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Tax-saving ways to help pay for college — once your child starts attending

If you have a child or grandchild in college — congratulations! To help pay for the expenses, many parents and grandparents saved for years in tax-favored accounts, such as 529 plans. But there are also a number of tax breaks that you may be able to claim once your child begins attending college or post-secondary school.


Tuition tax credits


You can take the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) of up to $2,500 per student for the first four years of college — a 100% credit for the first $2,000 in tuition, fees, and books, and a 25% credit for the second $2,000. You can take a Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC) of up to $2,000 per family for every additional year of college or graduate school — a 20% credit for up to $10,000 in tuition and fees.


The AOTC is 40% refundable up to $1,000 (meaning you can get a refund if the credit amount is greater than your tax liability). Both credits are phased out for married couples filing jointly with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) between $160,000 and $180,000, and for singles with MAGI between $80,000 and $90,000.


Only one credit can be claimed per eligible student in any given year. To claim the education tax credits, a taxpayer must receive a Form 1098-T statement from the school. Other rules may apply.


Scholarships


Scholarships are exempt from income tax if certain conditions are satisfied. The most important is that the scholarship generally can’t be compensation for services, and it must be used for tuition, fees, books and supplies (not for room and board).