Education tax credits can help offset the costs of paying for your education or costs you pay for an eligible student who is your spouse or a dependent you claim on your tax return. For 2011, the American Opportunity Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit are available to qualified taxpayers who pay expenses for eligible students. Credits are great because they are dollar for dollar reductions in your taxes due as opposed to deductions which merely reduce your income subject to tax. The American Opportunity Credit isn't so much new for 2009 through 2012 as it is the juiced up version of the Hope Credit. Under the temporary credit, you can offset the cost of $2,500 for qualified education expenses paid for each eligible student so long as you qualify. To qualify, your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) can't be more than $90,000 of single, head of household, or qualifying widow(er) or $180,000 if married filing jointly. The American Opportunity Credit is available only for the first four years of postsecondary education (including years that you opt to take the Hope Credit). An eligible student must be pursuing an undergraduate degree or other recognized education credential and enrolled at least half time for at least one academic period that begins during the tax year. And don't get me started on this narrow window but an eligible student may not have any felony drug convictions (I'm guessing murder is okay?). The best part? Forty percent of the American Opportunity Credit may be refundable. This means that if the refundable portion of your credit is more than your tax, the excess will be refunded to you. In contrast, the Lifetime Learning Credit is a credit of up to $2,000 for qualified education expenses paid for all eligible students. The income restrictions are also a bit lower: $60,000 if single, head of household, or qualifying widow(er) and $120,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly. Unlike the American Opportunity Credit, there is no limit on the number of years the lifetime learning credit can be claimed for each student. The credit is also completely nonrefundable. And, also unlike the American Opportunity Credit, felony drug convictions don't affect eligibility. For purposes of both credits, qualified expenses include tuition and fees required for enrollment. They also include course-related books, supplies, and equipment. Additionally, for purposes of both credits, qualified education expenses do not include amounts paid for insurance, medical expenses (including student health fees), transportation, room and board and similar personal, living, or family expenses – even if the payment of these expenses are a condition of enrollment or attendance. As with the tuition and fees deduction, you can use money that you borrow in order to calculate the credit but you cannot claim the credit based on expenses paid with tax-free scholarship, fellowship, grant, or education savings account funds such as a Coverdell education savings account, tax-free savings bond interest or employer-provided education assistance. Remember that you can't claim the tuition and fees deduction and education credits for the same tax year. Run the math and figure out which is most beneficial to you. Similarly, you can't claim both credits for the same student. Again, do the math and figure which credit makes the most sense to claim for the current tax year. Other restrictions and exceptions may apply so check with your tax professional if you have questions. This, of course, brings us to today's giveaway. Since you can't furnish your dorm room and claim the costs as part of the education credits (as with the tuition and fees deduction), we have a virtual smorgasbord of cool stuff to help you outfit your space. And, of course, some of our giveaways are great for high school students (as well as moms and dads). The Ninja Professional Blender is the largest capacity professional blender in its class with a 72 oz. BPA-free pitcher that can serve six 10-ounce frozen drinks to keep everyone in the party happy. Armed with patented six-blade technology that turns ice into snow in a blink of an eye, the Ninja Blender is perfect for serious entertainers, health enthusiasts, and large families. The 1000 watt motor allows the Ninja Blender to pulverize whole fruits and vegetables with a simple touch of a button. The pitcher includes a convenient pour spout and the blades can easily be removed. The Press & Refresh is a revolutionary product that combines the effectiveness of powerful Shark Steam technology with the exclusive heated WrinkleEraser™ press bar to remove wrinkles with just one pass. Ready within just one minute and requiring only tap water, the Press & Refresh kills 99.9% of common household germs and bacteria on clothes and upholstery. It includes a Vertical Press Pad that serves as an "ironing board" that conveniently hangs on any door for beautiful garments in minutes. To protect students from the unknown history of their mystery bed, innovative bedding producer, Therapedic International has introduced the first odor-eliminating mattress pad that serves as a barrier between students and their beds. The mattress pad uses a specialized fabric treatment and patented technology that captures stains and eliminates unpleasant odors associated with college living (in every sense of the word). The odor-eliminating, waterproof, and stain-repelling product also absorbs all the smells and stains that students really don't want to deal with, such as unlaundered sheets, sex, sweat, food residue, stale beer, and after that crazy party, the unfortunate reality of stained vomit. The Therapedic Puresleep® mattress pad is available at Bed Bath and Beyond stores nationwide and comes in Extra Long twin to fit the typical dorm bed. Finally, you can enter to win an all-in-one from Epson. Epson has a device that will do the job of many technologies – printing, copying, scanning and faxing – and it only requires one small corner of dorm or home office space, the Epson WorkForce 840 all in one. Not only will the WorkForce 840 keep a work environment clean and organized, its fast functionality will help students be more productive and efficient and help save time and money. And, its sleek, black finish makes provides a modern look for any dorm or home office setting. Some of the features include blazingly fast automatic two-sided printing; two-sided auto document feeder to produce quick copies and scans; two 250-sheet paper trays; 7.8" smart touch panel; built-in Easy Epson Wi-Fi for wireless printing/scanning and the ability to connect to multiple PCs on a network; and mobile support to directly print from iPhone and other mobile devices. So like earlier, we have FOUR cool dorm-room related prizes up for grabs. That's right, FOUR. It's easy to enter. Just post a comment below to tell me your *least* favorite item (not person) in your bedroom currently. And keep it clean, people. I'll choose one winner randomly (using a number generator) for each prize out of all of the qualifying entries. Here are some more rules because, as you know, I'm a lawyer and I like rules: Entries must be posted in the comments section for this blog post in the space below by 10:59 p.m. EST on September 19, 2011. Don't panic if your comment doesn't show immediately. If it goes to moderation because, for example, you're new here, the time stamp on your comment is what counts. If you have difficulty registering, please send an email to email@example.com and copy me (firstname.lastname@example.org) so that I can help if I need to/can. I love my Twitter followers and my Facebook fans but for this particular giveaway, tweets and Facebook comments will not be counted. Ditto for emails. You must leave your comment on the blog at this post. You can enter as many times as you like but you must leave a different answer each time you comment. Offensive comments or comments that otherwise violate the comment policy will be deleted and will not be considered valid for purposes of the contest. Pingbacks and other links will be disregarded for purposes of the contest. You must include your full name and your email address with your entry, just enter it when you register to comment. I won't publish your email address but I do need contact information for the winning entry. Due to shipping considerations, only United States addresses, please. Sorry, Canada, eh? I respect your privacy and I will not send you anything unrelated to your entry in this contest. By entering the contest, you agree that I may post any part or all of your submission including your name as a part of the contest announcements or promotions, with the exception of your email address. Finally, the giveaway is about me, me, me. It's not affiliated with or endorsed by Forbes. So leave them out of it, okay? Comment away!
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