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Education Credits: Questions and Answers

Find the answers to the most common questions you ask about the Education Credits-- the American opportunity tax credit (AOTC) and the lifetime learning credit (LLC).

Q1. Have there been any changes in the past few years to the tax credits for higher education expenses?

A1.Yes, the Protecting Americans Against Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015 made AOTC permanent.The AOTC helps defray the cost of higher education expenses for tuition, certain fees and course materials for four years.

Q2. How does AOTC differ from the previous Hope Credit and the existing Lifetime Learning Credit?

A2. Unlike the other education tax credits, the AOTC is allowed for expenses for course-related books, supplies and equipment that are not necessarily paid to the educational institution but are needed for attendance. It also differs from the previous Hope credit because you can claim the credit for four tax years instead of the two allowed under the Hope credit. See Education Credits: AOTC and LLC for more information.

Q3. How much is the AOTC worth?

A3. It is a tax credit of up to $2,500 of the cost of tuition, certain required fees and course materials needed for the attendance and paid during the tax year. Also, 40 percent of the credit for which you qualify that is more than the tax you owe (up to $1,000) can be refunded to you. 

Q4. How does AOTC affect my income taxes?

A4. You reduce the amount of tax you owe dollar for dollar by the amount of the AOTC for which you qualify up to the amount of tax you owe. If the amount of the AOTC is more than the tax you owe, then up to 40 percent of the credit (up to $1,000) can be refunded to you.

Q5. What are qualified tuition and related expenses for the education tax credits?

A5. In general, qualified tuition and related expenses for the education tax credits include tuition and required fees for the enrollment or attendance at eligible post-secondary educational institutions (including colleges, universities and trade schools). The expenses paid during the tax year must be for: an academic period that begins in the same tax year or an academic period that begins in the first three months of the following tax year.

 

The following expenses do not qualify for the AOTC or the LLC:

  • Room and board
  • Transportation
  • Insurance
  • Medical expenses
  • Student fees, unless required as a condition of enrollment or attendance
  • Same expenses paid with tax-free educational assistance
  • Same expenses used for any other tax deduction, credit or educational benefit
 

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

Education Credits Frequently Asked Questions

More education benefit resources

 

Technical Forms and Publications

     

Q6. What additional education expenses qualify for the AOTC, but not the LLC?

A6. For the AOTC but not the LLC, qualified tuition and related expenses include amounts paid for books, supplies and equipment needed for a course of study. You do not have to buy the materials from the eligible educational institution. Add amounts paid for these materials to Form 8863 to your other adjusted qualified education expenses. The total of all qualified tuition and related expenses for calculating the AOTC cannot exceed $4,000 and as explained in Q&A 3, the maximum allowable credit is $2,500. See Qualified Education Expense for more information.

Q7. Does a computer qualify for the AOTC?

A7. It depends. The amount paid for the computer can qualify for the credit if you need the computer for attendance at the educational institution.

Q8. Who is an eligible student for the AOTC?

A8. An eligible student for the AOTC is a student who:

  1. Was enrolled at least half time in a  program leading toward a degree, certificate or other recognized educational credential for at least one academic period during the tax year,
  2. Has not completed the first four years of post-secondary (education after high school) at the beginning of the tax year,
  3. Has not claimed (or someone else has not claimed) the Hope Credit or AOTC for the student for more than four years, and
  4. Was not convicted of a federal or state felony drug offense at the end of the tax year.

Q9. If a student was an undergraduate student during the first part of the tax year and became a graduate student that same year, can the student claim or be claimed for the AOTC for the  qualified tuition and related expenses during paid during the entire tax year?

A9. Yes, AOTC can be claimed for this student for qualified educational expenses paid during the entire tax year, if all other requirements are met and the student:

  1. Has not completed the first four years of post-secondary (education after high school) education as of the beginning of the tax year, and
  2. Has not claimed the Hope scholarship credit and/or the AOTC for more than four tax years.

Q10. I'm just beginning college this year. Can I claim the AOTC for all four years I pay tuition?

