Tax Deductions for Parents of College Students


No one likes paying for college and no one likes doing their taxes. Fortunately there are a few ways to make the process more pleasant during tax time with tax deductions for parents of college students. These college student tax credits can give you a few of your tuition dollars back from the government when you file your taxes each year.

For more posts about Paying for College:

How to Complete Your FAFSA

The Complete Guide to Paying for College


tax credits and deductions for parents of college students

Tax Deductions for Parents of College Students


There are 2 tax credits and one tax deduction available to parents of college students. They are the American Opportunity Credit, the Lifetime Learning Credit, and the Student Loan Interest Deduction.


The American Opportunity Credit

The American Opportunity Credit is a credit available to parents of college students who claim their student as a dependent on their taxes. College students who are not dependents on anyone else’s return may also claim the credit.

If your adjusted gross income is below $90,000 for single filers and $180,000 for joint filers, you can take up to a $2500 credit per eligible student on your return. The cool thing about credits (as opposed to deductions) is that they come straight off your tax bill.

Your college student must be pursuing a degree or other recognized credential, be at least a half-time student, and have a social security number to claim this credit.

The other cool thing about this credit is that you could potentially receive CASH BACK. 40% of the credit is refundable for most taxpayers.


Lifetime Learning Credit

The Lifetime Learning Credit is another credit available to parents of college students. You cannot take both the American Opportunity Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit on the same return. Usually the AOC is better, but you can only take the AOC for 4 years per eligible student. The Lifetime Learning Credit can be taken for an unlimited number of years. So, if you are still paying for expenses after 4 years, you can switch to the LLC.

Although the Lifetime Learning Credit has a lower income threshold ($68,000 for single filers and $136,000 for joint filers), its eligibility requirements are not as strict. It does not require that the student be pursuing a degree and includes courses to acquire or improve job skills and it can be claimed for one or more courses.

The LLC will not result in a refund on your return. It can only reduce the amount you owe.


Student Loan Interest Deduction

The student loan interest deduction is not a credit. It is a deduction, meaning it reduces your income, not your tax liability. The maximum deduction is $2,500.

This deduction can be taken by the person who is claiming the student as a dependent AND is legally obligated to pay the student loan interest.

The person who is legally obligated on the loan will receive a 1098-E from each institution to whom $600 or more in interest was paid during the tax year.

The income threshold for this deduction is $85,000 for single taxpayers and $170,000 for joint taxpayers.


Tax Credits and Deductions for Parents of College Students Cheat Sheet

I created a cheat sheet to summarize the information in this post. It is available in The Printables Library. You can access it below. These college student tax credits and student loan interest deduction are complicated in their eligibility, so I encourage you to consult a tax professional. I have done my best to report accurate information, which I obtained from IRS Publication 970.  

tax credits and deductions for college students

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