The American Opportunity credit (up to $2,500 per year per student for qualifying expenses for the first four years of postsecondary education) and the Lifetime Learning credit (up to $2,000 per tax return for postsecondary education expenses beyond the first four years) reduce taxes dollar-for-dollar. Both a credit and a tax-free Section 529 plan or Coverdell Education Savings Account distribution can be taken as long as expenses paid with the distribution aren’t used to claim the credit.
But income-based phaseouts apply to these credits. If you don’t qualify because your income is too high, your child might. However, you must forgo your dependency exemption ($3,800 for 2012) for the child — and the child can’t take the exemption.
If your family incurred postsecondary education expenses in 2012, please contact me to determine how you can make the most of these credits.