An education credit helps with the cost of higher education by reducing the amount of tax owed on your tax return. If the credit reduces your tax to less than zero, you may get a refund. There are two education credits available: the American opportunity tax credit and the lifetime learning credit.
Don’t overlook these important credits.
Who can claim an education credit?
There are additional rules for each credit, but you must meet all three of the following for both:
- You, your dependent or a third party pays qualified education expenses for higher education.
- An eligible student must be enrolled at an eligible educational institution.
- The eligible student is yourself, your spouse or a dependent you list on your tax return.
Who cannot claim an education credit?
You cannot claim an education credit when:
- Someone else, such as your parents, list you as a dependent on their tax return
- Your filing status is married filing separately
- You already claimed or deducted another higher education benefit using the same student or same expenses (see Education Benefits: No Double Benefits Allowed for more information)
- You (or your spouse) were a non-resident alien for any part of the year and did not choose to be treated as a resident alien for tax purposes (find more information in Publication 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens)
Compare the education credits
The education credits have some similarities but some very important differences. Find out which credit you qualify for, see our handy chart to compare the education credits.
- Find out more about the American opportunity tax credit here
- Find out more about the lifetime learning credit here
Use our interactive app
Our interactive app, "Am I Eligible to Claim an Education Credit?" helps you determine if you are eligible for education credits and deductions.
What should I do if I receive a letter from the IRS or I’m audited?
You will benefit from knowing your rights as a taxpayer and being familiar with the IRS's obligations to protect them. The goal of the Taxpayer Rights Corner is to inform you of your rights during every step of your interaction with the IRS.
Did you receive a letter?
If you receive a letter or are audited by the IRS, it may be because the IRS did not receive a Form 1098-T, Tuition Statement, verifying the student’s enrollment. Or, we need additional information to support the amounts of qualified expenses you reported on Form 8863. Review your Form 1098-T to make sure the student’s name and social security number are correct. If they do not match, contact the school to correct the information for future 1098-T reporting. If the student should have and did not receive the Form 1098-T, contact the school for a copy. Note: There are a few exceptions in which educational institutions are not required to furnish Form 1098-Ts. For details please see “What is Form 1098-T, Tuition Statement and how do I get it?”
If you claimed expenses that were not reported on the Form 1098-T in Box 1 as amounts paid or if your school reported the amount you were charged for qualified expenses in Box 2, please send us copies of paid receipts, cancelled checks or other documents as proof. See your letter for further instructions for what documents to send. If you do not have the letter, see our page Forms 886 May Help You for the Forms 886-H-AOC and 886-H-AOC-MAX for examples. Form 886-H-AOC is also available in Spanish.
Audit and examination process
IRS selects income tax returns for examination identified by computer programs showing a return has incorrect amounts. The examination may or may not result in a change to your tax or credits.
Use the following links for additional information:
Education Benefit Resources
Information for Schools, Community and Social Organizations on our Refundable Credits Toolkit
Tax Preparer Due Diligence Information on our Tax Preparer Toolkit
Watch out for these common errors made when claiming education credits
- Students listed as a dependent or spouse on another tax return
- Students who don’t have a Form 1098-T showing they attended an eligible educational institution
- Students who are not paying qualified education expenses
- Claiming the credit for a student not attending a college or other higher education
Find more answers to the questions you ask about the education credits
More education benefit resources
- Education Credits--AOTC and LLC
- American Opportunity Tax Credit
- Lifetime Learning Credit
- Compare Education Credits
- Interactive App- "Am I Eligible to Claim an Education Credit?"
- No Double Benefits Allowed
- Qualified Education Expense
- Eligible Educational Institution
- Tax Benefits for Education: Information Center