4 Ways the House Tax Bill Could Affect College Affordability

Congress is working around the clock to get a new tax bill to President Trump’s desk before the year is out. In addition to a host of tax cuts, both the Senate and House GOP tax plans include several proposals that could make saving and paying for higher education more costly for families. Considering Americans hold a collective $1.36 trillion in student loan debt and 11.2 percent of that balance is either delinquent or in default that’s not-so-good news for millions of Americans.

Both plans  include proposed ideas that could impact how students and families finance higher education. The House plan, for instance, includes proposed provisions that would affect the benefits parents, students and school employees like graduate students receive, which could ultimately impact the price students pay.

In a Nov. 6 letter to the House Ways and Means Committee opposing the provisions, the American Council on Education and 50 other higher education associations states that  “the committee’s summary of the bill showed that its provisions would increase the cost to students attending college by more than $65 billion between 2018 and 2027.” They reaffirmed their opposition in a Nov. 15 letter.

The council and other higher education associations weren’t satisfied with the Senate’s version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, either. In a Nov. 14 letter, the council says it’s pleased the Senate bill retains some student benefits eliminated in the House version, but remains concerned about other positions that it says would ultimately make attaining a college education more expensive and “erode the financial stability of public and private, two-year and four-year colleges and universities.”

Where are the bills now?

Updated: U.S. senators voted 51-49, to pass a revised, 479-page version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in an early morning vote Dec. 2. The vote was almost entirely along party lines. Only one Republican senator, Bob Corker (Tenn.), voted against the tax bill, citing concerns about adding to the federal deficit. No Democrats backed the bill. Analysis of the bill as-passed is ongoing. However, the Joint Committee on Taxation posted its most-recent analysis of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to its Twitter account just after the bill’s passing Saturday.

The House version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed by a 227-205 vote on Nov. 16, just before the chamber’s Thanksgiving holiday. No Democrats backed the bill. The two chambers will now need to hash out many differences between the proposed tax plans before sending legislation to the president’s desk by year’s end.

In its plan, the Senate committee says the goal of tax reform in relation to education is to simplify education tax benefits. MagnifyMoney took a look at a few of the major proposed changes to the tax code that would impact college affordability most.

Streamline tax credits

The House tax bill proposes to repeal the Hope Scholarship Credit and Lifetime Learning Credit while slightly expanding the American Opportunity Tax Credit. The new American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) would credit the first $2,000 of higher education expenses (like tuition, fees and course materials) and offer a 25 percent tax credit for the next $2,000 of higher education expenses. That’s the same as it is now, with one addition: The new AOTC also offers a maximum $500 credit for fifth-year students.

The bigger change is the elimination of the other credits. Currently, if students don’t elect the American Opportunity Tax Credit, they can instead claim the Hope Scholarship Credit for expenses up to $1,500 credit applied to tuition and fees during the first two years of education; or, they may choose the Lifetime Learning Credit that awards up to 20 percent of the first $10,000 of qualified education expenses for an unlimited number of years.

Basically, in creating the new American Opportunity Tax Credit, the House bill eliminates the tax benefit for nontraditional, part-time, or graduate students who may spend longer than five years in the pursuit of a higher-ed degree. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, consolidating the AOTC would increase tax revenue by $17.5 billion from 2018 to 2027, and increase spending by $0.2 billion over the same period.

The Senate bill does not change any of these credits.

Make tuition reductions taxable

The House bill proposes eliminating a tax exclusion for qualified tuition reductions, which allows college and university employees who receive discounted tuition to omit the reduction from their taxable income.

A repeal would generally increase the taxable income for many campus employees. Most notably, eliminating the exclusion would negatively impact graduate students students who, under the House’s proposed tax bill, would have any waived tuition added to their taxable income.

Many graduate students receive a stipend in exchange for work done for the university, like teaching courses or working on research projects. The stipend offsets student’s overall cost of attendance and may be worth tens of thousands of dollars. As part of the package, many students see all or part of their tuition waived.

Students already pay taxes on the stipend. Under the House tax plan, students would have to report the waived tuition as income, too, although they never actually see the funds. Since a year’s worth of a graduate education can cost tens of thousands of dollars, the addition could move the student up into higher tax brackets and significantly increase the amount of income tax they have to pay.

The Senate bill doesn’t alter the exclusion.

Eliminate the student loan interest deduction

Under the House tax bill, students who made payments on their federal or private student loans during the tax year would no longer be able to deduct interest they paid on the loans.

Current tax code allows those repaying student loans to deduct up to $2,500 of student loan interest paid each year. To claim the deduction, a taxpayer cannot earn more than $80,000 ($160,00 for married couples filing jointly). The deduction is reduced based on income for earners above $65,000, up to an $80,000 limit. (The phaseout is between $130,000 and $160,000 who are married and filing joint returns.)

Nearly 12 million Americans were spared paying an average $1,068 when they were credited with the deduction in 2014, according to the Center for American Progress, an independent nonpartisan policy institute. If a student turns to student loans or other expensive borrowing options to make up for the deduction, he or she could  experience more financial strain after graduation.

The Senate tax bill retains the student loan interest deduction.

Repeal the tax exclusion for employer-provided educational assistance

Some employers provide workers educational assistance to help deflect the cost of earning a degree or completing continuing education courses at the undergraduate or graduate level. Currently, Americans receiving such assistance are able to exclude up to $5,250 of it from their taxable income.

