Can I Claim My College Age Child on My Tax Return?

Claiming college students on taxes can help ease the tax burden for many taxpayers who may already be footing the bill for educational costs. Even if college-age children have an income from working, they may still qualify as tax-deduction dependents. Typically, parents are the ones who can claim these deductions, but any qualifying relative can also claim a college student as a dependent.

Tip

You can claim a college-age child on your income tax return if the child is a full-time student who fulfills IRS guidelines for a “qualifying child.”

Claiming College Students on Taxes

The IRS defines a “full-time student” as one who attends school during at least part of five calendar months in a year’s time, even though the five months do not have to be consecutive. The school must qualify by having a course of study, a regular teaching staff and regularly enrolled students. An approved course of study also includes on-farm training in a state, county or local governmental agency school. Non-qualifying schools include correspondence schools, internet-only schools and on-the-job training courses.

The IRS defines a “qualifying child” as one who meets five tests:

  1. Relationship test. A child must be related to you in one of these ways – your son, daughter, stepchild, foster child, brother, sister, half brother, half sister, stepbrother, stepsister or a dependent of any of these, such as your grandchild or niece. 
  2. Age test. A student under the age of 24 at the end of the tax year in which you’re claiming the dependent deduction.
  3. Residency test. A qualifying child must live with you for more than half the tax year.
  4. Support test. You must provide more than half the financial support for a college student during the tax year.
  5. Joint return test. A qualifying child must not file a joint tax return unless the child files with a spouse only to claim an income tax refund. 

Review the Exceptions

IRS Publication 501 details numerous exceptions to its qualifying child guidelines and full-time student definition, which you can review by visiting IRS.gov and searching for this publication. Some notable exceptions include those for temporary absences and other extenuating circumstances, which further define the residency requirement; definitions for stepchild and foster child, which clarify these relationships; and age details.

If more than one person can claim a college student, Publication 501 explains the "tiebreaker rules" that determine which person claims the deduction.

Claim 2018 College Student Deductions

Claiming college students as dependents on your 2018 income tax return, which you'll file in 2019, can be itemized on IRS Forms 1040EZ, 1040A or 1040. Dependents carry a standard deduction allowance of $1,050 or the sum of $350 and the dependent’s income, whichever is greater. The personal exemption allowances for you, your spouse and your dependents disappear beginning in the 2018 tax year.

Claim 2017 College Student Deductions

If you're claiming college students as dependents on your 2017 income tax return, which you'll file in 2018, you'll not only be able to take a personal exemption for yourself (and your spouse if you're filing jointly), but you'll also be able to take a personal exemption for any qualifying dependents. For each exemption, you can deduct $4,050 from your taxable income. You'll want to review the phaseout guidelines to learn how your adjusted gross income may reduce this benefit.

Photo Credits

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About the Author

Victoria Lee Blackstone was formerly with Freddie Mac’s mortgage acquisition department, where she funded multi-million-dollar loan pools for primary lending institutions, worked on a mortgage fraud task force, and wrote the convertible ARM section of the company’s policies and procedures manual. Blackstone is also a horticulturist and a professional writer (www.VictoriaLee.me) who has authored research-based scientific/technical papers, horticultural articles, and magazine and newspaper columns.


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