is met.

  3. For at least one academic period beginning (or treated as beginning) in 2013, the student both:

    1. Was enrolled in a program that leads to a degree, certificate, or other recognized educational credential; and

    2. Carried at least one-half the normal full-time workload for his or her course of study.

      The standard for what is half of the normal full-time work load is determined by each eligible educational institution. However, the standard may not be lower than any of those established by the U.S. Department of Education under the Higher Education Act of 1965.

      For purposes of whether the student satisfies this third requirement for 2013, treat an academic period beginning in the first three months of 2014 as if it began in 2013 if qualified education expenses for the student were paid in 2013 for that academic period. See Prepaid expenses, later.

  4. As of the end of 2013, the student had not been convicted of a federal or state felony for possessing or distributing a controlled substance.

Example 1.

Sharon was eligible for the Hope Scholarship Credit for 2007 and 2008 and for the American opportunity credit for 2010 and 2012. Her parents claimed the Hope Scholarship Credit for Sharon on their tax returns for 2007 and 2008 and claimed the American opportunity credit for Sharon on their 2010 tax return. Sharon claimed the American opportunity credit on her 2012 tax return. The American opportunity credit and Hope Scholarship Credit have been claimed for Sharon for four tax years before 2013. Therefore, the American opportunity credit cannot be claimed by Sharon for 2013. If Sharon were to file Form 8863 for 2013, she would check “Yes” for Part III, line 23, and would be eligible to claim only the lifetime learning credit.

Example 2.

Wilbert was eligible for the American opportunity credit for 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2013. His parents claimed the American opportunity credit for Wilbert on their tax returns for 2009, 2010, and 2011. No one claimed an American opportunity credit or Hope Scholarship Credit for Wilbert for any other tax year. The American opportunity credit and Hope Scholarship Credit have been claimed for Wilbert for only three tax years before 2013. Therefore, Wilbert meets the second requirement to be eligible for the American opportunity credit. If Wilbert were to file Form 8863 for 2013, he would check “No” for Part III, line 23. If Wilbert meets all of the other requirements, he is eligible for the American opportunity credit.

Example 3.

Glenda enrolls on a full-time basis in a degree program for the 2014 Spring semester, which begins in January 2014. Glenda pays her tuition for the 2014 Spring semester in December 2013. Because the tuition Glenda paid in 2013 relates to an academic period that begins in the first 3 months of 2014, her eligibility to claim an American opportunity credit in 2013 is determined as if the 2014 Spring semester began in 2013.

If the requirements above are not met for any student, you cannot take the American opportunity credit for that student. You may be able to take the lifetime learning credit for part or all of that student's qualified education expenses instead.

Note.

Qualified education expenses paid by a dependent for whom you claim an exemption, or by a third party for that dependent, are considered paid by you.

Qualified education expenses” are defined later under Qualified Education Expenses . “Eligible students” are defined later under Who Is an Eligible Student . A dependent for whom you claim an exemption is defined later under Who Can Claim a Dependent's Expenses .

You may find Figure 2-1, Can You Claim the American Opportunity Credit for 2013 , later, helpful in determining if you can claim an American opportunity credit on your tax return.

This image is too large to be displayed in the current screen. Please click the link to view the image.

Figure 2-1 Can you claim the American opportunity credit for 2012?

Who Cannot Claim the Credit

You cannot claim the American opportunity credit for 2013 if any of the following apply.

  • Your filing status is married filing separately.

  • You are listed as a dependent on another person's tax return (such as your parents'). See Who Can Claim a Dependent's Expenses , later.

  • Your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is $90,000 or more ($180,000 or more in the case of a joint return). MAGI is explained later under Effect of the Amount of Your Income on the Amount of Your Credit .

  • You (or your spouse) were a nonresident alien for any part of 2013 and the nonresident alien did not elect to be treated as a resident alien for tax purposes. More information on nonresident aliens can be found in Publication 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens.

