As summer draws to a close and the school year looms, parents everywhere are gearing up to send their kids back to school. But as you’re watching supplies flying off the shelves while parents scuffle amongst themselves over laying claim to that last Wonder Woman backpack, you should also be thinking about how the upcoming school year is going to impact your finances. With tax reform, getting ready to send your child(ren) or dependent(s) back to school can pose new challenges – ones that may very well end up affecting the size of your tax refund.
Here are some of the biggest changes to education tax law from the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA):
For younger students and parents, the Qualified Tuition Program (QTP) has been expanded under the new tax law. Essentially, a QTP can help cover all manner of education-related expenses. The money you put into a QTP can gather interest, tax free, until it’s used. Additionally, these funds can now be used to pay K-12 tuition and expenses for public, private, and religious schools. There is no annual maximum contribution limit to a QTP. Prior to this expansion of QTP laws, only Coverdell Savings Accounts (CSA) could be used for primary and secondary school education. The provision for CSAs, however, has remained the same – like those in a QTP, the funds in a CSA are not tax-deductible. The CSA allows parents or guardians to save up to $2,000 per year in a CSA, tax free. Many states offer an additional tax break: Parents may deduct $10,000 in QTP contributions per child, per year.
College students and their parents should be aware that the TCJA did not address the extenders provision including the tuition and fees deduction, which expired after the 2017 tax year. The tuition and fees deduction had previously allowed taxpayers with children or dependents in college to write off up to $4,000 worth of tuition and expenses, deducting the amount from their taxable income, also known as their Adjusted Gross Income (AGI).
For students with loan debt, not much has changed. The student loan interest deduction – which, allows those making student loan payments reduce their taxable income by up to $2,500, based on the amount of interest paid during the year – has remained the same. However, there are new rules about student loan debt cancelation: Certain qualifying students can now exclude debt cancelation from their taxable income. A related tax reform change allows student loans forgiven in the event of death or “permanent and total disability” to be excluded from taxable income.
There’s some good news for students with loan debt, too: Student loan repayment assistance is nontaxable if the funds are meant for the National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program, a state education loan repayment program eligible for funds under the Public Health Service Act, or any other state loan repayment or forgiveness program intended to facilitate increased health services in underserved areas that lack enough health professionals.
Many teachers these days pay for classroom materials – like art supplies, notebooks, pens, decorations, snacks, and even books – out of their own pockets. This is why, when tax reform was passed late last year, many teachers and their unions were afraid the provision allowing them to deduct the funds they put toward these necessities was going to disappear. But that provision has not been eliminated; it remains at $250 per year. However, between 2018 and 2026, teachers – and all other professional employees – are unable to deduct any additional work-related expenses as an itemized deduction.
No matter if you’re a student, parent, or teacher, you should start thinking about what going back to school this year can mean for your finances and the size of your next tax return.