Tax Breaks

Tax Credit vs. Deduction

If you have to choose one or the other, take the credit -- it's worth more.

I could never figure out the difference between a tax credit and a tax deduction. I would appreciate some clarification on this subject. Thanks.

Good question -- especially this time of year. A tax credit lowers your tax bill dollar for dollar. A deduction shaves money off your taxable income, so the value depends on your tax bracket. If you're in the 25% bracket, a $1,000 deduction lowers your tax bill by $250. But a $1,000 credit lowers the bill by the full $1,000, no matter in which bracket you are.

This difference becomes important, for example, if you pay college tuition and you're choosing between taking the Hope tax credit or the tuition deduction. The Hope credit can lower your tax bill by up to $1,650 per child in the first two years of college (the Lifetime Learning credit can reduce your taxes by up to $2,000 after that). To qualify for those tax credits for 2006, though, your income must be less than $110,000 if married filing jointly, or $55,000 for single filers.

If you can't qualify for this credit, you still may be able to take the tuition deduction, which lets you deduct up to $4,000 in qualified college expenses you paid during the year. If you are in the 25% tax bracket, then this deduction can lower your tax bill by $1,000.

If you qualify for either the Hope credit or the tuition deduction, the Hope credit is more valuable (you can't take both tax breaks in the same year). But if you earn too much to take the Hope, then the tuition deduction can still shave some money off your tax bill. To qualify for the full $4,000 deduction, your adjusted gross income must be $130,000 or less in 2006 if married filing jointly ($65,000 or less if single). You can deduct up to $2,000 in tuition and fees if your joint income was $160,000 or less ($80,000 or less if single). There is no deduction if you earn more than that. You don't need to itemize to qualify.

See Don't Miss the Tuition Deduction for special rules about how to claim the tuition deduction for your 2006 taxes because the tax law was renewed so late in the year that it wasn't included on the tax forms.

For more information about the rules for both tax breaks for paying college tuition, see IRS Publication 970 Tax Benefits for Education.

For more help with your taxes, visit the Kiplinger Tax Center.

Most Popular

Is the Stock Market Closed on Memorial Day 2022?
Markets

Is the Stock Market Closed on Memorial Day 2022?

The stock market gets a full day off for Memorial Day. The bond market gets Monday off too, not to mention an early close ahead of the holiday weekend…
May 27, 2022
Your Guide to Roth Conversions
Special Report
Tax Breaks

Your Guide to Roth Conversions

A Kiplinger Special Report
February 25, 2021
3 Preferred Stock ETFs for High, Stable Dividends
ETFs

3 Preferred Stock ETFs for High, Stable Dividends

While you can easily purchase individual preferred stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) allow you to reduce your risk by investing in baskets of prefe…
May 26, 2022

Recommended

Will a Gas Tax Holiday or Suspension Lower Gas Prices Near You?
Tax Breaks

Will a Gas Tax Holiday or Suspension Lower Gas Prices Near You?

One way to bring down the price of gasoline is to establish a gas tax holiday. But will Uncle Sam, or your state government, suspend the gas taxes tha…
May 27, 2022
Where's My Refund? How to Track Your Tax Refund Status
tax refunds

Where's My Refund? How to Track Your Tax Refund Status

The IRS has an online tool that lets you track the status of your tax refund.
May 25, 2022
Which States' Taxes Are Going Down
Tax Breaks

Which States' Taxes Are Going Down

State lawmakers are cutting income, sales and property taxes to return budget surpluses to residents.
May 25, 2022
Taxes on Unemployment Benefits: A State-by-State Guide
state tax

Taxes on Unemployment Benefits: A State-by-State Guide

Don't be surprised by an unexpected state tax bill on your unemployment benefits. Know where unemployment compensation is taxable and where it isn't.
May 23, 2022