What Expenses Qualify

The American opportunity credit is based on adjusted qualified education expenses you pay for yourself, your spouse, or a dependent for whom you claim an exemption on your tax return. Generally, the credit is allowed for adjusted qualified education expenses paid in 2013 for an academic period beginning in 2013 or beginning in the first three months of 2014.

For example, if you paid $1,500 in December 2013 for qualified tuition for the spring 2014 semester beginning January 2014, you can use that $1,500 in figuring your 2013 credit.

Academic period.   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.

Paid with borrowed funds.   You can claim an American opportunity credit for qualified education expenses paid with the proceeds of a loan. Use the expenses to figure the American opportunity credit for the year in which the expenses are paid, not the year in which the loan is repaid. Treat loan payments sent directly to the educational institution as paid on the date the institution credits the student's account.

Student withdraws from class(es).   You can claim an American opportunity credit for qualified education expenses not refunded when a student withdraws.

Qualified Education Expenses

For purposes of the American opportunity credit, qualified education expenses are tuition and certain related expenses required for enrollment or attendance at an eligible educational institution.

Eligible educational institution.   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.

Related expenses.   Student-activity fees are included in qualified education expenses only if the fees must be paid to the institution as a condition of enrollment or attendance.

  However, expenses for books, supplies, and equipment needed for a course of study are included in qualified education expenses whether or not the materials are purchased from the educational institution.

Prepaid expenses.   Qualified education expenses paid in 2013 for an academic period that begins in the first three months of 2014 can be used in figuring an education credit for 2013 only. See Academic period, earlier. For example, if you pay $2,000 in December 2013, for qualified tuition for the 2014 winter quarter that begins in January 2014, you can use that $2,000 in figuring an education credit for 2013 only (if you meet all the other requirements).

  
You cannot use any amount you paid in 2012 or 2014 to figure the qualified education expenses you use to figure your 2013 education credit(s).

  In the following examples, assume that each student is an eligible student at an eligible educational institution.

Example 1.

Jefferson is a sophomore in University V's degree program in dentistry. This year, in addition to tuition, he is required to pay a fee to the university for the rental of the dental equipment he will use in this program. Because the equipment rental is needed for his course of study, Jefferson's equipment rental fee is a qualified expense.

Example 2.

Grace and William, both first-year students at College W, are required to have certain books and other reading materials to use in their mandatory first-year classes. The college has no policy about how students should obtain these materials, but any student who purchases them from College W's bookstore will receive a bill directly from the college. William bought his books from a friend; Grace bought hers at College W's bookstore. Both are qualified education expenses for the American opportunity credit.

Example 3.

When Kelly enrolled at College X for her freshman year, she had to pay a separate student activity fee in addition to her tuition. This activity fee is required of all students, and is used solely to fund on-campus organizations and activities run by students, such as the student newspaper and the student government. No portion of the fee covers personal expenses. Although labeled as a student activity fee, the fee is required for Kelly's enrollment and attendance at College X and is a qualified expense.

No Double Benefit Allowed

You cannot do any of the following.

  • Deduct higher education expenses on your income tax return (as, for example, a business expense) and also claim an American opportunity credit based on those same expenses.

  • Claim an American opportunity credit in the same year that you are claiming a tuition and fees deduction for the same student.

  • Claim an American opportunity credit for any student and use any of that student's expenses in figuring your lifetime learning credit.

  • Figure the tax-free portion of a distribution from a Coverdell education savings account (ESA) or qualified tuition program (QTP) using the same expenses you used to figure the American opportunity credit. See Coordination With American Opportunity and Lifetime Learning Credits in chapter 7, Coverdell Education Savings Account, and Coordination With American Opportunity and Lifetime Learning Credits in chapter 8, Qualified Tuition Program.

  • Claim a credit based on qualified education expenses paid with tax-free educational assistance, such as a scholarship, grant, or assistance provided by an employer. See Adjustments to Qualified Education Expenses, next.

