I am an independent student with no taxable income. When I file taxes, I do not need to pay any income tax and get no refund. Some students told me that I can get up to 20% of my tuition fees refunded if I file for Lifetime Learning Credit when filing my taxes. Can I receive such money or does that only apply to people who paid taxes? Is this really just a discount on the amount one pays in taxes to the IRS?

1 Answer 1


You were told wrong.

Lifetime Learning Credit is not a refundable credit. I.e.: it reduces your tax liability, but you cannot get refund if it exceeds your tax liability. See the IRS pub 970 for more information:

A tax credit reduces the amount of income tax you may have to pay. Unlike a deduction, which reduces the amount of income subject to tax, a credit directly reduces the tax itself. The lifetime learning credit is a nonrefundable credit. This means that it can reduce your tax to zero, but if the credit is more than your tax the excess will not be refunded to you.

You may be able to qualify for a different benefit: the American Opportunity credit. This one is (partially) refundable. See here for details. This credit is available until 2017.

  • This article you link says "there are two tax credits available to help you offset the costs of higher education by reducing the amount of your income tax". Does that also mean no money would be given, as I do not need to pay any income tax?
    – Village
    Sep 13, 2014 at 2:45
  • @Village as I said - one (the one you asked about) is non-refundable and if you don't pay any taxes it doesn't provide you any benefit. The other one is partially refundable but harder to qualify for. Check the details in the link. You cannot claim both, you have to chose which one you want to claim, and if you qualify for the American Opportunity - you should claim it first.
    – littleadv
    Sep 13, 2014 at 2:48
  • So the American Opportunity credit actually is refunding the tuition, not the taxes?
    – Village
    Sep 13, 2014 at 2:50
  • @Village no, it is not refunding tuition. It is a tax credit, your university has nothing to do with it. You get a refund form the IRS.
    – littleadv
    Sep 13, 2014 at 3:08
  • So, it is possible to get a refund on $0 paid? I can pay $0 in taxes over the year, and get some money given to me by the IRS because I paid tuition?
    – Village
    Sep 13, 2014 at 3:23

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