It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the American tax system that it can be a rather complicated matter to determine whether or not your child in college can be claimed as a dependent for purposes of your annual tax return. There are a series of factors that have to be taken into account to make this determination, so while one parent may be able to claim their child in college as a dependent, another parent may not be able to. It all depends on the individual circumstances of the child and the parent as well as their filing status and other related matters.
The first determination that has to be made is whether or not the child qualifies as a student according to the definition set by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This definition mandates that the child must be enrolled as a full-time student for at least five calendar months of the year, or enrolled in a government operated full-time on-farm training course. A qualifying school may be either an academic, trade, technical or mechanical one. However, on-the-job training courses, correspondence schools or online schools do not qualify as far as the IRS is concerned. Therefore students of an online school, even if it is fully accredited and legitimate, are not considered students by the IRS and cannot be claimed as such on the parent’s tax return.
Assuming the child qualifies as a student in the view of the IRS, the next step is to determine whether or not they meet the threshold of a qualifying child. A qualifying child may be a son, daughter, stepchild, foster child, brother, sister, stepbrother, stepsister, or a descendant of any of those listed previously. For a college student as defined above, the qualifying child must be under the age of twenty-four and younger than you and your spouse (if filing jointly). There are also three more stipulations that must be met in order for your child in college to qualify: (a) the child cannot have provided half or more of his or her support through the year in question; (b) the child cannot be filing a joint tax return on his or her own behalf; and (c) the child had to have lived with the parent filing at home for at least half of the calendar year. There is an exception to this last qualifier for special circumstances.
If your child in college meets all of the above terms and conditions, you should then proceed to the worksheet provided in the instructions of the Form 1040 used to determine whether or not you can claim the child as a dependent. Step two of the work sheet determines whether or not the child can be claimed as a dependent based upon three more conditions. These additional conditions are: (a) the child must be a US citizen, resident or resident alien or one of Canada or Mexico with an exception for adopted children; (b) the child should not be married, though again there are exceptions to this rule; and (c) the parent, or person wanting to claim the child as a dependent, cannot be claimed as a dependent by anyone else. This last relates to qualifying as a dependent to someone else, regardless of whether or not that someone else makes the claim. If you can be a dependent to someone else you are not allowed to claim anyone else as your own dependent.
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