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Anne Powelson Anne Powelson
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Your last tuition payment

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Everyone has innocuous things which make them cringe. In my case, it's people announcing they've just sent in their last tuition payment.

I know they're proud, and I understand their relief, but I'm tempted to ask if that was a good tax decision. Specifically; is there an advantage to pay at the end of 2015, or is it better to wait until the start of 2016? How do you make this decision?

Have you already maxed out your credits or deductions?

College tuition payments are huge, especially for private colleges. College credits have ceilings on the tuition payments used in their calculation. Have you already maxed your credit out paying for the fall semester? The American Opportunity Credit (AOC) maxes out at $4,000 in tuition and related education expenses. Since the AOC can only be claimed four times, if you've been attending college for more than four years, you may be using the Lifetime Limit Credit. That credit maxes out at $10,000 of tuition payment no credit is allowed on book or supply expenses.

Remember, you must adjust for any scholarships you choose to make nontaxable, as well as any tuition paid from certain other nontaxable sources, such as employer tuition reimbursement or veteran's benefits.

Does your income allow you to take full advantage of the credits?

College credits may be limited by your income. Is your income above where you can take the credit? If you are claiming a credit on a dependent child, is it likely that she will have income after she graduates which allows her to use a college credit?

What are the costs of waiting?

Is there a cost associated with delaying the tuition payment? The University of Maine accepts payments through the first business day in January; after that there is a late fee. Other colleges set earlier dates, so a delay could involve late fees and might require calls to make sure classes are still set. And some colleges set terms, so shifting years is not an option.

If you won't get more credit this year, and there is no cost to delay payment into next year, why not do that? If you do, document, document, document. When you file this year, include a note showing the amount you paid toward tuition in 2015, as the 1098-T issued may show the amount billed, not the amount paid. Keep the records from the bursar's office for both years showing exactly when payments were made. Finally, make sure that you remember this credit for next year's return, since probably no 1098-T will be issued then.

It's not for everyone, but in certain circumstances there can be an extra $2,000 in tax credits by delaying that last tuition payment. Be sure to do your homework, reading IRS Publication 970, 'Tax Benefits for Education' or check with your tax preparer before sending in you last check.

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Anne Powelson is a tax preparer for H&R Block in Bangor. Send your questions or feedback to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 207-947-0333.

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