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Form 8863 to Claim Education Tax Credits

Form 8863 & Education Tax Credits

Students who enroll in school can claim an education credit, such as the lifetime learning or American opportunity credit, to receive a dollar-for-dollar reduction in their federal income tax bill for some of their education expenses. However, in order to claim either of these credits, you must file Form 8863 with your tax return.

You can report your education expenses for either credit on Form 8863, but first you must determine which credit you are eligible for. The American opportunity credit can save you up to $2,500 in federal income tax, but it’s only available for the first four years of post-secondary study. Moreover, you must enroll at least half-time for one academic semester during the tax year and your school must be eligible to participate in the federal student aid program. For example, if you are pursuing an undergraduate degree, you are eligible to claim the credit during your freshman through senior years. However, if it takes you five years to complete the bachelor’s degree, you are no longer eligible for the American opportunity credit in the fifth year. You do, however, qualify for the lifetime learning credit. The lifetime learning credit can save you up to $2,000 in federal taxes if you enroll in at least one course during the tax year at a school eligible to offer students federal financial aid. The nice thing about the lifetime learning credit is that there is no limitation on the number of years you can claim it.

School Expenses to Include on Form 8863

The purpose of Form 8863 is to report your eligible education expenses for the credit you are claiming. As you prepare the form, you will notice that it includes separate sections for each credit, but it’s only necessary to fill out the section for the credit you are claiming. For example, if you claim the American opportunity credit, Form 8863 allows you to include the tuition and fee payments you make to your school, as well as the cost of any books, supplies or equipment you need for your courses. In contrast, you can only report your tuition and fee payments on Form 8863 when claiming the lifetime learning credit. However, if the school requires direct payment for books and supplies as a condition of enrollment, you can include those costs in your tuition.

IRS Reference: Two Credits to Help Pay Higher Education Costs