Adjustments to Qualified Education Expenses

For each student, reduce the qualified education expenses paid by or on behalf of that student under the following rules. The result is the amount of adjusted qualified education expenses for each student.

Tax-free educational assistance.   For tax-free educational assistance received in 2013, reduce the qualified educational expenses for each academic period by the amount of tax-free educational assistance allocable to that academic period. See Academic period, earlier.

  Some tax-free educational assistance received after 2013 may be treated as a refund of qualified education expenses paid in 2013. This tax-free educational assistance is any tax-free educational assistance received by you or anyone else after 2013 for qualified education expenses paid on behalf of a student in 2013 (or attributable to enrollment at an eligible educational institution during 2013).

  If this tax-free educational assistance is received after 2013 but before you file your 2013 income tax return, see Refunds received after 2013 but before your income tax return is filed, later. If this tax-free educational assistance is received after 2013 and after you file your 2013 income tax return, see Refunds received after 2013 and after your income tax return is filed, later.

  Tax-free educational assistance includes:

Generally, any scholarship or fellowship is treated as tax free. However, a scholarship or fellowship is not treated as tax free to the extent the student includes it in gross income (if the student is required to file a tax return for the year the scholarship or fellowship is received) and either of the following is true.

  • The scholarship or fellowship (or any part of it) must be applied (by its terms) to expenses (such as room and board) other than qualified education expenses as defined in Qualified education expenses in chapter 1, Scholarships, Fellowships, Grants, and Tuition Reductions.

  • The scholarship or fellowship (or any part of it) may be applied (by its terms) to expenses (such as room and board) other than qualified education expenses as defined in Qualified education expenses in chapter 1, Scholarships, Fellowships, Grants, and Tuition Reductions.

You may be able to increase the combined value of an education credit and certain educational assistance if the student includes some or all of the educational assistance in income in the year it is received. For examples, see Coordination with Pell grants and other scholarships, later.

Refunds.   A refund of qualified education expenses may reduce adjusted qualified education expenses for the tax year or require repayment (recapture) of a credit claimed in an earlier year. Some tax-free educational assistance received after 2013 may be treated as a refund. See Tax-free educational assistance, earlier.

Refunds received in 2013.   For each student, figure the adjusted qualified education expenses for 2013 by adding all the qualified education expenses for 2013 and subtracting any refunds of those expenses received from the eligible educational institution during 2013.

Refunds received after 2013 but before your income tax return is filed.   If anyone receives a refund after 2013 of qualified education expenses paid on behalf of a student in 2013 and the refund is paid before you file an income tax return for 2013, the amount of qualified education expenses for 2013 is reduced by the amount of the refund.

Refunds received after 2013 and after your income tax return is filed.   If anyone receives a refund after 2013 of qualified education expenses paid on behalf of a student in 2013 and the refund is paid after you file an income tax return for 2013, you may need to repay some or all of the credit. See Credit recapture, next.

Credit recapture.    If any tax-free educational assistance for the qualified education expenses paid in 2013, or any refund of your qualified education expenses paid in 2013, is received after you file your 2013 income tax return, you must recapture (repay) any excess credit. You do this by refiguring the amount of your adjusted qualified education expenses for 2013 by reducing the expenses by the amount of the refund or tax-free educational assistance. You then refigure your education credit(s) for 2013 and figure the amount by which your 2013 tax liability would have increased if you claimed the refigured credit(s). Include that amount as an additional tax for the year the refund or tax-free assistance was received.

Example.   You paid $7,000 tuition and fees in August 2013, and your child began college in September 2013. You filed your 2013 tax return on February 17, 2014, and claimed an American opportunity credit of $2,500. After you filed your return, you received a refund of $4,000. You must refigure your 2013 American opportunity credit using $3,000 of qualified education expenses instead of $7,000. The refigured credit is $2,250. The increase to your tax liability is also $250. Include the difference of $250 as additional tax on your 2014 tax return. See the instructions for your 2014 income tax return to determine where to include this tax.

