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Are College Students Considered Dependents On Taxes?

Your kid is finally at college. While that’s great news, it also means you’re filing your taxes without for the first time and might be wondering if you can claim them as dependents. The IRS has a lot of rules around claiming college students as dependents on your taxes.

You can claim college students as dependents even if you pay self-employment taxes, as this option is available to every taxpayer.  

Can I still claim a college student as my dependent?  

So, what exactly classifies as a dependent? Generally, a dependent is someone you take care of and support financially for most of the year. When you file your taxes, saying you have a dependent can lower how much you owe by giving you special deductions and credits meant for people with dependents.

As far as taxes are concerned, to claim someone as a dependent:

  • They must be a U.S. citizen, resident alien, U.S. national or a resident of Canada or Mexico
  • They must be your qualifying child or qualifying relative
  • If you or your spouse could be claimed as a dependent by someone else, you can't claim dependents unless that taxpayer is only filing for a tax refund
  • If a married person filing jointly is seeking a tax refund, you can claim them as a dependent under certain conditions

There are separate tests to figure out whether your dependent is a qualifying relative or qualifying child. You can find them in Publication 501 (Dependents, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information).

nfographic entitled Is Your Dependent A Qualifying Child or Relative showing the tests for claiming college students as dependents.

When the IRS mentions “support,” they mean paying for expenses like accommodation, food, out-of-pocket medical and dental expenses, education, clothing and even student loan repayments.  

What if your dependent is a part-time student? You are allowed to claim a part-time college student as a dependent only if they meet the criteria for either a qualifying relative or child and are under 19 years old.

If a child qualifies for more than one person's tax benefits, only one can claim those benefits. The other can't share or claim any tax advantages based on that child. So, if you have a child who is a college student who meets the qualifying criteria for someone who isn't your spouse, only one of you can claim them as a dependent.

The IRS will also not allow you both to split the benefits. To make the decision easier, there is a set of “tiebreaker rules” to help you decide who gets to claim the dependent. Publication 501 further breaks this down and also has examples to help you navigate this process.

Are there any exceptions to these rules?

If your child doesn't meet the usual tests for being claimed as a dependent, there's still a chance for college students. They can be your dependent if:

  • You provide at least half of their support
  • Their income (not exempt from tax) is less than $4,400

Even if they don't live with you for more than half the year, they could still qualify as a dependent. In this case, their income and the support you provide are important for tax purposes.

It’s also important to mention that the college student will have to file their own return even if they meet the dependent criteria if they’re single and have:

  • Earned income over $12,550
  • Income from dividends, capital gains or interest over $1,100

The same rules also apply if they’re married, with two extra rules:

  • Gross income over $5
  • The spouse intends to itemize the deduction

Tax credits for college students

If you’re claiming a college student as a dependent, you may also qualify for certain education-related tax credits like the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit.

Both these credits have income limits, but there is a way you can claim them if you exceed the threshold. You can do this by no longer claiming the college student as a dependent and letting them file their own taxes.  

Infographic entitled Education Tax Credits showing two credits that can be taken when claiming college students as dependents on your taxes.

If you’re still unsure about the IRS rules around college students, you can always ask a CPA at FlyFin. They offer unlimited tax support on the app, and A.I. even finds every self-employed business deduction you can use to lower your estimated tax payments.

FlyFin CPA Team

FlyFin CPA Team

With a combined 150 years of experience, FlyFin's CPA tax team includes tax CPAs, IRS Enrolled Agents and other tax professionals, offering users the most comprehensive tax advice and preparation.

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