Taxpayers who are used to claiming their children as dependents each year on their taxes may well wonder what happens when those children go off to college, especially if they are no longer minors. May the parents still count them as dependents on their taxes?
The answer depends primarily on whether the parents continue to provide the bulk of the financial support for the student, but it’s not as simple as that, as multiple other factors come into it.
In order to be allowed to count your college student son or daughter as a dependent, all of the following conditions must be met:
This condition is met if the dependent has not yet turned 19 by the end of the tax year.
It is also met if the dependent has not yet turned 24 by the end of the tax year and is a full-time student. A full-time student is enrolled in school and taking a full load of classes for five or more months of the year. Night school, correspondence school, and on-the-job training do not count as schooling (though taking one or more of one’s college classes in the evening is fine).
It is also met if the dependent is any age and is permanently and totally disabled, or had gross income under $3,650 for the year.
We’re assuming a case where the dependent is your child, but this condition is met if the dependent is your son, daughter, stepchild, foster child, brother, sister, half brother, half sister, stepbrother, stepsister, or a descendant of any of them.
This condition is met if the dependent lived with you for more than half the year.
The most important point to keep in mind is that being away from home to attend school is considered a temporary absence and not a change of residence. So if, say, your child lived with you for two months and lived in a dorm at college for ten months, then this condition is met.
There are more complicated situations where you will want to inquire further with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or consult a qualified tax professional, including a child who died during the year or was kidnapped, or various custody arrangements involving divorced or separated parents.
4. Filing status
This condition is met if you yourself (and your spouse if filing jointly) cannot be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s taxes, and the dependent is not filing a joint return unless that joint return is filed only in order to claim a refund).
Note also that if you claim someone as your dependent, they cannot also claim the personal exemption for themselves on their taxes.
This condition is met if the dependent is a U.S. citizen, U.S. resident alien, U.S. national, or a resident of Canada or Mexico, or the dependent is an adopted child that lived with you the whole year and you are a U.S. citizen or U.S. national.
Foreign students who come to this country under a qualified international education exchange program and live in your home for a temporary period while going to school are not U.S. residents and do not meet this condition.
This condition is met if the dependent did not provide more than half of his or her own support for the year, you supplied at least 10%, and no one else who supplied at least 10% is claiming the person as a dependent.
Support includes housing, food, education, medical expenses, transportation, clothing, and recreation. If the dependent lives with you, calculate what he or she would pay to rent comparable housing.
A tuition scholarship does not count as support from the student or you or anyone. It is left out of the calculations.
A student loan that the dependent is responsible for counts as support coming from the dependent. So if a student receives a $5,000 student loan, makes $7,000 from a part time job, and has total expenses of $20,000, he or she is providing over half of their own support and so can no longer be claimed as a dependent.
Again, only if all these conditions are met may you claim your college student child as a dependent on your taxes.
For more information and for more complex situations, consult the IRS or a qualified tax professional.
“How to Determine if a Student is Your Dependent.” eHow.
“Publication 501.” IRS.gov.