If you pay qualified education expenses in 2014 for an academic period that begins in the first 3 months of 2014 and you receive tax-free educational assistance, or a refund, as described above, you may choose to reduce your qualified education expenses for 2014 instead of reducing your expenses for 2013.

Amounts that do not reduce qualified education expenses.   Do not reduce qualified education expenses by amounts paid with funds the student receives as:
  • Payment for services, such as wages,

  • A loan,

  • A gift,

  • An inheritance, or

  • A withdrawal from the student's personal savings.

  Do not reduce the qualified education expenses by any scholarship or fellowship reported as income on the student's tax return in the following situations.
  • The use of the money is restricted, by the terms of the scholarship or fellowship, to costs of attendance (such as room and board) other than qualified education expenses as defined in Qualified education expenses in chapter 1, Scholarships, Fellowships, Grants, and Tuition Reductions.

  • The use of the money is not restricted.

Example 1.

Joan paid $3,000 for tuition and $5,000 for room and board at University X. The university did not require her to pay any fees in addition to her tuition in order to enroll in or attend classes. To help pay these costs, she was awarded a $2,000 scholarship and a $4,000 student loan. The terms of the scholarship state that it can be used to pay any of Joan's college expenses.

University X applies the $2,000 scholarship against Joan's $8,000 total bill, and Joan pays the $6,000 balance of her bill from University X with a combination of her student loan and her savings. Joan does not report any portion of the scholarship as income on her tax return.

In figuring the amount of either education credit (American opportunity or lifetime learning), Joan must reduce her qualified education expenses by the amount of the scholarship ($2,000) because she excluded the entire scholarship from her income. The student loan is not tax-free educational assistance, so she does not need to reduce her qualified expenses by any part of the loan proceeds. Joan is treated as having paid $1,000 in qualified education expenses ($3,000 tuition – $2,000 scholarship).

Example 2.

The facts are the same as in Example 1, except that Joan reports her entire scholarship as income on her tax return. Because Joan reported the entire $2,000 scholarship in her income, she does not need to reduce her qualified education expenses. Joan is treated as having paid $3,000 in qualified education expenses.

Coordination with Pell grants and other scholarships.   In some cases, you may be able to reduce your tax liability by including scholarships in income. If you are claiming an education credit for a claimed dependent who received a scholarship, you may be able to reduce your tax liability if the student includes the scholarship in income. The scholarship must be one that may (by its terms) be applied to expenses (such as room and board) other than qualified education expenses.

Example 1—No scholarship.

Bill Pass, age 28 and unmarried, enrolled full-time in 2013 as a first-year student at a local college to earn a degree in law enforcement. This was his first year of postsecondary education. During 2013, he paid $5,600 for his qualified education expenses and $4,400 for his room and board for the fall 2013 semester. He and the college meet all the requirements for the American opportunity credit. Bill's AGI and his MAGI, for purposes of figuring his credit, are $30,000. Bill takes the standard deduction of $5,950 and personal exemption of $3,800, reducing his AGI to taxable income of $20,250. His income tax liability, before credits, is $2,599 and Bill claims no credits other than the American opportunity credit. He figures his American opportunity credit based on qualified education expenses of $4,000, which results in a credit of $2,500 and tax after credits of $99.

Example 2—Scholarship excluded from income.

The facts are the same as in Example 1—No scholarship, except that Bill was awarded a $5,600 scholarship. Under the terms of his scholarship, it may be used to pay any educational expenses, including room and board. If Bill excludes the scholarship from income, he will be deemed (for purposes of computing his education credit) to have used the scholarship to pay for tuition, required fees, and course materials. His adjusted qualified education expenses will be zero and he will not have an education credit. Therefore, Bill's tax after credits would be $2,599.

Example 3—Scholarship partially included in income.

