Can I Claim My College Student as a Dependent?

Can I Claim My College Student as a Dependent?

January 12, 2021

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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. It's a legitimate question, and each month thousands of parents search the web for an answer.

Figuring out whom you can claim as a dependent can be confusing. But then again, so is pretty much everything about taxes. 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.

You can usually claim your college student as a dependent if they’re a full-time student at a qualifying school and they meet the IRS guidelines below.

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? Fortunately, the answer is yes — as long as certain criteria are met. In a nutshell, you can usually claim your college student as a dependent if they're a full-time student at a qualifying school and they meet the IRS guidelines below.

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.

IRS Rules for Claiming a College Student as a Dependent

AGE: Your child (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, daughter, stepchild, foster child, brother, sister, half-brother, half-sister, stepbrother, stepsister, or 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, and 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).

Source: IRS

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 personal allowances, 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.

You'll need Form 1098-T to claim any education credits.

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.

In order to claim any education credits, you'll 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.

Editor's Note: This article contains general information and is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Please consult a professional advisor before making decisions about financial issues.

Feature Image: JGI / Getty Images

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