Special Bulletin: Your College-Related Tax Breaks Survived a Congressional Move to Eliminate Them

In November College Affordability Solutions urged you contact your members of the U.S. House and Senate in opposition to certain provisions within the House tax bill that was then working its way through Congress.

That bill was supposedly designed to cut taxes. But it would have done away with IMG_0428deductions and exemptions that reduce taxes for you and other students and parents by over $18 billion a year — money that helps pay college costs.

The original House bill was remarkably partisan. It was written by Republican House members without input from Democrats, and it got 227 Republican votes but no Democratic votes

Fortunately, the Senate also opposed eliminating college-related tax deductions, exclusions, and exemptions. It made sure they remained unchanged in the final bill, which is now law. So don’t ever think your voice doesn’t matter — constituent pressure clearly helped preserve these tax breaks!

Here are the college tax benefits that were preserved in the final bill:

  • If you’re a student, you still won’t be taxed on money you use from your College Savings Bonds to pay your educational expenses.
  • Parents, you may keep on making deposits into your Coverdell Education Saving Accounts to build up money for college.
  • The first $5,250 you use from your Employer-Provided Educational IMG_0429Assistance program to pay higher education costs will continue to be untaxed.
  • The Lifetime Learning Tax Credit remains unchanged. So you may keep reducing what you’ll pay in federal income taxes by up to $2,000 a year based on what you spend on tuition, required fees, books, and supplies for any student (including you) taking courses to get a degree or improve job skills.
  • The Scholarship and Fellowship Exclusion will continue to omit from federal taxation what your scholarships and fellowships pay toward your college costs.
  • Borrowers, you’ll still be able to claim your Student Loan Interest Deduction of up to $2,500 for student and/or parent loan interest you pay each year.
  • Your $4,000 per year Tuition and Fee Deduction remains unchanged.
  • Are you or will you be a graduate student? If so, any Tuition Reduction you receive in connection with a graduate assistantship or fellowship still won’t be subject to taxation.

Congratulations on keeping these benefits! But stay active and alert. More bills impacting college affordability will come before Congress soon.

Contact College Affordability Solutions by calling (512) 366-5354 or emailing collegeafford@gmail.com.


During College: Strategies for Your College Finance Plan

Your College Finance Plan (CFP) needs strategies for you and you student toIMG_9592 implement before, during, and after college. Let’s look at the “During College” phase.

Research at a major university indicates that, looking back, almost 4 out of every 10 seniors conclude part or all of their student loans weren’t essential for their educations. Therefore, some of these strategies focus on personal money management so students can spend and borrow less of the interest-bearing educational debt that, over time, increases college costs. These include:

IMG_9555Also, the faster your student gets her degree, the less cost and debt she’ll incur. Still, the latest national data show that only 39.8% of undergraduates earn their bachelor’s degrees within 4 years. Here are some strategies that’ll help your student graduate on-time, if not before:


Look here for why you need a CFP. You can find summaries of strategies for your plan’s “Before College” phase here. And next Wednesday there’ll be samples of “After College” strategies for your CFP here.
Beginning October 16, check this website every Wednesday for a more detailed account of a strategy you may want to use in your CFP’s before, during, or after college phase.

During and After College: Claim Your Educational Tax Benefits

Your federal tax return is due April 18. Be sure to claim any of the 4 educationally-related tax benefits for which you qualify. They help reduce the taxes Americans pay by over $18 billion a year; so they’ll help you cut costs today and give you more to apply toward next year’s educational expenses.

Two personal tax credits — amounts subtracted from income taxes you’d otherwise pay — apply to learning after high school:

(1)  American Opportunity Credit: Get a credit of up to $2,500 per student paid in 2016 for a student’s “Qualified ap_170555882568531Educational Expenses” while he worked toward his degree or certificate. This credit is limited to 4 tax years or the student’s first 4 years in postsecondary education. Forty percent of it is refundable — i.e. you’ll get money back even if you made too little to pay federal income taxes.

(2)  Lifetime Learning Credit: This credit covers up to $2,000 you paid toward each student’s “Qualified Educational Expenses” in 2016. The student’s coursework need not have counted toward a degree or certificate. Also, there’s no limit on the number of years for which this credit is available. However, it’s not refundable.

Your student’s school should have provided him with a Tuition Statement (IRS Form 1098-T) showing tuition and fees paid to help you claim these credits.

There are also two educational deductions that’ll reduce your federal taxable income:

filing-federal-taxes-refund-tax-form-calculator-pen-dollar-64063104(3)  Student Loan Interest Deduction: Deduct up to $2,500 of the interest you paid on certain loans you borrowed for “Qualified Educational Expenses” paid while you worked at least half-time toward a degree or certificate. You may deduct simple interest, capitalized interest, and any origination fees you paid in 2016.

If you paid $600 or more in student loan interest, your lender should have sent you a Student Loan Interest Statement (IRS Form 1098-E) to help you claim this deduction.

(4)  Tuition and Fee Deduction: Reduce your taxable income by up to $4,000 for what you paid toward a student’s 2016 postsecondary tuition and required fees.

To be eligible for each tax benefit described above, your “Modified Adjusted Gross Income” must be below a certain amount. In all cases, the student must be you, your spouse, or a dependent you count as a tax exemption. And except for the Student Loan Interest Deduction, you may only claim only one of these benefits for any tax year.