The facts are the same as in Example 2—Scholarship excluded from income. If, unlike Example 2, Bill includes $4,000 of the scholarship in income, he will be deemed to have used that amount to pay for room and board. The remaining $1,600 of the $5,600 scholarship will reduce his qualified education expenses and his adjusted qualified education expenses will be $4,000. Bill's AGI will increase to $34,000, his taxable income will increase to $24,250, and his tax before credits will increase to $3,199. Based on his adjusted qualified education expenses of $4,000, Bill would be able to claim an American opportunity tax credit of $2,500 and his tax after credits would be $699.

Expenses That Do Not Qualify

Qualified education expenses do not include amounts paid for:

  • Insurance,

  • Medical expenses (including student health fees),

  • Room and board,

  • Transportation, or

  • Similar personal, living, or family expenses.

This is true even if the amount must be paid to the institution as a condition of enrollment or attendance.

Sports, games, hobbies, and noncredit courses.   Qualified education expenses generally do not include expenses that relate to any course of instruction or other education that involves sports, games or hobbies, or any noncredit course. However, if the course of instruction or other education is part of the student's degree program, these expenses can qualify.

Comprehensive or bundled fees.   Some eligible educational institutions combine all of their fees for an academic period into one amount. If you do not receive or do not have access to an allocation showing how much you paid for qualified education expenses and how much you paid for personal expenses, such as those listed earlier, contact the institution. The institution is required to make this allocation and provide you with the amount you paid (or were billed) for qualified education expenses on Form 1098-T, Tuition Statement. See Figuring the Credit , later, for more information about Form 1098-T.

Who Is an Eligible Student

To claim the American opportunity credit, the student for whom you pay qualified education expenses must be an eligible student. This is a student who meets all of the following requirements.

  • The student did not have expenses that were used to figure an American opportunity credit in any 4 earlier tax years. This includes any tax year(s) in which you claimed the Hope Scholarship Credit for the same student.

  • The student had not completed the first 4 years of postsecondary education (generally, the freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior years of college) before 2013.

  • For at least one academic period beginning in 2013, the student was enrolled at least half-time in a program leading to a degree, certificate, or other recognized educational credential.

  • The student has not been convicted of any federal or state felony for possessing or distributing a controlled substance as of the end of 2013.

These requirements are also shown in Figure 2-2, Who is an Eligible Student for the American Opportunity Credit , later.

Completion of first 4 years.   A student has completed the first 4 years of postsecondary education if the institution at which the student is enrolled awards the student 4 years of academic credit at that institution for coursework completed by the student before 2013. This student generally would not be an eligible student for purposes of the American opportunity credit.

Exception.   Any academic credit awarded solely on the basis of the student's performance on proficiency examinations is disregarded in determining whether the student has completed 4 years of postsecondary education.

Enrolled at least half-time.   A student was enrolled at least half-time if the student was taking at least half the normal full-time work load for his or her course of study.

  The standard for what is half of the normal full-time work load is determined by each eligible educational institution. However, the standard may not be lower than any of those established by the U.S. Department of Education under the Higher Education Act of 1965.

Example 1.

Mack graduated from high school in June 2012. In September, he enrolled in an undergraduate degree program at College U, and attended full-time for both the 2012 fall and 2013 spring semesters. For the 2013 fall semester, Mack was enrolled less than half-time. Because Mack was enrolled in an undergraduate degree program on at least a half-time basis for at least one academic period that began during 2012 and at least one academic period that began during 2013, he is an eligible student for tax years 2012 and 2013 (including the 2013 fall semester when he enrolled at College U on less than a half-time basis).

Example 2.

After taking classes at College V on a part-time basis for a few years, Shelly became a full-time student for the 2013 spring semester. College V classified Shelly as a second-semester senior (fourth year) for the 2013 spring semester and as a first-semester graduate student (fifth year) for the 2013 fall semester. Because College V did not classify Shelly as having completed the first 4 years of postsecondary education as of the beginning of 2013, Shelly is an eligible student for tax year 2013. Therefore, the qualified education expenses paid for the 2013 spring semester and the 2013 fall semester are taken into account in calculating the American opportunity credit for 2013.

