Education tax refund: how much can you claim?

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It is easy for parents to become financially exhausted as their kids grow up. One of the biggest expenses in raising kids is education.

Even if you go public the annual cost is around $5000 in primary school and $5341 in high school - including tuition, levies, clothing, and computer costs - according to the Australian Scholarship Group's survey into school costs in 2010.

Catholic schools can cost $7138 in primary and $11,829 in high school while private school fees range from $13,475 for primary and $20,264 for high school.

If you qualify for the education tax refund - and the government estimates that 2.1 million Australian children do - you can offset some of the annual education costs.

But many parents have been slow to catch on - to date refunds have been claimed for only 1.7 million children. This means that one in five parents aren't claiming the refund, for some 400,000 children. That's a shame because the refund is up to $390 for each primary school student and $779 for every secondary school student.

Parents are also not claiming the full entitlement - only 33% of claims were for the maximum entitlement. The average was $247 for each primary student and $496 for high school students.

How much can you claim? You can get 50% back for eligible education expenses up to $780 for primary school students, giving you a $390 refund, and $1558 or a $779 refund for high school students.

The refund allows you to claim the cost of buying, repairing or maintaining home computers, laptops, iPads, printers, USB flash drives, home internet connections and educational computer software.

You can claim school textbooks, stationery and trade tools. As a result of federal election promises you can expect additions to the list for the 2011-12 financial year. At present you can't claim for tutoring, musical instruments, transport, building levies, sporting equipment or computer games and consoles. You need to keep receipts as proof of your purchases.

Parents entitled to Family Tax Benefit Part A for one or more children in school are eligible for a refund. Parents are also eligible if their child receives another payment such as a Youth Allowance.

When do you claim the refund? You can claim it in your 2009-2010 tax return. You can download a form from the ATO or phone 1300 720 092 for any information. And don't forget there are a few other government benefits for young people studying such as Youth Allowance.

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Susan has been a finance journalist for more than 30 years, beginning at the Australian Financial Review before moving to the Sydney Morning Herald. She edited a superannuation magazine, Superfunds, for the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, and writes regularly on superannuation and managed funds. She's also author of the best-selling book Women and Money.

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