Can I Claim My College Student as a Dependent?

Taxes can be confusing, especially if you're a parent with a kid in college. Learn how to claim your student as a dependent and the benefits of doing so.
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  • Parents and guardians may claim their college-going child as a dependent if they meet certain guidelines.
  • The IRS rules for dependents include age, residency, and relationship restrictions.
  • Being able to claim a dependent can lead to education tax credits and other benefits.

One of the biggest questions parents have after sending their child off to college is whether they can still claim their child as a dependent.

In a nutshell, you can usually claim your college student as a dependent if they're a full-time student who meets the IRS guidelines below.

Before going to college, your child likely lived at home, depleted the food in your refrigerator on an hourly basis, and constantly asked you for gas money. It only made sense, then, that they were considered your dependent when tax season rolled around.

But now that your child is in college and living away from home for a good part of the year, can you still claim them as a dependent? The answer is yes — as long as they meet certain criteria.

IRS Rules for Claiming a College Student as a Dependent

Note that only one person (or spouses filing jointly) may claim a student as a qualifying child. If your student is required to file their own tax return because they earned more than the standard deduction for taxes filed that year, you may still be able to claim them as a dependent.

Here are the qualifications to claim your college student as a dependent, as defined by the IRS.

Age

Your student must be less than 24 years old on December 31 of that tax year and younger than you (or your spouse, if filing jointly). Age restrictions do not apply if your child is "permanently and totally disabled."

Relationship

The student must be your:

  • Son or daughter
  • Stepchild
  • Foster child
  • Brother, stepbrother, or half-brother
  • Sister, stepsister, or half-sister
  • A descendant of any of these categories (e.g., a grandchild or niece)

Support

You must have provided more than 50% of your student's financial support, which includes expenditures for:

  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Shelter
  • Transportation
  • Education
  • Medical and dental care

Any scholarships or grants your child receives for college generally do not count as support provided by the student.

Residency

The student must have lived with you for more than half the year. (This does not include temporary absences, such as those due to being away at school.)

Additionally, the dependent must be a U.S. citizen, U.S. resident alien, U.S. national, or resident of Canada or Mexico. There are exceptions for some adopted children.

Joint Return

The student must not file a joint return for that tax year (unless the joint return is filed only to claim a refund of withheld income tax or estimated tax paid).

What If My Student Doesn't Meet the IRS Criteria?

If your college student doesn't meet the criteria described above, they may still be able to qualify as your dependent under certain guidelines.

U.S. tax laws, rules, and regulations are constantly in flux, which is why so many people work with accountants during tax season. It's best to consult with your accountant or tax attorney and review the IRS guidelines for claiming your student as a dependent before you make any tax-related decisions.

Most first-year college students will have already qualified as a dependent, assuming they were living at home for the first eight months of the year while they completed high school.

Benefits of Claiming a College Student as a Dependent

The ability to claim a dependent generally makes taxpayers eligible for more credits and deductions, which may include education-related tax credits, such as the American opportunity tax credit and the lifetime learning credit. In addition to tax credits, deductions like the student loan interest deduction may be available.

Altogether, these tax benefits have the potential to save you thousands of dollars, which can in turn help pay for your child's education. Be aware that certain education tax credits have income limits. In some instances, your child may still be able to claim the credit on their own tax return, so long as you don't claim them as a dependent. Furthermore, for the American Opportunity Credit, income isn’t required to receive a portion of tax credit.

In order to claim any education credits, you'll need Form 8863. You'll also need Form 1098-T. This form should be mailed to you or your student from the college and shows how much was paid in tuition and qualified expenses that year.

If you're still unsure about claiming your child as a dependent, the IRS offers a 15-minute online test you can use to help determine whom you can legally claim on your taxes.


DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute professional financial advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only. Readers of this website should contact a professional advisor before making decisions about financial issues.


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