On tax returns, this is the Year of the Child. If your children are young or in college, big write-offs are probably coming your way.

Here's what you might be eligible for:

? The new tax credit for children. You can subtract $400 from your taxes for each dependent child under 17 if you meet an income test. The full credit is available to married couples, filing jointly, with adjusted gross incomes of $110,000 or less, and singles with $75,000 or less.

The size of your tax credit shrinks by $50 for every additional $1,000 (or part thereof) you have in income. Exactly where it phases out depends on how many children you have. This tax credit covers all your dependent children natural, step, foster, adopted, even grandchildren.

? Two new tax credits for students in an accredited college or trade school. The Hope tax credit is for students in their first or second year of school. You're allowed as many credits as you have family members who qualify. They have to attend at least half time, and be in a program that leads to a certificate or degree.

The Hope credit allows you to slice up to $1,500 off your taxes to offset the cost of tuition and fees (but not room, board or books). It covers you and your spouse, if you're in school, as well as your dependent children.

The Lifetime Learning credit is usable in any year, by any student, of any age. It's available even for minimal study say, an adult-education course or a single course to improve your job skills.

This credit is worth up to $1,000 (20 percent of the first $5,000 paid in tuition and fees) for expenses starting July 1, 1998. You can take only one Lifetime Learning credit on your tax return. If there are two eligible students in your family, you still get only $1,000.

You can't use both the Hope and the Lifetime credit for a single student. But you can claim a Hope credit for one or more children, plus a Lifetime Learning credit for yet another child, on the same tax return.

Who qualifies for these education tax breaks? Married couples filing jointly get the full credit on adjusted gross incomes up to $80,000, phasing out at $100,000. Singles get the full credit with incomes up to $40,000, phasing out at $50,000.


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