Can I Claim My Child as a Dependent if they are in College?

in Tax Deductions


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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10 Responses to “Can I Claim My Child as a Dependent if they are in College?”

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  1. Comment by Ashi OzaJune 2, 2011 at 5:29 am  

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  2. Comment by the sailDecember 6, 2011 at 11:55 am  

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  3. Comment by Edie — February 1, 2012 at 3:33 pm  

    You might just want to check your grammar — beginning of second paragraph: The first determination that has to be made is whether or not the child is qualifies as a student according to the definition set by the Internal Revenue Service — you should take the “is” out that is before “qualifies”

  4. Comment by manager — February 1, 2012 at 5:35 pm  

    Thanks for the proof read Edie

  5. Comment by Diane — February 17, 2012 at 9:26 am  

    What if my full-time student, not employed daughter who lives with us is 30 years old? Can I claim her as a dependent?

  6. Comment by TammyApril 1, 2012 at 7:40 pm  

    How do you determine whether it is more advantageous for you to claim your child or for him to claim himself?

  7. Comment by manager — April 2, 2012 at 9:53 am  

    Hi Tammy,
    No one can claim themselves as a dependent. I assume you are asking if it is more advantageous as far as the size of the refund is concerned to claim your child as a dependent vs. your child filing a tax return for them self. That would all depend on both your individual tax situations which we would need to analyze before giving you an answer. Feel free to contact us at and we would be more than happy to assist you with this process.

  8. Comment by manager — April 2, 2012 at 9:56 am  

    Hi Diane,

    as long as her gross income is under $3700 (including $$ from unemployment), yes you may claim your 30 year old as a dependent

  9. Comment by DanielMay 19, 2012 at 7:54 pm  

    Mathew you say:”You’re kidding right? You seusorily think that if tax rates on (for example) all the major auto makers went down, they’d actually pass the savings on to consumers? Competition works great in markets that are full of small companies competeing. It’s not such a great thing in a market dominated by a few big companies.” I will throw it right back at you. You are kidding me, right. That is exactly what I am saying. Are you telling me that competition does’t lower prices and force the increase of efficency. I can tell you from experience that is exactly what happens. Have you ever bought a cell phone? Are you telling me you will spend .30 cents a minute when you can spend .10 a minute. Are you telling me that cell phone minutes aren’t a fraction of the price it was 10 years ago. Why do you think that the prices have dropped so much? Because cell phone companies care about you? No. Competition forced the prices down. That is exactly why. “Well I can’t speak to Europe, you’re dead wrong about Canada. We’ve had a strong economy for many years now, and it keeps growing. The books are balanced, the government is running a surplus, the (Canadian) dollar is gaining ground against the US dollar.”Fair enough. I know more about France and Germany and that is why I quoted those numbers. But my guess, and I will look into it, is that Canada does not have as strong an economy as the United States. But, I will have to look into it.”And the taxation thing is, at least for middle income earners such as myself, a myth. I pay as much tax here in NY state then I did in Canada. More if you count the fact that here I have to pay for my health care on top of the tax and the cost of utilities is way higher (thanks to the “miracle” of deregulation).”True enough. But, you happened to choose one of the hightest taxed states in the nation. Go to Florida and pay 0 state income tax. You don’t even have to file which is why Florida is growing.”We can refuse to import goods from China, which we should be doing anyway because of their abominable human rights record. We can stop giving companies tax breaks to outsource jobs. And outsourcing is *not* a result of labour cost, it’s a result of profitable corperations wanting to make *more* money. For example, Microsoft moved its call centres to India, not because they were losing money, but because they make more money this way.”I am a big fan of free trade. I agree about the humanitarian issues which leaves a dilema. But, based upon economics alone if we want to sell to countries in the E.U. and asia we need to be able to produce our products at competitive prices. We can’t do that if we make everything in the United States. Also, I don’t think I singled out labor as the sole cause of outsourcing. I believe I mentioned labor cost, increased regulation, high taxes as the causes.”Umm, because the poor are poor largely because of the actions of the rich?”This must be a response to someone elses comment. But, it sounds like rhetoric to me. The question is not should the rich pay more. It is should they pay a higher percentage of their income. They will definetly pay more with either the Fair Tax or the Flat Tax.

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