Under the House tax plan, the education-related funds employees receive would be taxed as income, increasing the amount some would pay in taxes if they enroll in such a program.

A spokesperson for American Student Assistance says if the final tax bill includes the repeal, it may point to a bleak future for the spread of student loan repayment assistance benefits, currently offered by only 4 percent of American companies.

Take care not to confuse education assistance with another, growing employer benefit: student loan repayment assistance. The student loan repayment benefit is new and structured differently from company to company, but generally, it grants some employees money to help repay their student loans.

The Senate plan does not repeal the employer-provided educational assistance exclusion.

The post 4 Ways the House Tax Bill Could Affect College Affordability appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

1099-Cs and Your Taxes: What You Should Know

Photo of a young couple going through financial problems

Not many know what a 1099-C is or why they receive it. But these forms can be a little scary because they’re tax documents—and no one wants to mess up their taxes. When you get one, it’s because you had a portion or all of a debt canceled.

It’s important to understand what a 1099-C is and what to do about it to ensure you are filing your taxes correctly. Here’s what you need to know.

What’s a 1099-C?

A 1099-C falls under the 1099 tax form series of information returns for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). These forms let the IRS know you’ve received income outside of your W-2 income. Any company that pays an individual $600 or more in a year is required to send the recipient a 1099. You often receive a 1099-C when $600 or more of your debt is forgiven or discharged.

When you use credit or take out a loan, that borrowed money is still currency you can use—even if you don’t pay it back. So when debt is canceled, that money is considered ordinary income and is therefore taxable (if over $600), which means you have to report it on your tax return. Yep, Uncle Sam gets a cut of the portion of your debt that was forgiven or discharged.

When you get a 1099-C, you can find the reason you received it in the sixth box of the form. Some common reasons you may get a 1099-C are included below:

  1. You negotiated a settlement to pay a debt for less than the amount you owed and the creditor forgave the rest.
  2. You owned a home that went into foreclosure and there was a forgiven deficiency (a difference between the home’s value and what you owe on it).
  3. You sold a home in a short sale where the lender agreed to accept less than the full amount you owe.
  4. You didn’t pay anything on a debt for at least three years and there has been no collection activity in the past year.

Are My Debts Erased with a 1099-C?

If you know you received a 1099-C because of a settlement agreement, where you paid off debt for less than the full amount due, then you don’t owe anything. If the form was filed because you haven’t made payments for three years and they haven’t tried to collect recently, then you may still owe the debt. Your state’s statute of limitations may determine what debt you are and are not responsible for.

Anytime you receive a 1099-C, check the form for errors. If you find any, first work with your creditor to get the information corrected. If that doesn’t resolve the issue, then you can include an explanation with your tax return. To find out if a 1099-C has been filed, you can request a wage and income transcript from the IRS for the tax year or years in question. The transcript should list any 1099-Cs that were filed under your Social Security number.

Do I Have to Pay Taxes on the 1099-C Amount?

The IRS will automatically assume that the amount listed on the 1099-C is accurate and will expect you to include that amount in your ordinary income when you file your tax return. Depending on the other income you earn and your tax bracket, you could receive a larger tax bill or a smaller refund. However, if you can demonstrate that you qualify for an exclusion or exception, you may be able to avoid paying taxes on part or all of that phantom income.

One of the most commonly used exclusions is the insolvency exclusion. It works like this: you are insolvent to the extent that your liabilities (what you owe) exceed your assets (what you own). If the total amount by which you are insolvent is larger than the amount listed on the 1099-C, you can exclude the entire amount listed on the 1099-C from your income. You’ll have to file Form 982 with your tax return to claim this exclusion.

If the amount by which you are insolvent is less than the amount on the 1099-C, then you may be able to avoid including part of that amount in your income. However, the insolvency exclusion may not be the perfect fit for everyone—there may be another exclusion that fits your situation better.

What if I Don’t Receive a 1099-C for Canceled Debt?

Even if you don’t receive a 1099-C, you are still responsible for reporting canceled debt as taxable income. Make sure you do not leave any forgiven or discharged debt off of your tax return. If you do, you will more than likely hear from the IRS in the future for failure to pay, which will cost you more money in the long run. Look at your credit report to ensure you don’t have any unpaid debt from the last three years.

What if I Receive a 1099-C for Old Debt?

Be careful when it comes to old debt and 1099-Cs. Creditors who follow IRS guidelines should send out 1099-Cs when a debt lies dormant for three years and there has been no significant collection activity for the past year.

Specifically, the IRS 1099 instructions state that debt is canceled “when the creditor has not received a payment on the debt during the testing period. The testing period is a 36-month period ending on December 31.”

However, the creditor can rebut this cancelation if “the creditor (or a third party collection agency on behalf of the creditor) has engaged in significant bona fide collection activity during the 12-month period ending on December 31.”

If a creditor sends out 1099-Cs years (or decades) after the 1099 deadlines, the responsibility falls upon the taxpayer to explain to the IRS why they believe it should not have been filed that year. Again, there is no specific form for reporting this kind of dispute. You’ll have to include an explanation, and you may wind up arguing with the IRS to get it resolved.

What if I Receive a 1099-C for Debts Canceled in Bankruptcy?

You don’t have to pay taxes on personal debts discharged in bankruptcy. And creditors aren’t required to file 1099-Cs for those debts. If they do, however, you can file Form 982 and claim an exclusion because the debt was included in bankruptcy.

