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.
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:
- 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.
- Age test. A student under the age of 24 at the end of the tax year in which you’re claiming the dependent deduction.
- Residency test. A qualifying child must live with you for more than half the tax year.
- Support test. You must provide more than half the financial support for a college student during the tax year.
- 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, will be incorporated on IRS Form 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 disappeared beginning in the 2018 tax year.
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. Currently, Blackstone is a professional writer with expertise in the fields of mortgage, finance, budgeting and tax. She is the author of more than 2,000 published works for newspapers, magazines, online publications and individual clients.