Can't get tax credit? Maybe your kid can
Parents whose incomes are too high to qualify for the college tuition tax credits should see if their children qualify.
This post is by Bill Bischoff of SmartMoney.
Both the American Opportunity credit (maximum $2,500 for 2011) and the Lifetime Learning credit (maximum $2,000) help soften the cost of postsecondary education. The American Opportunity credit is available only for the first four years of college, while the Lifetime Learning credit can be used at any time and doesn't have a degree or workload requirement.
Unfortunately, you can't take both credits for the same student in the same year, and many parents earn too much to be eligible for either one. That's because in tax year 2011, the American Opportunity credit is phased out starting at an adjusted gross income, or AGI, of $160,000 for joint filers and $80,000 for unmarried individuals. At AGI levels of $180,000 and $90,000, respectively, the credit is completely phased out.
The Lifetime Learning credit is phased out starting at AGI of $102,000 for joint filers and $51,000 for unmarried individuals. At AGI levels of $122,000 and $61,000, respectively, you're completely ineligible. As you might imagine, plenty of parents fall into the phased-out category. But even if you're among them, these valuable credits may not have to go to waste. (Post continues after video.)
Here's how: Arrange things so your college-age child can claim one of these credits instead of you. To implement this strategy, you must forgo the dependency exemption deduction for your child ($3,700 for the 2011 tax year). Then the education tax credit becomes the property of your child, whose income is presumably well below the phase-out range.
The now-liberated education credit can cut your college-age child's tax bill by quite a bit. Remember, however, the credit is worthless to your child unless he or she has enough taxable income to actually owe the Internal Revenue Service. This income could be from summer jobs, work-study at school or income and gains from investments held in your child's name.
You should give up the exemption deduction only if the credit is worth more to your child than the exemption deduction is worth to you. (This strategy does not permit your child to claim an exemption on his or her return; the exemption belongs to you whether you choose to use it or not.)
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