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American Opportunity Tax Credit and Scholarships

unoplayerunoplayer Posts: 32Registered User Junior Member
Can I claim an American Opportunity tax credit if my scholarships exceed the tuition and fees amount? For 2010, I got approximately $14,000 in gift aid, and my tuition and fees were about $5000, but my cost of attendance outlined in the student budget is about $15,000. Could I then say I paid $1000 in fees to claim the credit?
Post edited by unoplayer on
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Replies to: American Opportunity Tax Credit and Scholarships

  • sk8rmomsk8rmom Posts: 5,746Registered User Senior Member
    No, in fact, it sounds as if you may owe taxes on your excess scholarships! You should look at IRS Pub 970 and only deduct qualified educational expenses from the total of any scholarship/grant aid you received. Qualified expenses are tuition, required course fees, books, supplies, and a computer. Anything else in the COA like R&B is not a qualified expense for tax purposes.
  • unoplayerunoplayer Posts: 32Registered User Junior Member
    I know I have to pay taxes on the non-eligible part of my scholarships, but if I don't deduct the full amount of tuition from my scholarships and instead report those scholarships as taxable income used for other expenses, I theoretically would be paying $1000 in tuition. Couldn't I claim that using the American Opportunity credit?
  • MomCat2MomCat2 Posts: 719Registered User Member
    If you are a dependent student, YOU are not allowed to claim the AO credit, but your parents may be able to. Read Pub 970.


    IF you are a dependent student, in some situations, families do it like this:
    If the COA is $15000, and let's assume $1000 was spent for required textbooks (which is an eligible expense), so a total of $6K out of the $15K COA is "eligible educational expenses (this is assuming that the COA includes all of the things that it is supposed to - tuition, fees, R&B, books, personal expenses and travel/transportation.)
    Dependent STUDENT files return, recording $9,000 as taxable scholarships/grants, plus other income from jobs, etc. of course. (allotting $5K of the $14K gift aid toward eligible expenses, $9 K toward R&B plus other non-eligible expenses - so $9K is taxable)

    The "extra" $1K (15K COA - 14 K gift aid) is allotted to the PARENTS, and this amount goes toward the other $1K of "eligible expenses". Therefore, the parents can claim an AO tax credit of $1000.

    Depending on the tax brackets involved, doing it this way can result in lower overall taxes for the family as a whole.

    Things to note - 1) the "excess" (or taxable) scholarships/grants have to go on the student's return, whether the student is dependent or not. 2) only independent students, not claimed as a dependent on anyone's tax return, can claim the AO credit. Otherwise the parents may be able to claim it.
  • swimcatsmomswimcatsmom Posts: 14,996Registered User Senior Member
    My understanding (and I am not an accountant) is: As long as a scholarship does not specify that you must use it for tuition and fees, you can elect to use it for non qualified expenses (making it taxable income for you) and pay tuition fees from other funds (such as loans) making those expenses eligible for the AOC.

    We have done this in the past. My daughter has a tuition waiver so that of course can only be used for tuition. But the other part of her scholarship is a cash scholarship that she can use for whatever she wants. So we use the cash scholarship for paying non qualified expenses (such as room and board) and she pays her mandatory fees and books with loan money. As she is a dependent for tax purposes those expenses are considered payed by us (per IRS rules) so we claim the tax credit (and give it to her).

    As Momcat says, you have to watch the rules about who can claim it. If a student is a dependent for tax purposes then the student can not claim it, only the parent. If the student is not a dependent for tax purposes then only the student can claim it, not the parent. An additional wrinkle is that if a student is younger than 24, even if they are not someone elses dependent for taxes they may not be eligible to claim the refundable part of the AOC. In order to claim the refundable part of the AOC, the student must show they have enough earned income of their own to be providing 50% of their own support.
  • unoplayerunoplayer Posts: 32Registered User Junior Member
    Because the room and board part of scholarships are taxable, I make more money on paper than my retired mom, so filing as an independent would be better in my case. However, I don't have a job, so I guess I can't get the refund part of the AOC.

    I think I'll just deduct the tuition and fees from my gift aid stated on my 1098 and use the AOC for books because my income tax is $0 that way too, and the calculations are simpler. Thanks for all your help!
  • RiversChoiceRiversChoice Posts: 310Registered User Junior Member
    OP, put yourself in the hands of a professional tax preparer, not H & R Block, not software from a box from Staples, but a real professional, you will not regret it!
  • MomCat2MomCat2 Posts: 719Registered User Member
    RiversChoice - do you have any idea how expensive that is? And have you not read the many accounts here detailing just how clueless many accountants/tax preparers are when it comes to financial aid, educational tax credits, the 1098T, 529 plans, etc.??
  • spankycollegespankycollege Posts: 15Registered User New Member
    I have a similar scenario:
    Mu daughter's Scholarship: 16,000
    Qualified Education Expenses: 12,000

    Report method #1:
    Since the amount of scholarship is greater than that of qualified education, part of scholarship will be taxable, which is $4,000 (16,000 - 12,000). She will report $4,000 as income. Her incremental tax will be about $600.

