Computers for College

Today TaxMama hears from Linda in Kentucky with a reasonable question. “My son-in-law had on-line college classes that required him to have internet services and a computer. Do these count towards the tax credits? Also, how would he go about getting the books, supplies, gas, etc. credited?”

Dear Linda,

In a very odd and inconsistent twist, when Congress wrote the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, they added computers and Internet access to the approved expenses for Code Section 529 education plans. Those are the Qualified Tuition Programs that allow you to put away 5 years worth of contributions in one chunk to grow tax-free until college. In 2009, the contribution limit was $65,000.

Here’s the twist. You could use the Sec 529 money for computers and Internet. But read this:,,id=213012,00.html

In general, expenses for computer technology are not qualified expenses for the American opportunity credit, Hope credit, lifetime learning credit or tuition and fees deduction.

Bizarre, isn’t it? Why would they make it OK for one benefit and not the others? After all, how could you possibly go through college today without a computer and Internet access? I can’t even begin to imagine!

As to the rest of the expenses, which now includes books, even if you don’t buy them directly from the college, use Form 8863 to claim his credits.

You will find the instructions here –  . The instructions include a chart outlining the kinds of expenses you can use.

Use Form 8917 to claim the expenses instead of the credits. Instructions are included with this form.

As to the gasoline, or mileage? Unless these were job related classes…forget it. But, if the classes were job-related, you have one more option. Once you’ve used up the expense limits for the Education Credits, or the education expenses, you can use the leftover costs on Form 2106 – Employee Business Expenses. That gets more complicated. Read about that here.

And remember, you can find answers to all kinds of questions about education expenses and other tax issues, free. Where? Where else? At

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