How to get a part of your tuition money back after taxes: A “How To” from a broke, college senior

By Isabella Ledonne

High school taught me many things but there are two things I can’t seem to forget: Mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell and college tuition is ridiculously expensive. It was daunting looking at colleges my senior year of high school, knowing I would be the one paying for my tuition, and seeing semester costs range up to tens of thousands of dollars. Like most seniors, I applied for every scholarship I could. And like most college seniors, I only got a small chunk of change to put towards my future education.

It wasn’t until Tax Day my Freshman year at Mizzou when I learned some of the money I spent on my $400 French textbook could be deposited right back in my bank account. College students can receive up to $2,500 per year after filing their taxes. Since I never had to file taxes in high school, it never occurred to me that I could submit my education expenses to get money back.

The American Opportunity Tax Credit gives eligible college students a yearly refund of $1,000 to $2,500 for up to four years while still a student. In order to get the refund, you have to actively be a student in higher education and make less than $80,000 a year. If you receive yearly scholarships from your school, that counts as your income if you file your taxes independently. Colleges are required to give their students a Form 1098-T to help them figure out what their total taxable income is with scholarships.

Because the tax credit comes from the IRS, there are very specific things that can be submitted on your yearly tax form to receive the credit. Students can submit their tuition payments, class fees and “educational expenses”. Your super-cute dorm décor won’t count as an educational expense, but any textbooks, laptops and meal plans you buy during the year are covered under the act. Even if you buy your books from Amazon Rentals to get those discounted rates, you can still submit it for the refund.

In the 2020-2021 school year, I spent roughly $12,000 on tuition, books and a clicker remote for a class where attendance counted as 20% of my grade. Because I submitted every dollar I spent for school, I got a tax refund of $1,327.47. It may only be a fraction of what I spent, but every college student knows every penny counts. While I used that money to go towards my tuition for the following year, you don’t have to use the refund money on next year’s tuition. You can splurge and get a steak burrito bowl at Chipotle instead of just settling for chicken.

In addition to The American Opportunity Tax Credit, college students are eligible for nearly twice the amount of scholarships high school seniors are. I’ve found many departmental scholarships within universities aren’t advertised on a simple “College Scholarships” Google search, and therefore not many students apply for them. Staying after lecture to ask my professor about scholarships within the School of Journalism got me $3,500 last semester. It doesn’t cost you anything to do a bit of research on your classes, except maybe costing some time spent on Instagram, and you can earn some sweet money by doing so.

College isn’t cheap, but you won’t be paying $350 course fees forever. There are tax credits hidden scholarships that can help offset those expensive textbook costs and maybe treat you to a fancier meal than microwave Ramen.

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