Two tax credits that can help cover the cost of higher education

Mar 17, 2022

(Art Credit: Andrea Hernandez)

Higher education is important to many people and it's often expensive. Whether it's specialized job training or an advanced degree, there are a lot of costs associated with higher education. There are two education tax credits designed to help offset these costs - the American opportunity tax credit and the lifetime learning credit.

Taxpayers who paid for higher education in 2021 can see these tax savings when they file their tax return. If taxpayers, their spouses, or their dependents take post-high school coursework, they may be eligible for a tax benefit. To claim either credit, taxpayers complete Form 8863, Education Credits, and file it with their tax return.

These credits reduce the amount of tax someone owes. If the credit reduces tax to less than zero, the taxpayer could even receive a refund. To be eligible to claim either of these credits, a taxpayer or a dependent must have received a Form 1098-T from an eligible educational institution. There are exceptions for some students.

Here are some key things taxpayers should know about each of these credits.

The American opportunity tax credit is:

  • Worth a maximum benefit of up to $2,500 per eligible student.
  • Only available for the first four years at an eligible college or vocational school.
  • For students pursuing a degree or other recognized education credential.
  • Partially refundable. People could get up to $1,000 back.

The lifetime learning credit is:

  • Worth a maximum benefit of up to $2,000 per tax return, per year, no matter how many students qualify.
  • Available for all years of postsecondary education and for courses to acquire or improve job skills.
  • Available for an unlimited number of tax years.

Taxpayers can use the Interactive Tax Assistant tool on IRS.gov to figure out if they're eligible for either of these credits.

More information:

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