For some, tax day means a much-awaited refund. For others, it may mean another expense. There are a variety of factors that can affect your taxes, including your status as a student.
If you paid qualifying educational expenses or student loan interest during the tax year, you may qualify for a student loan interest deduction or an education tax credit — which could potentially mean a lower tax bill or a higher tax refund.
When you claim a deduction on your taxes, it is subtracted from your total income. Your income taxes are assessed after the deduction is taken. In contrast, a tax credit is subtracted from any taxes you may owe.
Taxes are complicated so It’s a good idea to consult with a tax professional about what deductions and tax credits you may be eligible for. What follows, however, are some general guidelines on how student loans might affect your tax returns.
Student Loan Interest Deduction Explained
The student loan interest deduction lets borrowers deduct all or part of the interest they pay on their federal student loans and/or private student loans when they file their federal income tax return.
Usually, you can expect to receive a 1098-E form from each of your student loan providers by the end of January each year. This form details the amount of interest you paid over the past calendar year.
Your loan servicer is only required to send you a 1098-E form if you paid more than $600 in interest on a qualified student loan. If you did not receive this by mail, your provider may have sent an email notification to let you know your 1098-E is ready to download.
To qualify for the maximum $2,500 student loan interest deduction, you must meet certain filing and income criteria. It may be possible to deduct student loan interest that has been paid on loans issued for yourself, your spouse (if you file jointly), and your dependents. However, parents can’t claim the student loan interest deduction if the student loan is in their dependent’s name only.
Since this is an adjustment to your gross income, you can take this deduction even if you don’t itemize. In order to claim this deduction, there are certain income requirements that must be met. The deduction is phased out when an individual’s modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) reaches certain thresholds.
The threshold amounts change every year but for the 2022 tax year, the benefit began to phase out at $70,000 for single filers and $145,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly.
The deduction was eliminated completely for single filers making $85,000 or more and for married taxpayers filing jointly who are making $175,000 or more.
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Am I Eligible for Education Tax Credits?
If you paid tuition, fees, or other education-related expenses during the tax year, you may be eligible for an education tax credit, either the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) or the Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC).
Note that you can’t claim both credits for the same individual within the same year. If you qualify for both, it might be worth calculating them both in order to determine the option that is best for you.
American Opportunity Credit
This credit applies towards 100% of the first $2,000 of eligible education expenses and 25% of the next $2,000.
What does this mean? Students who are enrolled at least half time in a degree or certificate program for one academic period during the tax year may be eligible to receive a credit of up to $2,500 for the cost of tuition, fees, and course materials.
The credit may be claimed for up to four years, but it can’t be claimed after the eligible student has completed the first four years of post-secondary education, which means those pursuing graduate degrees aren’t eligible for this tax credit.
The MAGI limit for eligibility is $90,000 for individual filers and $180,000 for joint filers. The credit is reduced if MAGI is between $80,000 and $90,000 for individual filers and between $160,000 and $180,000 for joint filers.
The AOTC is a refundable tax credit. This means that if the credit takes your tax bill to zero, you can get 40% of the unused credit, up to $1,000, as a tax refund. The IRS has even more information on the requirements and eligibility factors for the AOTC on its website .
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Lifetime Learning Credit
The lifetime learning credit (LLC) is worth 20% of the first $10,000 of eligible education expenses, for a maximum of $2,000.
The LLC is similar to the AOTC, but with a few important differences. This credit has a lower income limit than the AOTC. For the 2022 tax year, the amount of your LLC is gradually phased out if your MAGI is between $80,000 and $90,000 ($160,000 and $180,000 if you file a joint return).
You can’t claim the credit if your MAGI is $90,000 or more ($180,000 or more if you file a joint return).
There is no limit to how many years you can claim the credit. And the credit can be used to help pay for a variety of education expenses, including undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees. You could even qualify for the credit if you’re taking classes to “acquire or improve job skills.”
Unlike the AOTC, the LLC is not refundable. This means that the credit can be used to pay for the taxes you owe, but if it surpasses that, you won’t receive any money back as a refund. The IRS has even more information on the LLC available on its website.
Finding Tax Help
If you want to learn more about these education tax credits and additional education tax deductions, the IRS has further information .
If the process of filing your taxes seems overwhelming or you’re still confused by the ins and outs of these tax advantages, you could consider finding help this tax season. A qualified tax professional could assist you in navigating your taxes and help you maximize your refund with less hassle — and they will know more about any credits or deductions you may be eligible for. After all, it’s their job to know!
Figuring Out How to Pay for School
Even with tax credits and deductions, paying for school might still be an overwhelming prospect.
If scholarships, federal student loans, grants, and savings just aren’t enough to pay for school, you may want to consider applying for a private student loan. These are available through private lenders, including banks, credit unions, and online lenders. Loan limits vary by lender, but you can often get up to the total cost of attendance (which is more than you can borrow from the federal government). Interest rates may be fixed or variable and are set by the lender. Generally, borrowers (or cosigners) who have strong credit qualify for the lowest rates.
Keep in mind, though, that private loans may not offer the borrower protections — like income-based repayment plans and deferment or forbearance — that automatically come with federal student loans.
If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.
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