Don’t panic if your bankruptcy occurred long ago and you don’t know where to find a copy of your bankruptcy papers to prove the debt was discharged. Although it’s anyone’s guess why a creditor would send an unrequired 1099-C years after the fact, you likely won’t have to jump through hoops to prove the debt was discharged.

Getting a 1099-C can be confusing, especially if you don’t have a handle on your credit. Avoid future credit surprises by using Credit.com’s free credit report tool.

Image: David Sacks

The post 1099-Cs and Your Taxes: What You Should Know appeared first on Credit.com.

1099-Cs and Your Taxes: What You Should Know

Photo of a young couple going through financial problems

Not many know what a 1099-C is or why they receive it. But these forms can be a little scary because they’re tax documents—and no one wants to mess up their taxes. When you get one, it’s because you had a portion or all of a debt canceled.

It’s important to understand what a 1099-C is and what to do about it to ensure you are filing your taxes correctly. Here’s what you need to know.

What’s a 1099-C?

A 1099-C falls under the 1099 tax form series of information returns for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). These forms let the IRS know you’ve received income outside of your W-2 income. Any company that pays an individual $600 or more in a year is required to send the recipient a 1099. You often receive a 1099-C when $600 or more of your debt is forgiven or discharged.

When you use credit or take out a loan, that borrowed money is still currency you can use—even if you don’t pay it back. So when debt is canceled, that money is considered ordinary income and is therefore taxable (if over $600), which means you have to report it on your tax return. Yep, Uncle Sam gets a cut of the portion of your debt that was forgiven or discharged.

When you get a 1099-C, you can find the reason you received it in the sixth box of the form. Some common reasons you may get a 1099-C are included below:

  1. You negotiated a settlement to pay a debt for less than the amount you owed and the creditor forgave the rest.
  2. You owned a home that went into foreclosure and there was a forgiven deficiency (a difference between the home’s value and what you owe on it).
  3. You sold a home in a short sale where the lender agreed to accept less than the full amount you owe.
  4. You didn’t pay anything on a debt for at least three years and there has been no collection activity in the past year.

Are My Debts Erased with a 1099-C?

If you know you received a 1099-C because of a settlement agreement, where you paid off debt for less than the full amount due, then you don’t owe anything. If the form was filed because you haven’t made payments for three years and they haven’t tried to collect recently, then you may still owe the debt. Your state’s statute of limitations may determine what debt you are and are not responsible for.

Anytime you receive a 1099-C, check the form for errors. If you find any, first work with your creditor to get the information corrected. If that doesn’t resolve the issue, then you can include an explanation with your tax return. To find out if a 1099-C has been filed, you can request a wage and income transcript from the IRS for the tax year or years in question. The transcript should list any 1099-Cs that were filed under your Social Security number.

Do I Have to Pay Taxes on the 1099-C Amount?

The IRS will automatically assume that the amount listed on the 1099-C is accurate and will expect you to include that amount in your ordinary income when you file your tax return. Depending on the other income you earn and your tax bracket, you could receive a larger tax bill or a smaller refund. However, if you can demonstrate that you qualify for an exclusion or exception, you may be able to avoid paying taxes on part or all of that phantom income.

One of the most commonly used exclusions is the insolvency exclusion. It works like this: you are insolvent to the extent that your liabilities (what you owe) exceed your assets (what you own). If the total amount by which you are insolvent is larger than the amount listed on the 1099-C, you can exclude the entire amount listed on the 1099-C from your income. You’ll have to file Form 982 with your tax return to claim this exclusion.

If the amount by which you are insolvent is less than the amount on the 1099-C, then you may be able to avoid including part of that amount in your income. However, the insolvency exclusion may not be the perfect fit for everyone—there may be another exclusion that fits your situation better.

What if I Don’t Receive a 1099-C for Canceled Debt?

Even if you don’t receive a 1099-C, you are still responsible for reporting canceled debt as taxable income. Make sure you do not leave any forgiven or discharged debt off of your tax return. If you do, you will more than likely hear from the IRS in the future for failure to pay, which will cost you more money in the long run. Look at your credit report to ensure you don’t have any unpaid debt from the last three years.

What if I Receive a 1099-C for Old Debt?

Be careful when it comes to old debt and 1099-Cs. Creditors who follow IRS guidelines should send out 1099-Cs when a debt lies dormant for three years and there has been no significant collection activity for the past year.

Specifically, the IRS 1099 instructions state that debt is canceled “when the creditor has not received a payment on the debt during the testing period. The testing period is a 36-month period ending on December 31.”

However, the creditor can rebut this cancelation if “the creditor (or a third party collection agency on behalf of the creditor) has engaged in significant bona fide collection activity during the 12-month period ending on December 31.”

If a creditor sends out 1099-Cs years (or decades) after the 1099 deadlines, the responsibility falls upon the taxpayer to explain to the IRS why they believe it should not have been filed that year. Again, there is no specific form for reporting this kind of dispute. You’ll have to include an explanation, and you may wind up arguing with the IRS to get it resolved.

What if I Receive a 1099-C for Debts Canceled in Bankruptcy?

You don’t have to pay taxes on personal debts discharged in bankruptcy. And creditors aren’t required to file 1099-Cs for those debts. If they do, however, you can file Form 982 and claim an exclusion because the debt was included in bankruptcy.

Don’t panic if your bankruptcy occurred long ago and you don’t know where to find a copy of your bankruptcy papers to prove the debt was discharged. Although it’s anyone’s guess why a creditor would send an unrequired 1099-C years after the fact, you likely won’t have to jump through hoops to prove the debt was discharged.

