The Tuition and Fees Deduction allows eligible taxpayers to deduct up to $4,000 from taxable income to help cover higher education costs for themselves, a spouse and dependent children. The Tuition and Fees Deduction expired at the end of 2016 but was renewed for the 2017 tax year with the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. The Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 extended the expiration date for the Tuition and Fees Deduction to December 31, 2020.
The Tuition and Fees Deduction cannot be claimed during the same tax year that other education tax benefits, such as the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) or Lifetime Learning Tax Credit, are claimed for the same student.
Taxpayers who are eligible for more than one education tax benefit may choose to claim the Tuition and Fees Deduction because it will reduce their adjusted gross income. However, the AOTC generally provides a greater tax benefit for most individuals.
How the Tuition and Fees Deduction works
With the Tuition and Fees Deduction, eligible taxpayers may deduct up to $4,000 in qualified higher education expenses as an above-the-line exclusion from income. An above-the-line exclusion from income means taxpayers may claim the deduction even if they do not itemize deductions on Schedule A.
The Tuition and Fees Deduction was set to expire at the end of 2017, however, the expiration date was extended to December 31, 2020. Eligible taxpayers who already filed their 2018 return may file an amended return using IRS Form 1040X. Amended returns may be filed up to three years after a taxpayer’s original return was filed, or up to two years after taxes for the year were paid. Taxpayers must file a separate Form 8917 for each year they claim the Tuition and Fees Deduction after 2017.
Who is eligible to claim the Tuition and Fees Deduction?
Taxpayers who meet the following requirements may claim the Tuition and Fees Deduction for the 2019 or 2020 tax year, or for the 2018 tax year by filing an amended return:
- Taxpayers with a 2018, 2019 or 2020 annual modified adjusted gross income up to $65,000 ($130,000 if married filing jointly) may claim a maximum $4,000 deduction.
- Taxpayers with a 2018, 2019 or 2020 annual modified adjusted gross income between $65,001 and $80,000 ($130,001 and $160,000 if married filing jointly) may claim a maximum $2,000 deduction.
- The taxpayer, their spouse or a dependent child incurred qualified expenses at an eligible postsecondary education institution
- The taxpayer, spouse or dependent has received or will receive a Form 1098-T from an eligible domestic or foreign education institution. If the college isn’t required to send Form 1098-T, the taxpayer must be able to demonstrate they were enrolled at the college and paid for qualified expenses
- The taxpayer is not listed as a dependent on another person’s tax return
The Tuition and Fees Deduction is not available when:
- The taxpayer’s filing status is married filing separately
- The taxpayer claimed the AOTC or the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit during the same tax year
- The taxpayer or someone else claimed the AOTC or the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit for the same student’s qualified education expenses.
- The taxpayer was a nonresident alien during any part of the year but was not treated as a resident alien for tax purposes.
Qualified expenses for the Tuition and Fees Deduction
Qualified expenses for the Tuition and Fees Deduction generally include tuition and fees required for enrollment or attendance at an eligible educational institution.
Other qualified expenses include:
- Costs of required textbooks, supplies and equipment paid to the college or university
- Courses involving sports, games or hobbies, but only if they are part of the student’s degree program or helps the student improve or acquire job skills
- Qualified expenses purchased with student loan proceeds
- Qualified expenses paid in the current tax year for an academic period beginning within three months of the following tax year
Taxpayers may not claim the Tuition and Fees Deduction for:
- Room and board and other living expenses
- Medical expenses
- Qualified education expenses paid for with tax-free earnings from 529 plan distributions, Coverdell Education Savings Account withdrawals and qualified U.S. Savings Bond Redemptions
- Qualified expenses paid for with tax-free scholarships
In most cases, students receive an IRS Form 1098-T from the college or university that lists amounts paid for qualified expenses in a given tax year and the amounts billed during the year. Only the expenses paid during the year qualify for the Tuition and Fees Deduction.
Coordinating the Tuition and Fees Deduction with 529 plan distributions
Like other federal education tax benefits, there is no double-dipping with the Tuition and Fees Deduction. When calculating total qualified higher education expenses for the Tuition and Fees Deduction, taxpayers must subtract any expenses that were used to justify other income tax benefits, including:
- The tax-free earnings portion of a qualified 529 plan distribution
- Withdrawals from a Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA)
- Qualified U.S. Savings Bond redemptions
Taxpayers who take a 529 plan distribution should receive an IRS Form 1099-Q from the 529 plan administrator. Form 1099-Q lists the total amount of the distribution, the earnings portion and the basis (contribution) portion.
Some college expenses, such as computers and room and board, are considered qualified 529 plan expenses for the AOTC but cannot be used to justify the Tuition and Fees Deduction.