Lifetime Learning Tax Credit

The Lifetime Learning Credit provides a non-refundable federal income tax credit based on amounts paid for college tuition and fees.

Amount of Tax Credit

Taxpayers can receive up to $2,000 in non-refundable tax credits on their federal income tax return, based on 20 percent of the first $10,000 spent on college tuition and required fees per taxpayer.

Qualified tuition and related expenses may include non-academic fees, such as student activity fees and athletic fees, only if the fee must be paid to the eligible educational institution as a condition for enrollment or attendance at the institution. Otherwise, the qualified expenses must be related to the course of instruction. Personal expenses, such as room and board, insurance, medical expenses and transportation, are not eligible even if they must be paid to the educational institution. Costs associated with sports, games and hobbies are excluded unless specifically part of the degree program or required to acquire or improve job skills.

Coordination Restrictions

Taxpayers cannot double dip. Each dollar of qualified higher education expense can be used to justify only one tax benefit. For example, the same tuition expenses cannot be used to justify both a tax-free distribution from a 529 college savings plan and a tax credit. Likewise, the coordination restrictions mean that tax-free scholarship money cannot be used to pay for expenses for which the taxpayer is also claiming the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit.


Students are not required to be degree-seeking to obtain the Lifetime Learning tax credit, but the courses must be taken at a college or university that is eligible for Title IV federal student aid. Part-time enrollment is eligible, including less than half-time enrollment.

The courses should be “to acquire or improve job skills,” such as for continuing education. In practice, however, the Lifetime Learning Credit is often claimed by students pursuing a graduate or professional school education who are ineligible for the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC).

Unlike the AOTC, students who have been convicted of a felony drug offense remain eligible for the Lifetime Learning tax credit.

The Lifetime Learning tax credit is available for an unlimited number of years, unlike the AOTC.

To claim the Lifetime Learning tax credit, the taxpayer must be able to claim an exemption for the student on the taxpayer’s federal income tax return and must list the student as an exemption on the taxpayer’s federal income tax return. The tax credit is claimed per taxpayer, not per student. Expenses paid by a dependent student are treated as though they were paid by the taxpayer. Expenses paid during the first three months of the next tax year may be counted as though paid during the current tax year. Students who could have been claimed as an exemption on someone else’s federal income tax return may claim the Lifetime Learning tax credit.

Income Phaseouts

The tax credit phases out for taxpayers who file federal income tax returns as single filers or as married filing jointly. Married taxpayers who file separate returns are ineligible. The income phaseouts are adjusted annually for inflation, as is illustrated by this table.

Tax Year Single Filers Married Filing Jointly
2015 $55,000 to $65,000 $110,000 to $130,000
2014 $54,000 to $64,000 $108,000 to $128,000
2013 $53,000 to $63,000 $107,000 to $127,000
2012 $52,000 to $62,000 $104,000 to $124,000
2011 $51,000 to $61,000 $102,000 to $122,000
2010 $50,000 to $60,000
$100,000 to $120,000
2009 $50,000 to $60,000
$100,000 to $120,000
2008 $48,000 to $58,000
$96,000 to $116,000
2007 $47,000 to $57,000
$94,000 to $114,000
2006 $45,000 to $55,000
$90,000 to $110,000
2005 $43,000 to $53,000
$87,000 to $107,000
2004 $42,000 to $52,000
$85,000 to $105,000
2003 $41,000 to $51,000
$83,000 to $103,000
2002 $41,000 to $51,000
$82,000 to $102,000
2001 $40,000 to $50,000 $80,000 to $100,000
2000 $40,000 to $50,000
$80,000 to $100,000
1999 $40,000 to $50,000
$80,000 to $100,000
1998 $40,000 to $50,000
$80,000 to $100,000


The Lifetime Learning Tax Credit does not expire.

Comparison with AOTC

Generally, taxpayers who are eligible for both the American Opportunity and Lifetime Learning Tax Credits should claim the American Opportunity Tax Credit, as the financial value is greater. The AOTC also has greater income phaseouts and is partially refundable.




  • IRS Form 8863, Education Credits
  • Tuition Statement (IRS Form 1098-T, instructions). This form is used by colleges and universities to report tuition and other required expenses paid by the taxpayer. A copy is sent to taxpayers by January 31. The information on the form can be used to complete IRS Form 8863.

Current Law

Legislative History

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