Getting a 1099-C can be confusing, especially if you don’t have a handle on your credit. Avoid future credit surprises by using Credit.com’s free credit report tool.

Image: David Sacks

The post 1099-Cs and Your Taxes: What You Should Know appeared first on Credit.com.

Is Your 401(K) Tax Break on the Chopping Block?

Republican lawmakers are under pressure to put out new tax reform legislation by year’s end, but to make that happen, they need ways to pay for the hefty tax cuts proposed so far.

A proposal from President Trump calls for tax cuts for taxpayers at every income level, a reduction in the corporate income tax to 20 percent from 35 percent, and the end of the estate and alternative minimum taxes, among other things.

So far, implemented as is, the plan would add $1.5 trillion to the federal deficit, according to the Tax Policy Center. The deficit is the amount by which total government spending exceeds tax revenues for the fiscal year.

Such calculations have Republicans scrambling to figure out a way to achieve tax reform without adding to the deficit.

This week, Republicans lawmakers were rumored to be considering offsetting the cost of their tax cuts by reducing the 401(k) contribution limit for workers. (Trump swiftly denounced that plan on Twitter.)

At the moment, workers under 50 are able to contribute up to $18,000 in pre-tax dollars each year to a 401(k) retirement account. The amount is tax-deductible and reduces the overall amount the worker pays in annual federal income tax. The tax-deductible contribution limits are set to rise to $18,500 and $24,500, respectively, in 2018.

The Wall Street Journal reports Republican house leaders were considering a plan that would cut annual tax-deductible contribution limits on 401(k)s and, possibly, IRAs, down to just $2,400.

Workers would need to place any amount they’d like to save above that limit in a Roth IRA, which would be a boon to the federal government. Contributions made to Roth accounts are taxed immediately, not when the benefit is drawn out as with 401(k)s, so it would be one way to drive up tax revenue in the face of tax cuts.

On Oct. 23, Trump tweeted, “There will be NO change to your 401(k).”


Started by the IRS in 1978, retirement savings plans like the 401(k) and Individual Retirement Account (IRA) have been financial staples among middle-class families. And as pension plans have been phased out over time, defined contribution plans like the 401(k) plan have taken their place as a principal retirement vehicle for those families.

The proposed limit could prove costly to many Americans, as they are likely contributing above $2,400 annually to a 401(k) retirement account. According to Fidelity Investments, the average 12-month savings rate for 401(k) accounts in 2016 reached a record high of $10,200.

The notion of cutting back the amount workers can contribute, tax-free, to retirement accounts is understandably unsettling to many workers and members of the asset management community. That’s in part because, as Trump has noted on Twitter, 401(k) contributions allow many middle-class Americans a tax break.

Here’s how it works. For this example, we based our estimates on 2016 income tax brackets.

Let’s say Robin is  head of her household and drew a base salary of about $55,000 in 2016, placing her in the 25% tax bracket. She deferred 15% of her pre-tax income, or $8,250, to her 401(k) retirement account. Her $8,250 contribution reduces her annual taxable income to $46,750.

That newly calculated income not only dropped Robin to the 15% tax bracket, but she also saved nearly $1,700 in federal income taxes.

The administration’s tax plan reduces the seven existing tax brackets to just three — 12,  25 and 35 percent (with a possible fourth tax bracket for the highest-earning individuals). But the plan did not specify income ranges. As of this writing, it is unclear which incomes would fall into which bracket.

For the purposes of this example, let’s assume that Robin’s income would still land her in the 25 percent income tax bracket.

With a  401(k) contribution limit reduced to $2,400, she would have been taxed on $52,600 at a 25 percent tax rate. That would have increased the amount she paid in federal income tax to $7,297.50 from $6,350 in 2016.

Moving forward

It’s unclear if the new tax bill will actually include a reduction in 401(k) contribution limits. But one thing that is clear is this: If the tax-reform measures are to pass, funding for more than $1.5 trillion in lost revenue to tax cuts over the next decade has to come from somewhere.

The plan proposes to reduce the tax burden on middle-class Americans by doubling the standard deduction Americans can make when filing their federal income taxes to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly. However, it would eliminate the option to itemize deductions instead of using the standard deduction. The proposed plan would also increase the child tax credit — currently $1,000 — by an unspecified amount and create a $500 tax credit for nonchild dependents, like elderly family members. These and other tax cuts may translate to big losses in federal tax revenue.

An independent analysis by the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan think tank, claims the new tax plan would reduce federal revenues by $6.2 trillion over the first decade, while federal debt could rise by at least $7 trillion in the same period.

The post Is Your 401(K) Tax Break on the Chopping Block? appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

Moving to One of These 9 States Could Save You Thousands

Should you move to one of the nine states with no income tax? Here's how to decide.

Each year, taxpayers pay trillions in income taxes. In fact, the government collected approximately $3 trillion last year. If you’re like most taxpayers, you owe both federal and state taxes, which means an even bigger chunk of your paycheck goes to the government.

When you’re carrying debt — whether it’s student loans or a credit card balance — it can be frustrating to see so much of your hard-earned money leave your hands. That’s why many people consider moving somewhere with no state income tax.

According to a new study by Student Loan Hero, taxpayers could save an average of $1,977 a year by moving to a state with no income tax. But before you pack your bags, find out what factors you should keep in mind.

