There are two education credits that can help taxpayers with higher education costs: the American opportunity tax credit and the lifetime learning credit. There are several differences and some similarities between them. Taxpayers can claim both benefits on the same return, but not for the same student or same qualified expenses.
Here’s a comparison of these two credits:
What is the maximum credit or benefit?
American opportunity tax credit: Up to $2,5000 credit per eligible student
Lifetime learning credit: Up to $2,000 credit per tax return
Is it refundable or non-refundable?
American opportunity credit: Refundable for up to 40 percent of credit
Lifetime learning credit: Not refundable
Can taxpayers claim the credit if they file with the filing status married filing separately?
Both credits: No
What is the limit on maximum adjusted gross income for the other filing statuses?
American opportunity credit: Married filing joint: $180,000 Other statuses: $90,000
Lifetime learning credit: Married filing joint: $136,000 Other statuses: $68,000
Can a taxpayer claim credit if they be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return?
Both credits: No
Must the taxpayer or their spouse be a US citizen or resident alien?
Both credits: Yes, unless nonresident alien is treated as resident alien for tax purposes.
What is the number of tax years for which the credit is available?
American opportunity credit: Four tax years per eligible student
Lifetime learning credit: Unlimited
What type of program is required?
American opportunity credit: Student must be pursuing degree or other recognized education credential
Lifetime learning credit: Student doesn’t need to be pursuing degree or other recognized education credential
What is the number of courses for which the credit is available?
American opportunity credit: Must be enrolled at least half time for at least one academic period in 2019
Lifetime learning credit: Available for one or more courses
What qualified expenses does the credit cover?
American opportunity credit: Tuition, required enrollment fees, course materials
Lifetime learning credit: Tuition and fees required for enrollment and attendance
For whom can the taxpayer claim the credit?
Both credits: the taxpayer, their spouse, or a student they claim as a dependent on their tax return
Who must pay the qualified expenses?
Both credits: the taxpayer, their spouse, the student, or a third party
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