Rules for Writing Off College Tuition

by W D Adkins
You might get a nice tax break for paying college tuition.

Uncle Sam has a number of tax incentives for you if you are paying for college. One of these incentives is that you may be able to write off tuition and other qualified expenses like student fees, books, supplies and equipment used for college. Tuition for college isn’t automatically tax-deductible. Eligibility depends on whether the deduction qualifies under the IRS rules.

Qualifying Tuition

Tuition must be paid to an eligible school to qualify for a tax write-off. The Internal Revenue Service says that eligible institutions are generally colleges, universities and vocational schools approved to receive student aid money from the Department of Education. The student can be you, a dependent or your spouse and must take at least one course for credit. To be deductible, tuition and other expenses you pay must be required for the student to enroll and attend classes.

When Tuition Is Deductible

You may write off college tuition only when you pay it. However, you cannot take a deduction for college expenses, including tuition, if you are married and file a separate return or if you are claimed by another person as a dependent. If a college student who is your dependent pays college tuition or other educational expenses, you can’t take the deduction and neither can the student.

Double Benefit Restriction

You don’t get to write off college tuition paid with tax-free student aid such as a grant or scholarship. This restriction also applies to tax-free tuition assistance you get from your employer. The IRS prohibits such deductions because you’d be writing off money that’s already tax-free. For the same reason, you may not take a deduction if the money used to pay the tuition is tax-free savings bond interest or a tax-free distribution from an educational savings plan. Finally, you may not deduct college tuition in the same year you claim a Lifetime Learning or American Opportunity tax credit.

Income Restrictions

The maximum tax write-off in one year for college tuition and other qualified expenses is $4,000 as of 2013. However, there is an income limitation. You get the maximum deduction if your modified adjusted gross income is less than $65,000 and you file your tax return as a single person. The cut-off is $130,000. The maximum deduction drops to $2,000 when your income is between $65,000 and $80,000 or between $130,000 and $160,000 for married couples. You don’t get any tax write-off for qualified college tuition or other expenses when your income exceeds $80,000 for individuals or $160,000 for married couples.

About the Author

Based in Atlanta, Georgia, W D Adkins has been writing professionally since 2008. He writes about business, personal finance and careers. Adkins holds master's degrees in history and sociology from Georgia State University. He became a member of the Society of Professional Journalists in 2009.

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