States Without Income Taxes

States that collect income taxes use them to fund essential programs and services for residents. More than 50% of state tax revenues go toward education and healthcare initiatives, such as Medicaid. State agencies also use collected income taxes to pay for services, including transportation and law enforcement.

Residents in most of the country must pay federal and state income taxes. However, nine states don’t levy any state income tax: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming. Because you don’t have to pay state taxes, you can get a significant yearly savings.

How Much Could You Save?

How much you could save by moving to a state with no income tax depends on your income bracket and where you live now. For example, Oregon workers have a state income tax of 7.75%, the highest rate of any state in the country. Someone earning the median salary in the state — $49,710 — would pay $3,851 in addition to their federal taxes.

Moving to another state to save that kind of cash can be tempting. So tempting, in fact, that 30% of survey respondents would move to a state with no income tax to save money. Moreover, 38% of respondents said they’d use their tax savings to accelerate their student loan debt repayment. (To see how student loans are impacting your credit, check out your free credit report snapshot on Credit.com..)

Using Your Savings for Debt Repayment

The savings you get from not paying state taxes can save you even more money in the long run. Using that money to repay your loan helps you pay off the loans faster, cutting down on interest charges. It can also save you thousands over the life of your loan.

For example, say you had $35,000 in student loans with an interest rate of 6.31% (the current rate for Grad PLUS loans) and a minimum monthly payment of $400 a month. Now, take the average $1,977 you would save by moving to a state without income tax and divide it up over 12 months. That would give you an extra $165 in your pocket each month. If you put that additional amount toward your student loans, you could pay off your debt about three and a half years early and save more than $4,500 in interest.

Other Costs

Before packing up and moving to a new state, consider other costs that may eat into your savings. Between putting down a deposit on a new apartment, moving your belongings and registering your vehicle in a new state, you can spend thousands.

In addition, some states with no income tax make up their revenue through other means, such as sales tax. Florida has a 6% sales tax on goods and services, including essentials such as clothing or food. If you’re not used to paying taxes on groceries, the added sales tax can put a dent in your budget. That’s why it’s important to compare the cost of living when deciding if it’s worth it to move to a new state.

Moving to Save Money

Depending on your circumstances, moving to a state with no income tax can give you a substantial savings. You can use that money to pay off your student loans faster, boost your emergency fund or catch up on retirement savings. But before you make the leap, be sure you understand the added expenses of moving so your decision is financially sound.

Image: xavierarnau

The post Moving to One of These 9 States Could Save You Thousands appeared first on Credit.com.

File Taxes Jointly or Separately: What to Do When You’re Married with Student Loans

Married couples with student loans must make a difficult decision when they file their tax returns. They can choose to file jointly, which often leads to a lower tax bill. Or they can file separately, which may result in a higher tax bill, but smaller student loan payments. So which decision will save the most money?

First, let’s discuss the difference between the two filing statuses available to married couples.

Married filing jointly

Married couples always have the option to file jointly. In most cases, this filing status results in a lower tax bill. The IRS strongly encourages couples to file joint returns by extending several tax breaks to joint filers, including a larger standard deduction and higher income thresholds for certain taxes and deductions.

Married filing separately

Because married couples are not required to file jointly, they can choose to file separately, where each spouse is taxed separately on the income he or she earned. However, this filing status typically results in a higher tax rate and the loss of certain deductions and credits. However, if one or both of the spouses have student loans with income-based repayment plans, filing separately could be beneficial if it results in lower student loan payments.

For help figuring out which filing status is better for married couples with student loans, we reached out to Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and Vice President of Strategy at Cappex.com. Kantrowitz knows quite a bit about student loans and taxes. He’s testified before Congress and federal and state agencies on several occasions, including testimony before the Senate Banking Committee that led to the passage of the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act of 2008. He’s also written 11 books, including four bestsellers about scholarships, the FAFSA, and student financial aid.

Two Advantages to Filing Taxes Jointly:

  • Most education benefits are available only if married taxpayers file a joint return. This can affect the American opportunity tax credit, the lifetime learning credit, the tuition and fees deduction (which Congress let expire as of January 1, 2017, but is still available for 2016 returns), and the student loan interest deduction.
  • Couples taking the maximum student loan interest deduction of $2,500 in a 25% tax bracket would save $625 in taxes. But this “above the line” deduction also reduces Adjusted Gross Income (AGI), which could yield additional tax benefits (e.g., greater benefits for deductions that are phased out based on AGI, lower thresholds for certain itemized deductions such as medical expenses, and miscellaneous itemized deductions).

However, there is a potential downside to filing jointly for couples with student loans.

Income-driven repayment plans use your income to determine your minimum monthly payment. Generally, your payment amount under an income-based repayment plan is a percentage of your discretionary income (the difference between your AGI and 150% of the poverty guideline amount for your state of residence and family size, divided by 12).

  • If you are a new borrower on or after July 1, 2014, payments are generally limited to 10% of your discretionary income but never more than the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan amount.
  • If you are not a new borrower on or after July 1, 2014, payments are generally limited to 15% of your discretionary income, but never more than the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan amount.

Because filing jointly will increase your discretionary income if your spouse is also earning money, your required student loan payment will typically increase as well. In some cases, the difference is negligible; in others, this can add up to a pretty significant cost difference.

“Calculating the trade-offs of income-driven repayment plans versus the student loan interest deduction and other benefits is challenging,” Kantrowitz says, “in part because the monthly payment under income-driven repayment depends on the borrower’s future income trajectory and inflation, not just the inclusion/exclusion of spousal income.”