Example 3.

During the 2012 fall semester, Larry was a high school student who took classes on a half-time basis at College X. Larry was not enrolled as part of a degree program at College X because College X only admits students to a degree program if they have a high school diploma or equivalent. Because Larry was not enrolled in a degree program at College X during 2012, Larry was not an eligible student for tax year 2012.

Example 4.

The facts are the same as in Example 3. During the 2013 spring semester, Larry again attended College X but not as part of a degree program. Larry graduated from high school in June 2013. For the 2013 fall semester, Larry enrolled as a full-time student in College X as part of a degree program, and College X awarded Larry credit for his prior coursework at College X. Because Larry was enrolled in a degree program at College X for the 2013 fall term on at least a half-time basis, Larry is an eligible student for all of tax year 2013. Therefore, the qualified education expenses paid for classes taken at College X during both the 2013 spring semester (during which Larry was not enrolled in a degree program) and the 2013 fall semester are taken into account in computing any American opportunity credit.

Example 5.

Dee graduated from high school in June 2012. In January 2013, Dee enrolled in a 1-year postsecondary certificate program on a full-time basis to obtain a certificate as a travel agent. Dee completed the program in December 2013, and was awarded a certificate. In January 2014, she enrolled in a 1-year postsecondary certificate program on a full-time basis to obtain a certificate as a computer programmer. Dee is an eligible student for both tax years 2013 and 2014 because she meets the degree requirement, the work load requirement, and the year of study requirement for those years.

Who Can Claim a Dependent's Expenses

If there are qualified education expenses for your dependent during a tax year, either you or your dependent, but not both of you, can claim an American opportunity credit for your dependent's expenses for that year.

For you to claim an American opportunity credit for your dependent's expenses, you must also claim an exemption for your dependent. You do this by listing your dependent's name and other required information on Form 1040 (or Form 1040A), line 6c.

IF you... THEN only...
claim an exemption on  
your tax return for a  
dependent who is an  
eligible student
you can claim the American opportunity credit based on that dependent's expenses. The dependent cannot claim the credit.
do not claim an exemption on your tax return for a dependent who is an eligible student (even if entitled to the exemption) the dependent can claim the American opportunity credit. You cannot claim the credit based on this dependent's expenses.

Expenses paid by dependent.   If you claim an exemption on your tax return for an eligible student who is your dependent, treat any expenses paid (or deemed paid) by your dependent as if you had paid them. Include these expenses when figuring the amount of your American opportunity credit.

  
Qualified education expenses paid directly to an eligible educational institution for your dependent under a court-approved divorce decree are treated as paid by your dependent.

Expenses paid by you.   If you claim an exemption for a dependent who is an eligible student, only you can include any expenses you paid when figuring the amount of the American opportunity credit. If neither you nor anyone else claims an exemption for the dependent, only the dependent can include any expenses you paid when figuring the American opportunity credit.

Expenses paid by others.   Someone other than you, your spouse, or your dependent (such as a relative or former spouse) may make a payment directly to an eligible educational institution to pay for an eligible student's qualified education expenses. In this case, the student is treated as receiving the payment from the other person and, in turn, paying the institution. If you claim an exemption on your tax return for the student, you are considered to have paid the expenses.

Example.

In 2013, Ms. Allen makes a payment directly to an eligible educational institution for her grandson Todd's qualified education expenses. For purposes of claiming an American opportunity credit, Todd is treated as receiving the money from his grandmother and, in turn, paying his qualified education expenses himself.

Unless an exemption for Todd is claimed on someone else's 2013 tax return, only Todd can use the payment to claim an American opportunity credit.

If anyone, such as Todd's parents, claims an exemption for Todd on his or her 2013 tax return, whoever claims the exemption may be able to use the expenses to claim an American opportunity credit. If anyone else claims an exemption for Todd, Todd cannot claim an American opportunity credit.

