As part of President’s Obama 2009 economic stimulus package, Congress replaced the Hope Tax Credit, which provided some taxpayers with college education expenses, with two years of tax credits to offset those costs, with the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC). Barring action by the Congress, the AOTC will expire in 2010. President Obama wants to make the AOTC a permanent line item on the nation’s fiscal budget beginning in 2011.
The administration claims the AOTC gave taxpayers 75 percent more tax credit relief than its predecessor. In 2009, an estimated 12.5 million families received an average credit of $1,700 per student through the American Opportunity Tax Credit. This short guide outlines some key information taxpayers need to know about the American Opportunity Tax Credit.
How Much Can You Benefit?
A tax credit differs from a tax deduction. Tax deductions lower the amount of income the government can tax. A tax credit actually reduces your taxes - dollar for dollar. The American Opportunity Tax Credit allows a maximum refundable credit of $2,500 for each student who has qualified educational expenses during the tax year. Taxpayers may receive a 40 percent refund of the credit.
The refundable part of the credit has to exceed your current tax liability in order to receive a tax refund. The amount of the credit depends on the your income. In addition, the amount of your tax liability may cap the amount of the nonrefundable credit.
Taxpayers must meet the income limits requirements - defined as the modified adjusted gross income (MAGI). Married couples filing jointly cannot make more than $180,000 during the tax year. Singles, head of households or qualifying widowers have a $90,000 MAGI limit. MAGI is the adjusted gross income plus overseas income, or income from Puerto Rico or U.S. territories.
As stated above, the code allows up to a maximum credit of $2,500 for each “qualified student.” Taxpayers can receive a refund of up to 40 percent of the tax credit. Some other requirements of the program:
- Students must pursue an undergraduate degree or some other approved education credential on at least a minimum part-time, at least one academic term during the tax year
- Qualified expenses include tuition and fees, books, supplies, computers and other education-related equipment
- Available for the first four years of postsecondary training, including most accredited colleges, universities, vocational schools, or other postsecondary educational institutions
- Only four tax years credit per eligible student ? including Hope Credit
The American Opportunity Tax Credit disqualifies students who have felony drug convictions in their backgrounds.
How to Claim the America Opportunity Tax Credit
Taxpayers must meet the following requirements to take advantage of the credit:
- You paid the qualified higher education expenses for student who meets the eligibility requirement.
- You paid the qualified education expenses for higher education for the tax year.
- The taxpayer, spouse or a dependent claimed on the taxpayer’s tax return qualifies.
- The taxpayer cannot claim the Hope credit for any student in the tax year.
Use IRS Form 8863 to claim the credit on your tax returns. Attach the document to your Form 1040 or Form 1040A.
How to Use Multiple Education Tax Credits in the Same Tax Year
The tax codes allow you to elect one type of education credit for each student in a tax year. You cannot take the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Hope Credit for the same student during the same year. You can claim an American Opportunity Tax Credit for one dependent and the Lifetime Learning Credit for another student in the same tax year. The guidelines prohibit you from choosing the American Opportunity Tax Credit for one student and the Hope Credit for another eligible dependent in the same tax year. You may choose one or the other credit for both students.
Declaring Qualified Education Expenses
Furthermore, you cannot deduct the costs for higher education in other parts of your tax return. For example, taxpayers cannot claim a business expense or a lifetime education credit-deduction and then use the same item as part of claiming his or her American Opportunity Tax Credit. In addition, if you pay a qualified education expense by using a tax-free source like scholarships, Pell Grants or Veteran’s educational assistance, you cannot claim a credit for the item.