With college students now settling into their first weeks of school, it's important for parents and students to remember that the $4,000 tuition and fees deduction they might have counted on in past years is not available in 2017. The good news is that there are alternatives. Here are two of the more popular education tax credits:
Alternative No. 1: The AOTC
The American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) is a credit of up to $2,500 per student per year for qualified undergraduate tuition, fees, and course materials. The deduction phases out at higher income levels, and is eliminated altogether for married couples with a modified adjusted gross income of $180,000 ($90,000 for singles).
Alternative No. 2: The Lifetime Learning Credit
The Lifetime Learning Credit provides an annual credit of 20 percent on the first $10,000 of qualified tuition and fees, for either undergraduate or graduate level classes. There is no lifetime limit on the credit, but only couples making less than $132,000 per year (or singles making $66,000) qualify. Unlike the AOTC, this deduction is per tax return, not per student.
Credits Usually Beat Deductions
Both the AOTC and the Lifetime Learning Credit are generally more valuable than the expired tuition and fees deduction, because as credits they reduce your income tax directly, while the deduction only reduced how much of your income is taxed.
In addition to the two alternative education credits, there are many other tax benefits that reduce the cost of education. This includes breaks for employer-provided tuition assistance, deductions for student loan interest, tax-beneficial college savings options, and many other tax-planning alternatives.