Can I claim a college student as a tax dependent?

February 24, 2022 : H&R Block

Many people know claiming dependents on taxes can help trim their total tax bill. However, keeping track of the latest Internal Revenue Service rules can make claiming student dependents confusing. For example, if your child doesn’t live under your roof all year and is a young adult, many parents aren’t sure if they can claim a tax dependent college student. Read along as we outline the rules for tax-dependent college students and claiming dependents on taxes.

Is my college student a tax dependent?

Generally, a parent can claim your college student children as dependents on their tax returns. However, to claim a college student as a dependent on your taxes, the Internal Revenue Service has determined that the qualifying child or qualifying relative must:

  • Be younger than the taxpayer (or spouse if MFJ) and:
    • Be under age 19,
    • Under age 24 and a full-time student for at least five months of the year.
  • Or the child can be any age if totally and permanently disabled.
  • Have lived with you for more than half the tax year. There are exceptions for temporary absences during the tax year, such as when your child is away at school.
  • Not provide more than half of their own support. Here are some guidelines:
    • Support includes expenses like:
      • Food
      • Clothing
      • Lodging
      • Dental or medical expenses (out of pocket)
      • Education
    • College student loans count as support by the person responsible for the loan repayment. Nontaxable scholarships don’t count as a dependency exemption here. Some taxpayers ask us if they can claim a dependency exemption (in tax terms: a dependent exemption). The availability of a dependent exemption is no longer available after 2017 tax reform
    • As long as your child didn’t pay more than half of these expenses, you meet the support test. It’s not necessary that you paid these types of expenses if your children didn’t.
  • Not file a joint return unless:
    • They’re only filing to claim a refund of taxes
    • There would be no tax liability for either the child or the child’s spouse if they were filing separate returns
  • Be one of the these:
    • United States citizen
    • United States resident
    • United States national
    • Resident of Canada or Mexico
  • Be one of the following to be considered a qualifying relative, including your:
    • Child
    • Stepchild
    • Foster child placed by a licensed agency
    • Sibling, step-sibling, or a descendent of any of these, like a niece or nephew

The good news is: If your child meets all these criteria, you can claim your college student as a dependent.

Can I claim my college student as a dependent if they don’t meet the above tests?

If you’re still interested in claiming dependents, but your child doesn’t meet these tests, your college student can still be your dependent if:

  • You provide more than half of the child’s support
  • The child’s gross income (income that’s not exempt from tax) is less than $4,300 and $4,400 in 2022

If your child doesn’t live with you more than half the year, they might still be a qualifying child to be a dependent under a different tax rule. In this case, the amount of your child’s income and the amount of financial support or monthly payments you provide is important for tax purposes.

Take note of these student tax credits

If you’re a college student who isn’t a tax dependent of someone else – or you’re a custodial parent with qualifying college-aged dependents, there are potential student tax credits you can take to lower your taxable income. The college student tax credits include the:

Visit our Income Tax Guide for College Students and find out about student IRS forms that can be filed for free.

Still need help defining if your college student is tax dependent

State and federal taxes can get tricky – especially when dependents (and even student credits) are involved. Thankfully, H&R Block is here to help. With many ways to file your tax return with H&R Block, we can help you – and anyone that may qualify to claim you as a dependent – get the tax credits and tax deductions deserved.

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