Tuition reduction.    When an eligible educational institution provides a reduction in tuition to an employee of the institution (or spouse or dependent child of an employee), the amount of the reduction may or may not be taxable. If it is taxable, the employee is treated as receiving a payment of that amount and, in turn, paying it to the educational institution on behalf of the student. For more information on tuition reductions, see Qualified Tuition Reduction in chapter 1, Scholarships, Fellowships, Grants, and Tuition Reductions.

Figuring the Credit

The amount of the American opportunity credit (per eligible student) is the sum of:

  1. 100% of the first $2,000 of qualified education expenses you paid for the eligible student, and

  2. 25% of the next $2,000 of qualified education expenses you paid for that student.

The maximum amount of American opportunity credit you can claim in 2013 is $2,500 multiplied by the number of eligible students. You can claim the full $2,500 for each eligible student for whom you paid at least $4,000 of adjusted qualified education expenses. However, the credit may be reduced based on your MAGI. See Effect of the Amount of Your Income on the Amount of Your Credit , later.

Example.

Jack and Kay Ford are married and file a joint tax return. For 2013, they claim an exemption for their dependent daughter on their tax return. Their MAGI is $70,000. Their daughter is in her junior (third) year of studies at the local university. Jack and Kay paid qualified education expenses of $4,300 in 2013.

Jack and Kay, their daughter, and the local university meet all of the requirements for the American opportunity credit. Jack and Kay can claim a $2,500 American opportunity credit in 2013. This is 100% of the first $2,000 of qualified education expenses, plus 25% of the next $2,000.

Form 1098-T.   To help you figure your American opportunity credit, the student should receive Form 1098-T, Tuition Statement. Generally, an eligible educational institution (such as a college or university) must send Form 1098-T (or acceptable substitute) to each enrolled student by January 31, 2014. An institution may choose to report either payments received (box 1), or amounts billed (box 2), for qualified education expenses. However, the amounts in boxes 1 and 2 of Form 1098-T might be different than what you paid. When figuring the credit, use only the amounts you paid or are deemed to have paid in 2013 for qualified education expenses.

  In addition, Form 1098-T should give other information for that institution, such as adjustments made for prior years, the amount of scholarships or grants, reimbursements or refunds, and whether the student was enrolled at least half-time or was a graduate student.

   The eligible educational institution may ask for a completed Form W-9S, Request for Student's or Borrower's Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification, or similar statement to obtain the student's name, address, and taxpayer identification number.

Effect of the Amount of Your Income on the Amount of Your Credit

The amount of your American opportunity credit is phased out (gradually reduced) if your MAGI is between $80,000 and $90,000 ($160,000 and $180,000 if you file a joint return). You cannot claim an American opportunity credit if your MAGI is $90,000 or more ($180,000 or more if you file a joint return).

Modified adjusted gross income (MAGI).   For most taxpayers, MAGI is adjusted gross income (AGI) as figured on their federal income tax return.

MAGI when using Form 1040A.   If you file Form 1040A, your MAGI is the AGI on line 22 of that form.

MAGI when using Form 1040.   If you file Form 1040, your MAGI is the AGI on line 38 of that form, modified by adding back any:
  1. Foreign earned income exclusion,

  2. Foreign housing exclusion,

  3. Foreign housing deduction,

  4. Exclusion of income by bona fide residents of American Samoa, and

  5. Exclusion of income by bona fide residents of Puerto Rico.

You can use Worksheet 2-1, next, to figure your MAGI.

  

Worksheet 2-1.MAGI for the American Opportunity Credit

1. Enter your adjusted gross income  
(Form 1040, line 38)
  1.  
2. Enter your foreign earned income exclusion and/or housing exclusion (Form 2555, line 45, or Form 2555-EZ, line 18)   2.      
3. Enter your foreign housing deduction (Form 2555, line 50)   3.      
4. Enter the amount of income from Puerto Rico you are excluding   4.      
5. Enter the amount of income from American Samoa you are excluding (Form 4563, line 15)   5.      
6. Add the amounts on 
lines 2, 3, 4, and 5
  6.  
7. Add the amounts on lines 1 and 6.  
This is your modified adjusted  
gross income
. Enter here and  
on Form 8863, line 3
  7.  