There’s lots more information about these tax benefits — including information about Qualified Educational Expenses and Modified Adjusted Gross Income — in IRS Publication 970. Look it over, and don’t miss out on the tax benefits to which you’re entitled during or after college!

Got questions about how to keep a college education affordable? Contact College Affordability Solutions at collegeafford@gmail.com or (512) 366-5354.

A Year of College Affordability Solutions

College Affordability Solutions is dedicated to helping families keep higher education spending within their means. It uses this website to highlight postsecondary educational cost-management strategies at the times of the year when you and/or your student are most likely to need them.

21-of-the-most-beautiful-college-campuses-in-amer-2-20243-1428837186-9_dblbigDespite those who’ll try to talk your student out of college, postsecondary education is still worthwhile even if he or she has to borrow to pay for it. But student loans increase the cost of college, so do everything possible to minimize their use.

Over the last year, we’ve covered several approaches to keeping college and college-related debt affordable. Click on any of the links below to learn more . . .

Before College

Various investment and savings programs can help you prepare for college bills. Among these are 529 plans and college savings bonds, but you should explore them all – the sooner the better.

And be sure to apply for financial for every year of college. Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible after October 1 but, by all means, before your FAFSA priority deadline arrives.

Student dependency status plays a big role in who completes the FAFSA. Other family factors do, too. But it isn’t as hard to complete as you’ve heard, especially if you fulfill 5 key steps, gather all the documents you need, and get answers to your last-minute FAFSA questions before doing so.

Long before the FAFSA, your student needs to begin aggressively searching for scholarships. It’s critical to know about the when and where and the how of doing this.

Pay close attention after you file your FAFSA to make sure you handle what happens next. Then carefully assess your financial aid offers as they arrive from colleges.

But it’s not all about financial aid and scholarships. A critical factor in college affordability is for your student to enroll in a college and major that fits him or her well.

During College

Once college begins, you can help your student keep his or her expenses within reason.140815_FF_BestCollegeCard Limited spending and indebtedness is important even with today’s low college loan interest rates.

Some of the most effective strategies for minimizing student borrowing include your student getting through college in 4 years or less while carefully managing money and avoiding rip offs such as the recent “student tax” scam. A little-known but highly-effective cost-saver involves returning unneeded federal loan dollars with 4 months of disbursement.

Help your student keep college more affordable by giving him or her some holiday gifts that’ll lower his or her reduce expenses upon returning to school and by recommending he or she generate funds through seasonal employment instead of borrowing.

After College

Seven out of 10 students borrow before earning their degrees, and over 90% of their loans come from federal loan programs. Fortunately, the government has designed  post-graduation strategies to help keep educational debt manageable.


Your student needs to understand what happens to college loans after graduation. It’s worthwhile to consider the pros and cons of student loan consolidation, an often-used tactic for reducing monthly debt payments. Equally important is knowing how your student might qualify for forgiveness on all or part of what he or she owes.

Coming in 2017

We’re taking a few weeks off for the holidays, but beginning January 4 we’ll start publishing again about plans for keeping college affordable. Here’s hoping you have the happiest of holiday seasons, and that you’ll rejoin us then!

 Find out more about College Affordability Solutions and its services at https://collegeafford.com, or by calling (512) 366-5354.

College Savings Bonds: An Affordable, Safe, Simple College Investment

Do you have a modest income and a limited amount to invest? Are you looking for a treasury-bondssafe, simple way to invest it? Are you interested in tax breaks that’ll free more of your other money for college savings bonds? If so, think about college savings bonds. Here are the fundamentals . . .

The U.S. Treasury Department sells education savings bonds. They’re extremely low-risk because they’re backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government.

There are two types of education savings bonds. You can buy Series “EE” bonds at half their maturity value and they slowly grow into that amount based on a fixed interest rate 3-ussavingsbonds_590x394that never changes. You can purchase Series “I” bond in denominations of $50 to $10,000 they grow into those amounts by paying interest based on inflation every 6 months.

You, or you and your spouse, may buy education savings bonds for your child (also for your spouse or yourself) directly from the Treasury at http://treasurydirect.gov/. You can redeem them as soon as a year after buying them, but if you do this less than 5 years after buying them you’ll lose the last 3 months of the interest they earn.

That interest isn’t subject to state and local income taxes. It’s also excluded from federal income taxes if:

Your tax exclusion starts to be limited if your MAGI exceed these amounts, and, if your MAGI reaches $91,000 and $143,950, respectively, they’re eliminated.

Your tax exclusions will cover whatever savings bond principal and interest you use to pay tuition and required fees at an accredited U.S. public, nonprofit, or for-profit college, university, or vocational school. If your student receives money from scholarships, other college investments (e.g. 529 plans), and carious educational benefits such as VA benefits, employer-provided educational assistance, etc. your tax exclusions could be limited.

Want to know more? Check out the Treasury Department’s publication called Using Savings Bonds for Education and its Education Planning webpage. And remember, every penny you invest and save makes your child less reliant on student loans to pay for college!

 College Affordability Solutions can help you evaluate various strategies for paying for college. Call (512) 366-5354 or email collegeafford@gmail.com.