Fortunately, some tools can help you run the numbers.

An example: Meet Joe and Sally

Here’s a simple scenario that shows how a change in filing status can save on taxes but cost more on student loans:

  • Joe and Sally are married with no children.
  • They live in Florida (no state income tax).
  • Joe is making $35,000 per year and has $15,000 of student loan debt with a 6.8% interest rate.
  • Sally is making $75,000 per year and has $60,000 of student loan debt with a 6.8% interest rate.

First, we can estimate Joe and Sally’s tax liability for filing jointly versus separately. TurboTax’s TaxCaster tool makes this pretty easy. Here’s what we get when run their numbers using 2016 tax rates:

  • Filing jointly, Joe and Sally would owe $13,249 in federal taxes.
  • Filing separately, they would owe $15,178.

So they would save just over $1,900 in federal taxes by filing jointly. But how would filing jointly affect their student loan payments?

We can use a student loan repayment estimator like the one provided by the office of Federal Student Aid to find out. Here’s what we get when we run the numbers and choose the Income-Based Repayment option, assuming they are new borrowers on or after July 1, 2014:

  • Filing jointly, Joe’s minimum required monthly student loan payment under a standard repayment plan would be $143, and Sally’s would be $571, for a total of $714 per month.
  • Filing separately, Joe’s minimum required monthly student loan payment would be $141, and Sally’s would be $474, for a total of $615 per month.

Over the course of a year, Joe and Sally would only save $1,188 on their student loan payments by filing separately. Even with the additional loan payments they would have to make, filing jointly would save them $712 more than filing separately.

What’s best for your situation?

Every situation is different. The simple example above comes out in favor of filing jointly, but you will need to run your own numbers to figure out what is right for you. Here are additional tips to help you figure it out:

  1. Know how much you owe. Make a list of all loan balances, interest rates, and the type of each student loan you have. You can find your federal student loans on the National Student Loan Data System. You can find information on your private student loans by looking at a recent statement.
  2. Estimate your student loan payment options. Using a student loan repayment estimator like the one mentioned above, determine your required payments when filing separately versus jointly.
  3. Calculate your tax liability. Use a tool like TurboTax’s TaxCaster or 1040.com’s Free Tax Calculator to calculate your federal and state tax liability when filing separately versus jointly.
  4. Be aware of long-term consequences. Filing separately might result in lower monthly payments today but more interest paid over time. If you make it to the 20- or 25-year forgiveness point, that could have tax implications down the line. Kantrowitz points out that “forgiveness is taxable under current law, causing a smaller tax debt to substitute for education debt. The main exception is borrowers who will qualify for public student loan forgiveness, which occurs after 10 years and is tax-free under current law.” Keep those long-term consequences in mind as you make a decision.
  5. Consider steps to lower your AGI. Your eligibility for income-driven student loan repayment plans depends on your AGI, which is essentially your total income minus certain deductions. You can reduce this number, and potentially lower both your tax bill and your required student loan payment, by doing things like contributing to a 401(k), IRA, or Health Savings Account.
  6. Keep the big picture in mind. These decisions are just one part of your overall financial situation. Keep your eyes on your big long-term goals and make your decision based on what helps you reach those goals fastest.

Other unique situations

There are a few unique situations that make deciding whether to file jointly or separately a little more complicated. Do any of these situations apply to you?

Divorce and legal separation

Sometimes, determining marital status to file tax returns isn’t cut and dried. What happens when you and your spouse are separated or going through a divorce at year end? In this case, your filing status depends on your marital status on the last day of the tax year.

You are considered married if you are separated but haven’t obtained a final decree of divorce or separate maintenance agreement by the last day of the tax year. In this case, you can choose to file married filing jointly or married filing separately.

You and your spouse are considered unmarried for the entire year if you obtained a final decree of divorce or are legally separated under a separate maintenance agreement by the last day of the tax year. You must follow your state tax law to determine if you are divorced or legally separated. In this case, your filing status would be single or head of household.

Pay as You Earn repayment plans

Pay as You Earn (PAYE) is a repayment plan with monthly payments that are limited to 10% of your discretionary income. To qualify and to continue to make income-based payments under this plan, you must have a partial financial hardship and have borrowed your first federal student loan after October 1, 2007. Kantrowitz says the PAYE plan bases repayment on the combined income of married couples, regardless of tax filing status.

Unpaid taxes, child support, or defaulted federal student loans

If you or your spouse have unpaid back taxes, child support, or defaulted federal student loans, joint income tax refunds may be diverted to pay for those items through the Treasury Offset Program. “Spouses can appeal to retain their share of the federal income tax refund,” Kantrowitz says, “but it is simpler if they file separate returns.”

The post File Taxes Jointly or Separately: What to Do When You’re Married with Student Loans appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

I Got an Airline Voucher for Being Bumped. Do I Owe Taxes?

Bigger payouts from the airlines could get a review from the IRS. Here's what a tax expert has to say.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last month, chances are you heard about the passenger-crew-police altercation on a United Airlines flight that led to a passenger being dragged off the plane to make room for a United employee.

You probably also heard about United’s ensuing policy changes that will hopefully keep such an altercation from happening again, particularly the airline’s decision to increase the amount it will offer passengers who volunteer to be “bumped” from their flight.

That new amount is $10,000, and while it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever be offered that big a payout, you might be wondering what, if any, tax consequences would arise from that kind of cha-ching moment.