Phaseout.   If your MAGI is within the range of incomes where the credit must be reduced, you will figure your reduced credit using lines 2-7, of Form 8863, Part I. The same method is shown in the following example.

Example.

You are filing a joint return and your MAGI is $165,000. In 2013, you paid $5,000 of qualified education expenses.

You figure a tentative American opportunity credit of $2,500 (100% of the first $2,000 of qualified education expenses, plus 25% of the next $2,000 of qualified education expenses).

Because your MAGI is within the range of incomes where the credit must be reduced, you must multiply your tentative credit ($2,500) by a fraction. The numerator of the fraction is $180,000 (the upper limit for those filing a joint return) minus your MAGI. The denominator is $20,000, the range of incomes for the phaseout ($160,000 to $180,000). The result is the amount of your phased out (reduced) American opportunity credit ($1,875).

  
  $2,500 × $180,000 − $165,000  
$20,000
= $1,875  

Refundable Part of Credit

Forty percent of the American opportunity credit is refundable for most taxpayers. However, if you were under age 24 at the end of 2013 and the conditions listed below apply to you, you cannot claim any part of the American opportunity credit as a refundable credit on your tax return. Instead, your allowed credit (figured on Form 8863, Part II) will be used to reduce your tax as a nonrefundable credit only.

You do not qualify for a refund if items 1 (a, b, or c), 2, and 3 below apply to you.

  1. You were:

    1. Under age 18 at the end of 2013, or

    2. Age 18 at the end of 2013 and your earned income (defined below) was less than one-half of your support (defined below), or

    3. Over age 18 and under age 24 at the end of 2013 and a full-time student (defined below) and your earned income (defined below) was less than one-half of your support (defined below).

  2. At least one of your parents was alive at the end of 2013.

  3. You are filing a return as single, head of household, qualifying widow(er), or married filing separately for 2013.

Earned income.   Earned income includes wages, salaries, professional fees, and other payments received for personal services actually performed. Earned income includes the part of any scholarship or fellowship that represents payment for teaching, research, or other services performed by the student that are required as a condition for receiving the scholarship or fellowship. Earned income does not include that part of the compensation for personal services rendered to a corporation which represents a distribution of earnings or profits rather than a reasonable allowance as compensation for the personal services actually rendered.

  If you are a sole proprietor or a partner in a trade or business in which both personal services and capital are material income-producing factors, earned income also includes a reasonable allowance for compensation for personal services, but not more than 30% of your share of the net profits from that trade or business (after subtracting the deduction for one-half of self-employment tax). However, if capital is not an income-producing factor and your personal services produced the business income, the 30% limit does not apply.

Support.   Your support includes food, shelter, clothing, medical and dental care, education, and the like. Generally, the amount of the item of support will be the amount of expenses incurred by the one furnishing such item. If the item of support is in the form of property or lodging, measure the amount of such item of support by its fair market value. However, a scholarship received by you is not considered support if you are a full-time student. See Publication 501 for details.

Full-time student.   You are a full-time student for 2013 if during any part of any 5 calendar months during the year you were enrolled as a full-time student at an eligible educational institution (defined earlier), or took a full-time, on-farm training course given by such an institution or by a state, county, or local government agency.

Claiming the Credit

You claim the American opportunity credit by completing Form 8863 and submitting it with your Form 1040 or 1040A. Enter the nonrefundable part of the credit on Form 1040, line 49, or on Form 1040A, line 31. Enter the refundable part of the credit on Form 1040, line 66, or on Form 1040A, line 40. A filled-in Form 8863 is shown at the end of this publication.

Note.

In Appendix A. at the end of this publication, there is an example illustrating the use of Form 8863 when both the American opportunity credit and the lifetime learning credit are claimed on the same tax return.


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