Slash college bills with tax benefits

Woman Excited About Graduating

(ARA) — Other than buying a home and automobile, a college education is one of the biggest investments Americans typically make. On average, in-state tuition and fees at a four-year public college increased by more than 8 percent to $8,244 for the 2011-2012 academic year, and room and board now averages more than $17,000 per year.

Fortunately, you may be able to cut your college costs at income tax time with a variety of credits, deductions and savings plans.

The American Opportunity and Lifetime Learning Credits are likely to result in the biggest tax rewards on your tax year 2011 federal return due April 17, 2012. The following basic requirements apply to both credits:

In addition, both credits cannot be claimed for the same student, Jessi Dolmage, spokeswoman for TaxACT, explains. "If multiple students are claimed on a return, the taxpayer should choose the credit that yields the biggest benefit for each student."

The American Opportunity Credit is a modified version of the Hope Credit. It's worth up to $2,500 for tuition, fees and course materials per student for the first four years of postsecondary education. Even if you have zero tax liability, you can get up to 40 percent as a refund. It phases out at higher incomes.

The Lifetime Learning Credit is worth up to 20 percent of the first $10,000 in higher education expenses per family for an unlimited number of years. Like the American Opportunity Credit, it phases out at higher incomes.

Several other college and higher education tax breaks can also be claimed on this year's federal tax returns.

Up to $2,500 in student loan interest paid each year for qualified higher education expenses can be deducted, even if you don't itemize. The deduction phases out at higher incomes and is reduced by non-taxable distributions from a Coverdell Education Savings Account, savings bond interest used for education expenses and scholarships or veteran's education benefits. Married taxpayers filing separately and people claimed as a dependent on another return don't qualify.

Additional exceptions may apply to the aforementioned tax breaks, and other educational tax benefits exist for Qualified Tuition Programs, student loan cancellations and repayment assistance, Coverdell Education Savings Accounts, education savings bonds, employer-provided educational assistance and work-related education. Learn more about all education tax benefits in Publication 970 at www.irs.gov.

You can also use TaxACT's College Tax Whiz, a free interactive tool that breaks down 10 college tax benefits at www.taxact.com/college-tax-whiz. It explains the tax benefit, acceptable expenses, types of education and other key qualifiers in a question and answer format.

"College tax breaks can be tricky to navigate, but tax preparation solutions like TaxACT Free Federal Edition make it easy, " says Dolmage. "The program will guide you through all education tax breaks and determine the best credit or deduction for each student." Learn more about TaxACT at www.taxact.com.

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Upcoming Tax Dates

April 10 Employees who work for tips
If you received $20 or more in tips during March, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.

April 10 Communications and air transportation taxes under the alternative method
Deposit the tax included in amounts billed or tickets sold during the first 15 days of March.

April 14 Regular method taxes
Deposit the tax for the last 16 days of March.

April 15 Individuals
File a 2014 income tax return (Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ) and pay any tax due. If you want an automatic 6 month extension of time to file the return, file Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. For more information, see Form 4868. Then, file Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ by October 15.

April 15 Individuals
If you are not paying your 2015 income tax through withholding (or will not pay in enough tax during the year that way), pay the first installment of your 2015 estimated tax. Use Form 1040ES.

April 15 Household Employers
If you paid cash wages of $1,800 or more in 2014 to a household employee, you must file Schedule H - Details

April 15 Partnerships
File a 2014 calendar year return (Form 1065) - Details

April 15 Partnerships
Electing large partnerships: File a 2014 calendar year return (Form 1065-B) - Details

April 15 Corporations
Deposit the first installment of estimated income tax for 2015 - Details

April 15 Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in March.

April 15 Nonpayroll withholding
If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in March.

April 15 Household employers
If you paid cash wages of $1,900 or more in 2014 to a household employee, you must file Schedule H (Form 1040). If you are required to file a federal income tax return (Form 1040), file Schedule H (Form 1040) with the return and report any household employment taxes. Report any federal unemployment (FUTA) tax on Schedule H (Form 1040) if you paid total cash wages of $1,000 or more in any calendar quarter of 2013 or 2014 to household employees. Also, report any income tax you withheld for your household employees.

April 27 Communications and air transportation taxes under the alternative method
Deposit the tax included in amounts billed or tickets sold during the last 16 days of March.

April 29 Regular method taxes
Deposit the tax for the first 15 days of April.

April 30 Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
File Form 941 for the first quarter of 2015. Deposit or pay any undeposited tax under the accuracy of deposit rules. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the quarter timely, properly, and in full, you have until May 11 to file the return.

April 30 Federal unemployment tax.
Deposit the tax owed through March if more than $500.

April 30 Form 720 taxes
File Form 720 for the first quarter of 2015.

April 30 Wagering tax
File Form 730 and pay the tax on wagers accepted during March.

April 30 Heavy highway vehicle use tax
File Form 2290 and pay the tax for vehicles first used in March.

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