    FYI: My daughter has to file a tax return because of other income.

    Report method #2.
    Split the scholarship into two equal portion, one used on parent's return and the remaining on daughter's tax return.
    On parent's return:
    Apply for American opportunity Credit on our tax return, reporting $8,000 (from the scholarship) as tax-free assistance and $12,000 as the Qualified Education Expenses. The adjusted Qualified Education Expenses becomes $4,000 (12,000 - $8,000). The credit turns out to be about $2,500.
    On my daughter's return:
    Report $8,000 from the scholarship as income. The increased in tax will be about $1,300.

    This method provides a net gain of $1,200 (2,500 - 1300) instead of paying $600.

    Question: Is this method legitimate? I have spent quite a bit of time on Pub 970 but cannot determine whether this is allowable.
    FYI: There's no restriction of how scholarship can be used.

    Any comments or suggestions are appreciated.
  • swimcatsmomswimcatsmom Posts: 14,996Registered User Senior Member
    First a disclaimer - I am not an accountant or tax expert so this is an opinion, not advice.

    From reading IRS 970 and some other online articles including a CPA journal, I believe that it is a legit method.

    On IRS 970 page 11 it even shows these examples:
    Example 1. Joan paid $3,000 for tuition and $5,000 for room and board at University X. The university did not require her to pay any fees in addition to her tuition in order to enroll in or attend classes. To help pay these costs, she was awarded a $2,000 scholarship and a $4,000 student loan.
    The terms of the scholarship state that it can be used to pay any of Joan’s college expenses. Because she applied it toward her tuition, the scholarship is tax free. Therefore, for purposes of figuring an education credit (American opportunity or lifetime learning), she must first use the
    $2,000 scholarship to reduce her tuition (her only qualified education expense). The student loan is not tax-free educational assistance, so she does not use it to reduce her qualified expenses. Joan is treated as having paid $1,000 in qualified education expenses ($3,000 tuition – $2,000 scholarship).
    Example 2. The facts are the same as in Example 1, except that Joan uses the $2,000 scholarship to pay room and board, and, therefore, reports her entire scholarship as income on her tax return. In this case, the scholarship is allocated to expenses other than qualified education expenses. Joan is treated as paying the entire $3,000 tuition with other funds and can figure her education credit on the entire $3,000.
  • spankycollegespankycollege Posts: 15Registered User New Member
    swimcatsmom,
    Thanks for the quick comments.
  • sk8rmomsk8rmom Posts: 5,746Registered User Senior Member
    On parent's return:
    Apply for American opportunity Credit on our tax return, reporting $8,000 (from the scholarship) as tax-free assistance and $12,000 as the Qualified Education Expenses. The adjusted Qualified Education Expenses becomes $4,000 (12,000 - $8,000). The credit turns out to be about $2,500.

    Why would you report her income from scholarships on your tax return? I'm pretty sure the correct method, if you want to claim the credit, is to report her income on her tax return and simply treat that as having gone toward non-qualified expenses. Then you claim the qualified expenses on your own return, as having come out of your own income. There is no reason to switch income from one taxpayer to another, especially since she is presumably taxed at a lower rate and, afaik, no provision for doing so!
  • spankycollegespankycollege Posts: 15Registered User New Member
    Why would you report her income from scholarships on your tax return? I'm pretty sure the correct method, if you want to claim the credit, is to report her income on her tax return and simply treat that as having gone toward non-qualified expenses. Then you claim the qualified expenses on your own return, as having come out of your own income.
    We do not report the $8,000 as income in our tax return. It is declared as tax-free assistance to calculate the adjustment to the qualified educational expense (total qualified expenses - $8000).
  • GTalumGTalum Posts: 2,147Registered User Senior Member
    What we did:
    Qualified expenses: around 21 K (Form 1098 T says differently but they had fall 2010 and spring 2011 so amount was calculated from monthly bills).

    Schlarships: around 22 K

    We declared 3k as going towards non-qualified expenses and declared as income on D's taxes. That left 2K of non-scholarship income going towards qualified expenses with an AOC of 2K.

    We decided that declaring 5K of the scholarship income towards non-qualified expenses which would allow us to take the full AOC credit wasn't worth the extra taxes on D's return.
  • spankycollegespankycollege Posts: 15Registered User New Member
    We decided that declaring 5K of the scholarship income towards non-qualified expenses which would allow us to take the full AOC credit wasn't worth the extra taxes on D's return.
    This however, I think, is the optimal since the extra taxes on her return will most likely less than $500 (extra AOC).
  • kelsmomkelsmom Posts: 12,519Super Moderator Senior Member
    Don't forget state taxes, too ... ours are more than federal (because the exemption amount is lower) & it really makes a difference in how we decide to make the allocations.
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