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Tax Issues for Dependent Student Housing

The federal government offers you an array of tax deductions and credits that can reduce your tax bill for the expenses you incur as a student. Unfortunately, no deduction or credit exists for your student housing expenses. And if you are listed as a dependent on your parent’s, or any other taxpayer’s return, only they can claim the educational tax benefits on your behalf.

Taxation of Scholarships and Grants

When you receive a scholarship or grant to attend school, the government allows you to exclude the funds from your taxable income. This is the most valuable tax benefit you can receive since the federal government only allows income tax exclusions for a small number of income categories. However, since the government never subsidizes your student housing expenses with deductions and credits, you must report as taxable income any portion of a scholarship or grant you use to pay for a dormitory or other student housing charge, but only if you have an obligation to file a tax return.

Student Dependent Tax Filings

Students who are listed as a dependent on another taxpayer’s return have the same obligations to file annual tax returns as anyone else. However, since you are a dependent, you are unable to claim a personal exemption on your return. As a result, this requires you to file a tax return in any year you receive income that isn’t tax-exempt and is equal to or greater than the standard deduction for a single taxpayer. In contrast, taxpayers who are not dependents need not file a tax return unless their income is at least equal to the standard deduction plus a personal exemption.

Student Tax Deductions and Credits

The IRS allows you to claim a deduction each year for the interest payments you make on student loans. For purposes of the deduction, there is no restriction on your ability to use student loan funds to pay your housing expenses. As a result, the student loan interest deduction provides students with an indirect deduction for their student housing expenses. However, if you are still a dependent to another taxpayer by the time you start repaying your loan, you cannot claim the interest deduction.

Most of the expenses a student incurs to attend school, except for student housing costs, qualify them or the person who claims their dependent exemption, to take the American opportunity or lifetime learning credit. Both credits cover the tuition and fees you pay to enroll in a post-secondary educational institution, but only the American opportunity credit allows you to include the cost of books, supplies and equipment you need for your courses if the school requires direct payment for them as a condition of enrollment. Each of the credits reduces your tax bill on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Any year you claim one of the credits, the IRS requires you to file a Form 8863 to report your eligible school expenses.

Reference: IRS Publication 970-Tax Benefits for Education