A10. Yes, if you remain an eligible student and no one can claim you as a dependent on their tax return, the AOTC is available for qualifying expenses paid during each tax year.

Q11. How do I calculate AOTC?

A11. You calculate the AOTC based on 100 percent of the first $2,000 of qualifying expenses, plus 25 percent of the next $2,000, paid during the tax year.

Q12. Is there an income limit for AOTC?

Q12, Yes. To claim the full credit, your MAGI, modified adjusted gross income (See Q&A 13 for MAGI definition) must be $80,000 or less ($160,000 or less for married taxpayers filing jointly). If your MAGI is over $80,000 but less than $90,000 (over $160,000 but less than $180,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly), the amount of your credit is reduced. If your MAGI is over $90,000 ($180,000 for married taxpayers filing joint), you can't claim the credit.

Q13. What is "modified adjusted gross income" for the purpose of the AOTC?

A13. For most filers, it is the amount of your AGI, adjusted gross income, from your tax return. If you file Form 1040A, it is line 22. If you file Form 1040, you add the following back to the amount on line 38:

  • Foreign earned income exclusion
  • Foreign housing exclusion
  • Foreign housing deduction
  • Exclusion of income by bona fide residents of American Samoa or Puerto Rico.

Q14. How do I claim an education tax credit?

A14. You claim an education tax credit by completing Form 8863, Education Credits, and attaching it to Form 1040 or 1040A.

Q15. Where do I put the amount of my education tax credit on my tax return?

A15. If you file a Form 1040, put the amount of your education credit on line 50.  If you file a  Form 1040A, put the amount of your education credit on line 33.

Q16. I am a student at an eligible educational institution. Can I claim the tuition and fees tax deduction and the AOTC?

A16. No. You can't claim the tuition and fees tax deduction in the same tax year you claim either the AOTC or the LLC. You must choose between taking an education tax credit or taking the deduction for tuition and fees. Also, you can’t claim the tuition and fees tax deduction if anyone else claims an education credit for you in the same tax year. Although the credit usually results in a greater tax savings, calculate both the tax credit and the deduction on the tax return to see which is better. Most tax software automatically compares the tax result for you. See Education Benefits, No Double Benefits allowed for more information. Note that the Tuition and Fees deduction expires December 31, 2017. 

Q17. My dependent child attended college half time in 2016 for a semester and will attend full time starting 2017. She expects to graduate from college in 2020. Can I skip taking the credit for 2016 because her expenses are low and claim the credit for 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020?

A17. Yes, you are not required to claim the credit for a particular year. If your child’s college does not consider your child to have completed the first four years of college at the beginning of 2020, you may take the credit in 2020.

Q18. I completed two years of college right after graduating from high school years ago before there was the Hope or AOTC.  I now returned to college to finish my degree on a part time basis; can I claim the AOTC and, if so,  for how many years?

A18. You can claim AOTC, for any semester or other academic period if you take at least half the full-time course load for the first four years of college. If you take half the course load for at least one semester or other academic period of each tax year, and your college does not consider you to have completed the first four years of college as of the beginning of the tax year, you can qualify to take the AOTC for up to four tax years.

Q19. What is Form 1098-T, Tuition Statement, and do I need to receive a Form 1098-T to claim the AOTC or the lifetime learning credit for tax year 2016?

A19. The Form 1098-T is a form provided to you and the IRS by an eligible educational institution that reports, among other things, amounts paid for qualified tuition and related expenses.  The form may be useful in calculating the amount of the allowable education tax credits. In general, a student must receive a Form 1098-T for tax year 2016 to claim an education credit. But, for 2016, an eligible educational institution is not required to provide the Form 1098-T to you in certain circumstances, for example:

  1. Nonresident alien students, unless the student requests the institution to file  Form 1098-T,
  2. Students whose tuition and related expenses are entirely waived or paid entirely with scholarships or grants, or
  3. Students for whom the institution does not maintain a separate financial account and whose qualified tuition and related expenses are covered by a formal billing arrangement with the student’s employer or a government agency, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs or the Department of Defense.

