What Is a Full-Time Student?

A full-time student is a legal tax status that is important for determining dependency exemptions. Full-time status is based on what the individual's school considers full time. There are different tax filing requirements that are required for both the full-time student and parents or guardians who are claiming that student as a dependent and/or paying any applicable educational costs.

Key Takeaways

  • A full-time student is a legal tax status that is most applicable to figuring out dependency exemptions at tax time.
  • Typically, the school determines the volume of coursework that is considered full time.
  • Tax requirements vary for full-time student and parents or guardians who are claiming a student as a dependent and/or paying any costs for their education.

Understanding Full-Time Students

A full-time student is an individual enrolled in a post-secondary institution whom may be eligible for certain tax breaks. Additionally, the parents or guardians of a full-time student may be eligible for certain tax breaks or have additional tax filing requirements.

Although tax requirements can differ for full-time students, full-time student status alone does not exempt an individual from paying federal income taxes. According to the IRS website, full-time students who are U.S. residents or U.S. citizens must consider the following information in order to determine if they will be required to file a federal income tax return:

  • Amount of earned and unearned income
  • Your dependency status, meaning if you are considered independent or if someone else is claiming you as a dependent on their tax return
  • Filing status
  • Age

There are income requirements per age, filing and dependency status, along with other factors and if an individual falls below those income requirements, they are not required to file a federal tax return. However, an individual may still wish to file an income tax return if they think they may be entitled to a refund of withheld income tax or estimated tax that would make them eligible for refundable credit.

According to the IRS, full time students are children under the age of 19 or an adult under the age of 24, who attends and educational program at least five months per calendar year.

Example of a Full-Time Student

The technical definition of what the government views as a full-time student can be broad. For example, the IRS considers a child under the age of 19 or an adult child under the age of 24 who is attending an education program for at least five months per calendar year, the months not required to be consecutive or full, to be considered a full-time student. Additionally, the adult child under the age of 24 must not be self-supporting in order for their parent or legal guardian to claim them as a dependent on their own taxes. Parents or guardians may also claim the American Opportunity Education Credit, based on college tuition and related fees for full-time students, but this credit does have its own requirements for full-time students between the ages of 18 and 24 enrolled in an academic program.