Can I Claim Tuition & Interest Deductions if My Child Claims Themselves?

If you improperly claim tax deductions and credits, you'll find yourself in hot water with the IRS.

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Even if your college-age child has an income from working, you may be footing the greater part of the bill that pays your child’s living expenses and educational costs. And this amount is multiplied when you have more than one child in college at the same time. Claiming tuition costs and student loan interest deductions for dependents can help reduce your income tax liability so you’ll see more income and fewer taxes.

Tip

The money you pay for your child’s tuition and interest on education loans is income tax deductible for you if your child qualifies as your dependent.

Define College Students as Dependents

Children who are self-supporting and who do not meet the IRS definition of a dependent can claim themselves on their tax return and take their own education tax deductions. But if you have any children who do meet the IRS definition as your dependent, they cannot claim themselves; if this is the case, you can claim them and take any allowable education tax deductions. Before you can claim these deductions, your child must be a “qualifying child” who meets these six tests:

  1. Relationship test. In the eyes of the IRS, a qualifying child can be related to you in many ways, including your daughter, son, stepchild, foster child, sister, brother, half sister, half brother, stepsister, stepbrother or even a dependent of any of these, such as your niece or grandchild.
  2. Age test. Your child must be a full-time student who is under the age of 24 by the end of the tax year for which you’re claiming the child as a dependent. A qualifying child must also be younger than you (and your spouse, if you're filing jointly).
  3. Residency test. Your child must live with you for more than half the year, except for temporary absences; for example, when a child is away at school.
  4. Support test. Your child cannot provide more than half of his own financial support.
  5. Joint return test. Your child cannot file a joint tax return with a spouse unless the reason is solely to claim a tax refund.
  6. Exclusive qualifying child test. If more than one person can claim your child, you must meet the IRS "tiebreaker rules" as outlined in IRS Publication 17.

Review the Exceptions

If you qualify for a tuition and fees deduction, you can claim this deduction as an adjustment to your income without itemizing on IRS Form 1040 or 1040-A by completing IRS Form 8917 (Tuition and Fees Deduction) and attaching it to your tax return. Form 8917 lists some exceptions, including considerations of your marital status and income. For example, you cannot claim tuition fees and student loan interest on taxes if your tax filing status is married filing separately or if your modified gross income is more than $80,000 (if filing single) or more than $160,000 (if filing jointly with your spouse).

Claim 2018 College Student Deductions

If you choose to itemize college costs, you can claim a standard deduction allowance, which is the greater of $1,050 or the dependent’s income plus $350. In addition, 2018 is the first year for which you cannot claim exemption allowances for your dependents.

Claim 2017 Deductions and Exemptions

For 2017 income tax returns, which you’ll file in 2018, you typically can claim a $4,050 exemption for each of your dependents in addition to any qualifying deductions for tuition fees and student loan interest on taxes.

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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. 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.


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