Q20. I did not receive a Form 1098-T because my school is not required to provide a Form 1098-T to me for 2016.  Can I still claim an education credit for tax year 2016? 

A20. Yes. You can still claim the AOTC if you did not receive a Form 1098-T because the school is not required to provide you a Form 1098-T for tax year 2016 if:

  • The student and/or the person able to claim the student as a dependent meets all other eligibility requirements to claim the credit, 
  • The student can show he or she was enrolled at an eligible educational institution, and 
  • You can substantiate the payment of qualified tuition and related expenses.

Be sure to keep records that show the student was enrolled and the amount of paid qualified tuition and related expenses. You may need to send copies if the IRS contacts you regarding your claim of the credit.

Q21.  In 2016, my school went out of business and closed.  I did not get a Form 1098-T for 2016 from the school.  Can I still claim an education credit for tax year 2016?

A21. Yes. You can still claim an education credit if your school that closed did not provide you a Form 1098-T r if:

  • The student and/or the person able to claim the student as a dependent meets all other eligibility requirements to claim the credit 
  • The student can show he or she was enrolled at an eligible educational institution
  • You can substantiate the payment of qualified tuition and related expenses.

Be sure to keep records that show the student was enrolled and the amount of paid qualified tuition and related expenses. You may need to send copies if the IRS contacts you regarding your claim of the credit.

Q22. How do I know if my school is an eligible educational institution?

A22. An eligible educational institution is a school offering higher education beyond high school. It is any college, university, vocational school, or other post-secondary educational institution eligible to participate in a Federal student aid program run by the U.S. Department of Education. This includes most accredited public, nonprofit and privately-owned–for-profit post-secondary institutions.

If you aren’t sure if your school is an eligible educational institution:


• ask your school if it is an eligible educational institution, or
• see if your school is on the U.S. Federal Student Aid Code List


TIP: A small number of schools, not on this list, may be eligible educational institutions. So, you may need to ask the school.

Q23. I received a letter from the IRS questioning my AOTC claim. What should I do?

A23. If you receive a letter or are audited by the IRS, it can be because the IRS did not receive a  Form 1098-T, Tuition Statement, or the IRS needs additional information to support the amounts of qualified tuition and related expenses you reported on Form 8863

If you did receive a  Form 1098-T review it to make sure the student’s name and social security number are correct. If either is not correct, contact the school and ask the school to correct the information for future 1098-T reporting. If the student should have, but did not receive the Form 1098-T, contact the school for a copy.

Please note as described above, there are exceptions in which eligible educational institutions are not required to provide a Form 1098-T. See Q&A 19 for more information about the Form 1098-T. 

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 tuition and related expenses in Box 2, please send the IRS copies of receipts, cancelled checks or other documents as proof of payment. See your letter for further instructions for what documents to send.  

If you don't have the letter,  see Forms 886-H-AOC and 886-H-AOC-MAX for examples. Form 886-H-AOC is also available in Spanish.

Q24. Can students with an F-1 Visa claim the AOTC?

A24. For most students present in the U.S. on an F-1 Student Visa the answer is no. Generally, the time an alien individual spends studying in the U.S. on an F-1 Student Visa doesn't count in determining whether he or she is a resident alien under the substantial presence test. See Publication 519U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens for more information.

Q25. I am a Nonresident Alien, can I claim an education tax credit? 

A25. Generally, a Nonresident Alien cannot claim an education tax credit unless:

  1. You are married and choose to file a joint return with a U.S. citizen or resident spouse, or 
  2. You are a Dual-Status Alien, and choose to be treated as a U.S. resident for the entire year. See  Publication 519U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens for more information.

Q26.What should I do if the student’s return was incorrectly prepared and filed by a professional tax preparer?

A26. You are legally responsible for what’s on your tax return, even if someone else prepares it. The IRS urges you to choose a tax preparer wisely. For more information, read IRS’s How to Choose a Tax Return Preparer.

Q27. Are there any other education tax benefits?

A27. Yes, see the Tax Breaks for Education: Information Center for more information.
 

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Page Last Reviewed or Updated: 02-Mar-2017