Tax bill changes affect how parents & students may pay for education

Published 12:13 am Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Because the last few months of 2017 saw so many versions of the tax reform bill working their way through both chambers of Congress, there’s much confusion about what exactly is changing for taxpayers in the 2018 tax year.

That’s especially true for parents thinking about how to save and spend for their children’s educational expenses.

According to the experts we spoke with, the good news is that not much is changing. With a few exceptions, parents and students should continue to save and pay for education as they have done in prior years.

In fact, especially for parents who are able to afford private school, the new tax law offers some advantages.

First of all, 529 plans are being expanded so that they may apply to more than just college or university expenses.

These special tax-advantaged savings plans used to only cover college or university tuition, fees, books or other supplies. The 2017 tax reform modifies these savings plans to allow up to $10,000 to be withdrawn tax-free each year to pay for public or private elementary or secondary schools, including religiously affiliated institutions.

According to Douglas E. Ehlen, a financial planner in Indianapolis, parents need to keep in mind that the $10,000 limitation applies on a per-student basis, not a per-account basis.

“Thus, an individual who is a designated beneficiary of multiple accounts may receive a maximum of $10,000 in distributions tax-free, regardless whether the funds were distributed from multiple accounts,” he says. Any excess distributions would be subject to tax as regular income.

The legislation also allows parents to roll 529 plan funds over into ABLE accounts, special savings accounts benefiting disabled persons, without incurring penalties.

The same person must be designated as the beneficiary of both accounts.

Ehlen points out that any rolled-over amounts count towards the overall limit on amounts that can be contributed to an ABLE account within a taxable year.

The 2017 legislation also affects how the IRS treats the discharge of some student loan debt.

“Any income resulting from the discharge of student debt on account of the death or disability of the student will be excluded from taxable income,” Ehlen says.

Also, the act excludes from income the repayment of a taxpayer’s loans under the Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program.

There are several things that are not going to change when it comes to taxes and paying for education. Many of these items were once on the chopping block in various versions of the bill, but the final bill left them intact. These include:

• Taxpayers may still deduct the interest paid on student loans

• Graduate students who receive tuition waivers may still exclude the cost of tuition from their income

• Employees who receive employer-provided education assistance do not need to report such assistance as income

• The rules for qualifying for education credits remain the same

• Interest on U.S. savings bonds used to pay higher education expenses may still be excluded from income

In addition, while early versions of the bill allowed homeschooling parents to use 529 savings plans to pay for homeschooling expenses, that provision was ultimately stricken from the final bill.

— By Jesse Darland, CTW Features