Student Tax Credits: How to Save Money on Education Expenses

Are you a student looking to save money while pursuing higher education? Most students are familiar with financial aid programs like the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), but did you know that there are additional ways to reduce your tax burden?

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the various student tax credit forms and deductions outlined in IRS Publication 970, helping you navigate the complex world of tax benefits. By taking advantage of these often overlooked programs, you can save significant amounts of money while investing in your future.

Understanding IRS Publication 970

IRS Publication 970 is a valuable resource that covers a range of programs designed to help students save money on their tax bills. Let’s take a closer look at some of the key programs and eligibility requirements:

Scholarships and Fellowship Grants

Scholarships and fellowship grants are financial aids provided towards tuition, fees, and other educational expenses. If you are working towards a degree at an eligible institution and the amount awarded does not exceed qualifying expenses, these funds are considered tax-free.

This applies to both academic and athletic scholarships, as well as fellowship grants for research studies. However, it’s important to note that the funds should not be designated for specific purposes like dorm fees or payment for teaching services.

Pell Grants

For tax purposes, Pell Grants are treated as scholarships, and the same rules apply. If you are a recipient of Pell Grants, you can enjoy the tax-free benefits under the scholarship guidelines.

Veterans Benefits

If you receive payments administered by the Veterans Administration (VA), rest assured that these are tax-free. Take advantage of the benefits you have earned through your service to reduce your tax burden.

American Opportunity Credit

The American Opportunity Credit provides eligible students with a tax credit of up to $2,500. This credit directly reduces your tax bill and can be claimed for up to four years.

It’s important to note that you cannot claim this credit in the same year you claim the Lifetime Learning Credit for the same student. Additionally, income limits apply, and you cannot claim the credit if you are still dependent on someone else’s tax return.

Lifetime Learning Credit

Similar to the American Opportunity Credit, the Lifetime Learning Credit offers a tax credit of up to $2,000 per eligible student. This credit directly reduces your tax bill and has no limit on the number of years you can claim it.

If you are a dependent on someone else’s tax return, either you or your parent can take the credit, but not both.

Student Loan Interest Deduction

If your Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) is below $80,000 for an individual or $160,000 for a married couple filing jointly, you may qualify for a tax deduction of up to $2,500 for the interest paid on your student loans.

Unlike a tax credit, this deduction reduces the amount of income you pay taxes on, potentially saving you a significant amount of money.

Student Loan Cancellations

Normally, forgiveness of debt is considered taxable income. However, under certain circumstances, student loan cancellation may be tax-free if you have a loan from a qualifying lender and the terms of the loan require you to work in a specific field for a set period. Take advantage of this exemption to minimize your tax liabilities.

Repayment Assistance

If an external entity pays off part or all of your student loan, these payments may not count as taxable income. This applies to repayment programs like the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Loan Repayment Program and state education loan repayment programs aimed at increasing the availability of healthcare professionals in underserved areas.

Tuition and Fees Deduction

Students can claim a tax deduction of up to $4,000 for tuition and fees paid to a qualifying institution. This deduction lowers the amount of income subject to taxation. However, if someone else claims you as a dependent on their tax return, you are not eligible to take this deduction.

Coverdell Education Savings Account

If you meet certain income guidelines, you can establish a Coverdell Education Savings Account as a means of saving for higher education expenses. While the contributions are taxable, the account offers tax-free growth until the funds are used for qualifying education expenses. This means that when you withdraw money for educational purposes, it does not count as taxable income.

Qualified Tuition Program (QTP)

Commonly referred to as 529 plans, Qualified Tuition Programs are state-operated programs available in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. These plans come in two forms: prepaid tuition and college savings:

  • With prepaid tuition, you buy units of tuition at today’s rate that will still be worth one unit when the student is ready to attend school, essentially locking in what you’ll pay for higher education.
  • With college savings, the investor chooses how he or she wants to invest the funds as they grow over time from a menu of possibilities that varies by state.

Education Exception to Additional Tax on Early IRA Distributions

Ordinarily, early withdrawals from an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) incur an additional 10% penalty on top of your regular tax rate. However, if the funds are used for qualifying education expenses, this additional penalty is waived. Take advantage of this exception to access your IRA savings without facing unnecessary financial burdens.

Accessing Your Information with Form 1098-T

To claim these credits and deductions, you will need the necessary information when filing your tax return. The primary document you’ll require is Form 1098-T, which is provided by your school. By January 31st of each year, educational institutions are required to furnish this form to students. Form 1098-T contains vital information such as the payments received or billed charges, enabling you to accurately complete your tax filings.


While Pell Grants, loans, and scholarships capture the headlines when it comes to financial aid, it’s essential not to overlook the significant tax benefits available to students and their families. With careful consideration and planning, you can maximize your tax credits, deductions, and exemptions, ultimately saving substantial amounts of money while investing in your education.

Take the time to explore the various programs outlined in IRS Publication 970 and consult with a tax professional to ensure you are making informed decisions. By leveraging these tax benefits, you can alleviate some of the financial burdens associated with pursuing a higher education.

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