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Per IRS Publication 970 Tax Benefits for Education:

On page 11: Who Can Claim the Credit?

Generally, you can claim the American opportunity credit if all three of the following requirements are met.

  • You pay qualified education expenses of higher education.
  • You pay the education expenses for an eligible student.
  • The eligible student is either yourself, your spouse, or a dependent you claim on your tax return.

Note. Qualified education expenses paid by a dependent you claim on your tax return, or by a third party for that dependent, are considered paid by you.

On page 18:

Who Is an Eligible Student?

To claim the American opportunity credit, the student for whom you pay qualified education expenses must be an eligible student. This is a student who meets all of the following requirements.

  • The student didn't have expenses that were used to figure an American opportunity credit in any 4 earlier tax years.
  • The student hadn't completed the first 4 years of postsecondary education (generally, the freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior years of college) before 2020.
  • For at least one academic period beginning in 2020 (or the first 3 months of 2021 if the qualified expenses were paid in 2020), the student was enrolled at least half-time in a program leading to a degree, certificate, or other recognized educational credential.
  • The student hasn't been convicted of any federal or state felony for possessing or distributing a controlled substance as of the end of 2020.

On page 20: Expenses paid by dependent. If you claim on your tax return an eligible student who is your dependent, treat any expenses paid (or deemed paid) by your dependent as if you had paid them. Include these expenses when figuring the amount of your American opportunity credit.

TIP: Qualified education expenses paid directly to an eligible educational institution for your dependent under a court-approved divorce decree are treated as paid by your dependent.

Expenses paid by you. If you claim a dependent who is an eligible student, only you can include any expenses you paid when figuring the amount of the American opportunity credit. If neither you nor anyone else claims the dependent, only the dependent can include any expenses you paid when figuring the American opportunity credit.

On page 23 regarding Lifetime Learning Credit

Who Can Claim the Credit?

Generally, you can claim the lifetime learning credit if all three of the following requirements are met.

  • You pay qualified education expenses of higher education.
  • You pay the education expenses for an eligible student.
  • The eligible student is either yourself, your spouse, or a dependent you claim on your tax return.

On page 29:

Who Is an Eligible Student?

For purposes of the lifetime learning credit, an eligible student is a student who is enrolled in one or more courses at an eligible educational institution (as defined under Qualified Education Expenses, earlier).

Expenses paid by dependent. If you claim on your tax return an eligible student who is your dependent, treat any expenses paid (or deemed paid) by your dependent as if you had paid them. Include these expenses when figuring the amount of your lifetime learning credit.

TIP Qualified education expenses paid directly to an eligible educational institution for your dependent under a court-approved divorce decree are treated as paid by your dependent.

Expenses paid by you. If you claim a dependent who is an eligible student, only you can include any expenses you paid when figuring the amount of the lifetime learning credit. If neither you nor anyone else claims the dependent, only the dependent can include any expenses you paid when figuring the lifetime learning credit.

Note that any link in the information above is updated each year automatically and will take you to the most recent version of the document at the time it is accessed.


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