First off, it’s important to note that you’re probably never going to get cash for voluntarily agreeing to take another flight, so there’s no big shopping spree in your future. Any compensation is probably going to be a voucher for future flights and services. Quick note: If you are involuntarily bumped, the Department of Transportation requires the airline give you a check instead of a voucher if you request it. Such a payment likely would not have tax consequences. (Your airline credit card may help keep you from getting bumped. And if you’re ditching United altogether, here are four airline credit card alternatives.)

We talked to Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst with Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting, about some of the possible tax consequences you should keep in mind in the unlikely case you get a $2,000, $5,000 or even $10,000 payout from an airline.

To Tax, Or Not to Tax. Is That Even a Question?

“You start off with the problem that, in general, anything that’s received in the way of compensation or payments are taxable unless you can find an exclusion in the tax code for them,” Luscombe said. “There’s no specific exclusion for this, and the IRS has not really directly addressed the issue, so you have to sort of analyze by analogy.”

In doing so, most people agree that things like airline vouchers probably aren’t taxable, Luscombe said. That’s based in large part on an advice memorandum to an airline about a decade ago outlining how the airline should handle these voucher payments for their own, internal accounting processes.

“In that memorandum, the IRS basically took the position that the airline could not defer part of their income for selling the ticket contingent on whether a possible voucher is ultimately used,” he said. “[The IRS] viewed it as what the passenger is really paying for. Their initial ticket is a whole package of services.”

Luscombe suggested that, because the IRS views the vouchers as part of the original transaction and doesn’t allow the airline to defer income (basically, claiming it as a liability on their books) for those vouchers, they likewise would not see them as income for a passenger, but rather the airline holding up its end of the contractual agreement between the passenger and airline.

So, in a nutshell, it’s unlikely the IRS would seek taxes for your voucher. However, the increased payout amounts airlines are now offering that total thousands of dollars do have the potential to make the IRS take a second look, Luscombe said.

The vouchers can be considered somewhat similar to an insurance payout. Say, for example, your house catches fire and your insurance pays you to take care of the damages. Those payments are, generally speaking, not taxable under the tax code. “But they can be taxable if the recovery is viewed as excess in some way,” Luscombe said.

So, could the same be true for a $10,000 airline voucher?

“You do get into the issue here when you’re talking about $10,000 as to whether the IRS might take another look at this and say, ‘well, this has moved into a new realm,’” he said, and could potentially reconsider whether these payouts for being bumped are considered “excess.”

While a $10,000 voucher for getting bumped from your first-class trip from New York to London probably wouldn’t be considered excessive, that same voucher for your coach-class trip from Los Angeles to Albuquerque possibly could. So, if you receive a voucher in an amount that is worth significantly more than you paid for your original ticket, it’s wise to play it safe and talk to a tax pro about whether you need to declare it on your tax return.

“If more dollars are getting involved here, then it’s possible the IRS will decide to address it, so it’s probably always a good idea to check with your tax professional about what the current state of the law is,” Luscombe said.

Remember, being truthful and accurate on your tax return can save you a lot of headaches, including the possibility of being audited by the IRS. If you’re unclear about something, it’s always best to reach out to a professional for guidance. Most importantly, whatever you do, don’t avoid paying your taxes. It can result in serious fines, potential jail time and can wreck your credit.

Image: GlobalStock

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What Airbnb’s Hotel Tax Means for Guests & Hosts

Here's what to expect, how to avoid problems and how to keep the tax man happy.

The summer travel season is nearly upon us and if you’re a fan of staying with Airbnb hosts instead of hotels, you probably already know some locations charge some or all of the same taxes that hotels charge.

If you don’t already know that, surprise! The number of locations charging taxes for that spare room or whole house is only growing. Beginning May 1, Texas will join 30 other states where taxes are charged at either the local or state level or a combination of both.

Clearly, there’s a financial benefit for the communities levying these taxes. The Dallas Morning News estimates Airbnb would’ve remitted an estimated $8 million in Texas state taxes in 2016. However, it’s not the states and cities that initiated the effort. For that, you can thank the hotel industry, which has been lobbying hard for the taxes.

Why?

“Airbnb has brought hotel pricing down in many places during holidays, conventions and other big events when room rates should be at their highest and the industry generates a significant portion of its profits,” Vijay Dandapani, chief executive of the Hotel Association of New York City, told The New York Times in a recent article.

While Airbnb has said on its website it is happy to collect its fair share of taxes, there’s clearly some negative feelings about how it’s all gone down.

“The hotel hypocrisy is almost unbelievable,” Nick Papas, a spokesman for Airbnb, said in an email. “The hotel cartel wanted Airbnb to collect taxes and when we implemented a way to do so, they changed their position and lobbied cities to leave millions of dollars on the table.”

The continuing fight has led to a variety of tax schemes across states and municipalities, creating a confusing landscape for hosts and guests.

What It Means for Airbnb Hosts & Guests

For Hosts

If you’re considering becoming a host, be aware that the taxes present some confusion for some people renting out their spaces.

The reasons are numerous and varied. To start, no one really likes paying taxes. But additional layers of frustration can come with the Airbnb taxes. They can be levied and remitted in different ways depending on the tax laws in particular states or municipalities and Airbnb’s agreement with those entities. Then there are the host’s options of how to charge guests once taxes are implemented. Many hosts get confused when it comes to collecting the tax, where to note it on the listing and the bookkeeping process.

