The final version of the GOP tax bill that passed last month rewrites the tax code in many ways, eliminating deductions and adding new benefits. Some of these new provisions affect those paying for college.
After public outcry on several provisions proposed in the House's tax bill, the Senate version that passed last month left many tax credits related to higher education untouched.
The new tax bill keeps the deduction for student loan interest. Additionally, the tuition waivers that graduate students receive will stay tax free, and other tax credits – such as the Lifetime Learning Credit and the American Opportunity Tax Credit – remain unscathed.
"A lot of things didn’t change that we were worried about changing – the taxation of the tuition waiver, the taxation of employer tuition assistance. We worried about that happening, but it didn’t end up happening," says Shannon Vasconcelos, director of college finance at College Coach, an admissions consulting firm.
But a few key changes will affect families and students who are financing higher education. Here are five new tax codes that may change a family's finances.
1. Deductions for interest on home equity loans and lines of credit are eliminated. Under the new tax legislation, the ability to deduct interest on home equity loans is suspended from 2018 to 2025.
"This one is a real big one that is a bummer for families," says Vasconcelos. "For a lot of families, it's the best interest rate – it's better than a lot of the education loan rates. A lot of families do tap their home equity to pay for college, so losing the deduction is going to cost them fairly significant money."
The new restrictive mortgage rules that cap interest on new loans to $750,000 will also "prevent many middle-income taxpayers from using home-equity loans in the future to fund college tuition, while generating tax-deductible interest," says Blake Christian, a CPA at Holthouse, Carlin, Van Trigt, a Southern California accounting firm.
2. Families can use 529 plans to pay for K-12 education. Families can now use qualified education expenses in a tax-advantaged 529 savings account to pay for elementary or secondary school tuition. The new tax code allows taxpayers to pay up to $10,000 per student per year in K-12 tuition.
But college experts caution some families against using this new flexibility with 529 accounts. Sean Moore, founder of SMART College Funding, worries that parents who redirect these funds to cover private school education may use the money too quickly and come up short for college.
Christian from HCVT says this benefit will largely help families with a high net worth.
3. Colleges and universities will pay a new excise tax on endowments. A new excise tax levies a 1.4 percent on a private educational institution's endowments that amount to more than $500,000 per student.
The new provision affects scores of private universities with large endowments, such as Harvard University in Massachusetts, the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and Stanford University in California, to name a few.
"It's going to cost these colleges money. How much is going to be passed on to students and parents – we don't know yet. The colleges are just now figuring out how to deal with this new tax," says Vasconcelos from College Coach.
4. Student loans discharged for death or disability are now tax-exempt. The new tax code makes death and disability discharges of federal and private education loans tax-free.
Previously, the debt cancellation would be added as income on to the taxpayer's bill. Now the cancellation of the student debt is tax-free. But the new tax code only applies to discharges that occur during 2018 to 2025.
"It's great for those families who suffer from those devastating effects. But the reality is the people that it helps are hopefully very small," says Moore from SMART College Funding.
5. Alimony for recipients is no longer taxable. College consulting experts say this provision should make it easier for custodial parents to qualify for need-based aid when filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as the FAFSA. For the most part, the FAFSA for college-bound students relies on parental information, such as tax records.
"Without alimony showing up on their tax returns, divorced custodial parents should be eligible for financial aid," says Joe Orsolini, president of College Aid Planners, a consulting organization in Illinois that helps families navigate paying for college. "This change will make is easier for them to qualify."
Even with this provision, the FAFSA uses tax records from the prior prior year – so there is a time gap to when this new tax code would benefit a custodial parent. But Orsolini says this should benefit these parents "unless the Department of Education catches on to this and changes the FAFSA."