Archive for the ‘education credits’ Tag

Back to Basics Part XXXI – Form 8863 Education Credits

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

January 29, 2016

There are two main tax credits for qualified spending on degree seeking higher education: 1) the American Opportunity Credit (AOC), and 2) the Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC).  The AOC is generally the more valuable of the two.  It is a tax credit of up to $2,500 with $1,000 of that refundable to you even if you paid no tax and have no tax liability.  You get 100 percent of the first $2,000 spent, and 25 percent of the next $2,000 spent.  Whenever your hear “refundable credit,” think potential fraud.  So it is not only an opportunity for college kids, but an opportunity for criminals to make up false returns and claim fake credits.  Naturally increased scrutiny follows on behalf of the IRS.  But I digress.

The AOC is available to you only during your first four years of college as defined by the educational institution – so a 5th or 6th year senior would still qualify, except that you are only allowed to take the credit for a total of four times no matter how long it takes you to get through school!  With that in mind you may even choose to forgo claiming the credit in a particular year if for instance you were attending a community college and had less than the $4,000 of expenses to max out the credit, but knew you would be transferring to a more expensive school, and would still have the opportunity to claim the credit four times before graduating.

The AOC allows you to include tuition and required fees of the school, like athletic fees, and student activity fees (but not health fees or room and board) for the tax year at hand plus the first three months of the next year if paid in the current year, plus the cost of any books or school supplies whether or not bought from the school or any other seller.  You have to be enrolled half time in at least one academic period such as a semester or quarter in the tax year, or during the first three months of the next year if the payment was made in the current year for the following year school.

If your modified adjusted gross income (for most people this is the same as their AGI) is between $160,000 and $180,000 for married filing jointly ($80,000 – $90,000 for other statuses), the credit phases out.  If a parent is claiming you as a dependent, then you are not allowed to deduct it on your tax returns – only the parent would.  Even if a third party paid the fees for a student’s benefit (such as a relative, or an institution), as long as the parent is still claiming the child as a dependent, then the parent is eligible to claim the credit as well.  You would need a copy of the 1098-T to claim the credit (this is a new requirement signed into law by Obama in 2015 – all filers must have in their possession a 1098-T when filing their taxes to claim education credits).  Another interesting tenant is that you cannot claim the credit if you have been convicted of a felony possession or distribution of a controlled substance.

The Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC) is a nonrefundable credit of 20 percent of the first $10,000 spent – capping out the credit at $2,000.  The LLC is available to anyone in their life for an unlimited number of years for post secondary education – even if you just take one course at a time – so you don’t even have to be seeking a degree.  You just can’t claim the LLC and AOC in the same year for the same person.

The LLC is eligible for the same expenses as the AOC, except that books and supplies that are not absolutely required to be bought from the school, do not count.  The modified adjusted income phaseout is between $110,000 – $130,000 for married filing jointly and $55,000 – $65,000 for other statuses.  Also, it is nice to know that you can still smoke crack and deal heroin and be eligible for the credit, as there are no denials of the credit for felony possession or distribution of controlled substances with the LLC!

The form used to claim the expenses, Form 8863 – Education Credits (American Opportunity and Lifetime Learning Credits), is a two page form.  You start with the second page, which is basically a flow chart questionnaire determining what you are eligible for, and it also has you transfer some numbers to the first page.  The AOC is handled in Part I of page one and the LLC is handled in part II of page one, and these walk you through the credit calculation and limitations.

If you have questions about other schedules or forms in your tax returns, prior articles in our Back to Basics series on personal tax returns are republished on my website at www.tlongcpa.com/blog .

Travis H. Long, CPA, Inc. is located at 706-B Forest Avenue, PG, 93950 and focuses on trust, estate, individual, and business taxation. Travis can be reached at 831-333-1041.

Divorce Taxation – Part III

Originally published in the Pacific Grove Hometown Bulletin

July 4, 2012

Since it is July 4th, and we are discussing divorce, I suppose it would be appropriate to say, “Happy Independence Day!”

Tax Carryforwards

When going through a divorce it is important to realize you may have valuable “tax assets” that need to be divided according to tax law or negotiated between spouses.  Capital loss carryforwards (such as those generated by stock sales) are supposed to be allocated based on whose assets from the past created the losses.   Net operating loss carryforwards (such as those generated by a large business loss) are supposed to be determined by recalculating what the losses would have been if you had been filing separate.  Minimum tax, general business credit, and investment interest expense carryforwards can be negotiated.

Suspended passive activity losses (such as those generated by rental properties) go with the individual receiving the property, however, there are some pitfalls to avoid that could require the passive activity losses to be added to basis, rather than becoming immediately available to the spouse receiving the property.  If you happen to have bought a house with the $8,000 homebuyer credit that has to be repaid, the person who takes the home becomes solely responsible for repayment.

In practice, I have not seen the IRS come down heavily on how carryforwards are divided, but it is important to know what you are entitled to, so you do not miss out on something that could save you money down the road.

Children

Children present a number of planning issues in a divorce.  Tax benefits related to children include the child’s exemption, child tax credits, dependent care credits, exclusion of income related to dependent care benefits, earned income credits, education credits, and head of household filing status.  The custodial parent (defined for tax purposes as the parent who lived with the child most during the year) is generally the one eligible for these benefits, although the custodial parent may release two of those (the exemption and child tax credits) to the noncustodial parent by filing Form 8332, and keep the remaining benefits. As discussed in a previous issue in this series, it is also possible for both spouses to claim head of household if the abandoned spouse rules are met.  If both parents meet certain qualifying child rules, they can also each claim medical and health insurance expense deductions they pay for the child and can distribute money from HSAs, MSAs, etc. for the child’s benefit.  When multiple children are involved, planning can be done to preserve the head of household status for both spouses.

Child support payments are not taxable income to the recipient parent, nor are they deductible by the parent paying the child support.  Alimony on the other hand is income to the recipient, and deductible by the paying parent.  Be sure your divorce decree is clear and specific on the payment of alimony and child support.  Alimony is a tricky area and you must be very careful about how it is paid.

To be continued next issue…

Prior articles are republished on my website at www.tlongcpa.com/blog.

IRS Circular 230 Notice: To the extent this article concerns tax matters, it is not intended to be used and cannot be used by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law.

Travis H. Long, CPA is located at 706-B Forest Avenue, PG, 93950 and focuses on trust, estate, individual, and business taxation. He can be reached at 831-333-1041.