Jeff Cook, who owns several properties in Pennsylvania, said sales and use taxes were already in place when he started hosting with Airbnb several years ago. “The biggest issue here is that many people weren’t paying it simply because they didn’t think they had to,” he said. “I paid it from the get-go, because I wanted my business to be legitimate.”

But it wasn’t easy. Cook’s price for guests bakes in the 6% state and 3% local tax, so he doesn’t note it on his site and doesn’t have to worry about asking for local taxes when guests arrive. His revenue is submitted to Airbnb, but then it gets a little complicated.

Airbnb removes their 9% fee and sends him the remainder, he said. “And then I have to figure out what the tax amounts are independently. If something could be done better … perhaps if they distinguished between the tax and the regular revenue that would be helpful. The lump sum is sent to me, I figure out what the correct tax amounts are, and then I submit a return and payment to the appropriate authorities.”

Laura Jesse, a host in San Antonio, said she’s ambivalent about the tax that begins in Texas next week. “I live near projects that were funded in part with the [state’s occupancy] tax,” she said. “I get a fair amount of convention business as I live near downtown, etc.”

As for raising her rates to offset the taxes, Jesse said she has no plans to do so at this time.

Of course, taxes aren’t the only costs Airbnb hosts face. Check out a few others. But the spare money can still help you do things like pay off debt (you can see how your debt affects your credit with a credit report snapshot on Credit.com). It’s also good to keep in mind that many of the expenses involved with renting out your space are tax-deductible. See which ones you can write off here.

For Guests

Taxes mean your stays are probably costing more – anywhere from 3% to 15% depending on locale and host. On top of that, the process can become confusing depending on how the host applies those taxes to your bill.

Airbnb addresses how that can be done on its Airbnb Citizen site, but there are no clear-cut guidelines available, so many hosts are left scratching their heads and conferring with other hosts on how they alert guests and even charge them.

Airbnb offers guidance thusly:

“If you determine that you need to collect tax, you can usually either add it within a Special Offer or ask your guests to pay it in person. In each case, it’s important that guests are informed of the exact tax amount prior to booking. If you choose to collect tax outside of your listing’s rates, please note that it should be collected only upon arrival and that we are unable to assist with collection.”

So, if your host suddenly asks you to hand over a little cash to cover the taxes, it’s probably not a scam. As Airbnb explains on its site, “this needs to be clearly stated on the listing prior to booking.” So, if the host can’t show you where that’s stated, you should be wary.

Hopefully, however, most hosts will bake in the taxes like Cook does, and you will see only a price increase at your favorite Airbnb homes. (Travel often? These travel rewards credit cards could be right for you.)

“I think separating taxes as a line item [on guest bills] would help clarify the issue for people,” Cook said. “I’m a big supporter of Airbnb. I think they are an awesome company, and as they evolve and grow, distinguishing tax through line items would be beneficial to everyone.”

Image: PeopleImages

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Stuck With a Huge Tax Bill? Here’s How to Deal

Here's what to do if you're facing down a big payment to Uncle Sam.

This year I owe quite a bit of money in taxes.

This amount (let’s call it “in the many thousands”) doesn’t come as a complete surprise since I made more cash last year than I did the year before, but still, it’s a large amount. As a freelancer I’ve learned to sock away 30% to 40% of each paycheck into a savings account set aside for taxes, so I’ll be OK to pay it. Other people might not be so lucky when Uncle Sam comes calling. A recent survey by the Federal Reserve found that 31% of people couldn’t even pay for a $400 emergency expense and 28% said they would need to borrow that money from friends or family

Luckily there are a few things you can do if you’re saddled with a tax bill you can’t pay.

1. Start at the Source

If you can’t pay your tax bill in full come April, fear not — you won’t be thrown in jail. (At least not yet!) The IRS offers a few ways to potentially alleviate the sticker shock. You could apply for an online payment agreement that allows you to pay your tax liability over time, or you could work with the IRS to settle for less than the full amount owed. That’s called an Offer in Compromise, and you can learn more about it — and if you qualify — here.

2. Ask to Have Your Penalties Reduced

Under certain circumstances — as in you or your spouse dealt with a serious illness last year or had an unusual tax event — the IRS has been known to work with taxpayers to waive certain penalties. Try writing a letter to explain the situation in detail, and be sure to specifically ask for an abatement. It’s worth a try.

3. Consider a Loan

If you’re in good financial standing otherwise, a personal loan through your bank with a decent interest rate could help you pay off a large tax bill right away. A better credit score will help secure a lower interest rate. You can view two of your scores for free on Credit.com.

4. Take out a HELOC 

A HELOC — or home equity line of credit — often offers interest rates that are lower than credit cards or potentially even personal loans, plus your interest could be tax deductible. The downside is that defaulting could mean losing your home — not something to take lightly. Be sure you know what you’re getting into before taking this course of action — learn more about it here.

5. Put It on Your Credit Card

While it should only come as a last resort, paying your bill on a credit card allows you to pay your debt on time (at least as far as the government is concerned), while giving you some time to pay it off in full on your credit card. If this is the way you’ll pay your taxes, it’s worth researching credit cards with 0% APR introductory offers that can allow you to take your time paying off the bill without paying interest. Keep in mind there will be an additional fee — which could be quite substantial, depending on how much you owe.

Whatever option you take, be sure to research all the options before jumping in to understand which one is best for your financial situation.

Image: jacoblund

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The Average Property Taxes in All 50 States & D.C.

A comparison of property taxes across all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

Image: JamesBrey

 

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