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How to Calculate the American Opportunity Credit on Form 8863

American Opportunity Credit Rules

If you enroll in school at least half-time for one academic semester during the tax year, you should consider claiming the American opportunity credit on Form 8863 with your federal income tax return. However, the American opportunity credit has a list of eligibility requirements you must satisfy first.

The American opportunity credit is only available for the first four years of study at a postsecondary institution, which includes colleges, universities and even a vocational school. However, the school you choose to attend must be eligible to participate in the U.S. Dept. of Education’s student financial aid program, regardless of whether you take advantage of federal aid or not. In addition, you must enroll in a degree program if attending a university or college or be working towards a recognized credential if attending a vocational school. However, even if you satisfy every requirement of the credit, the IRS will not allow you or your parent to claim the credit if you have a felony drug conviction on your record.

File Form 8863 for the American Opportunity Credit

When preparing your tax return, you need to attach IRS Form 8863 in order to claim the credit. Report all of your qualified education expenses on the form, which include a maximum of $4,000 in tuition and fee payments as well as the books and supplies you purchase for your courses. Although the form will guide you through the calculation, your credit is equal to the first $2,000 of education expenses plus 25 percent of an additional $2,000 of expenses. However, the form will stop you from proceeding if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) exceeds the applicable threshold for your filing status. Unless you claim the foreign earned income exclusion on your tax return, your MAGI is the same as your adjusted gross income (AGI). And since up to 40 percent ($1,000) of the American opportunity credit is refundable, Form 8863 will also calculate the refund you are eligible for. However, this only applies to taxpayers who report an American opportunity credit that exceeds the tax liability on their 1040 or 1040A form. Lastly, if you choose to file your tax return on 1040EZ, you are not eligible to claim the credit.

Reference: IRS Instructions to Form 8863