Home » Is Scholarship Earned Income: Understanding the Tax Implications

Is Scholarship Earned Income: Understanding the Tax Implications


Scholarships play a crucial role in helping students pursue their education dreams. They can cover tuition fees, books, and even living expenses. However, a common question that arises is whether scholarships are considered earned income for tax purposes. In this article, we’ll delve into the intricate world of scholarships and taxation, aiming to provide clarity on this often-confusing subject.

Defining Scholarships

Before we dive into the tax implications, let’s establish what scholarships are. Scholarships are financial awards given to students to support their education. These awards can come from various sources, such as educational institutions, private organizations, or government bodies. Scholarships are typically provided based on academic achievements, talents, or specific criteria set by the granting organization.

Types of Scholarships

Scholarships can take on different forms, and it’s essential to understand these variations to determine their tax implications accurately:

1. Merit-Based Scholarships

Merit-based scholarships are awarded to students based on their academic performance, achievements, or specific talents. These scholarships are highly regarded and often do not have tax implications.

2. Need-Based Scholarships

Need-based scholarships are provided to students who demonstrate financial need. The IRS generally considers these scholarships as tax-free, provided they are used for qualified educational expenses.

3. Athletic Scholarships

Athletic scholarships are awarded to students with exceptional sports abilities. These scholarships may cover tuition, room, and board and are usually tax-free.

4. Fellowship Grants

Fellowship grants are financial awards given to students pursuing postgraduate studies or research. The tax implications of these grants can vary based on how they are used.

Scholarship Tax Status

Now that we’ve covered the different types of scholarships let’s explore their tax status in detail:

1. Tax-Free Scholarships

The good news is that most scholarships fall into this category. If you receive a scholarship that covers tuition, fees, books, and supplies and is used for qualified educational expenses, it is generally considered tax-free. This means you don’t have to report it as income on your tax return.

2. Taxable Scholarships

In some cases, scholarships may become taxable if they are used for non-qualified expenses. If you use scholarship funds for room and board or other personal expenses, the IRS may consider it as earned income, subject to taxation.

Reporting Scholarships on Your Tax Return

When tax season rolls around, it’s crucial to report your scholarships accurately. Here’s how to do it:

1. Form 1098-T

Educational institutions often provide students with Form 1098-T, which summarizes the payments made for tuition and other qualified expenses. Use this form to determine the amount of tax-free scholarship you can claim.

2. Keep Detailed Records

If you don’t receive Form 1098-T, maintain detailed records of your scholarship funds and how you used them. This will help you accurately report your income to the IRS.


In conclusion, whether a scholarship is considered earned income depends on various factors, such as its type and how it is used. Most scholarships used for qualified educational expenses are tax-free. However, it’s essential to stay informed about the specific tax rules in your jurisdiction.

Remember that tax laws can change, so always consult with a tax professional or refer to the IRS guidelines for the most up-to-date information regarding scholarship taxation.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. Is every scholarship considered earned income?

No, not every scholarship is considered earned income. Scholarships used for qualified educational expenses are typically tax-free.

2. What should I do if I receive a scholarship for room and board?

If you receive a scholarship that covers room and board or other non-qualified expenses, you may need to report it as earned income on your tax return.

3. Do I need to keep records of my scholarship funds?

Yes, it’s a good practice to keep detailed records of your scholarship funds and how you use them, especially if you don’t receive Form 1098-T from your educational institution.

4. Are fellowship grants subject to taxation?

The tax status of fellowship grants can vary depending on their use and specific circumstances. It’s advisable to consult a tax professional for guidance in such cases.

5. Where can I get more information about scholarship taxation?

For the latest information on scholarship taxation, refer to the IRS guidelines or consult with a qualified tax advisor.

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