The student loan interest deduction is one of the most misinterpreted areas of recent changes to the tax laws. The rules for deducting student loan interest are confusing (like most tax rules). Many taxpayers who think they ought to be able to take the deduction, can't, and many who qualify don't know how the deduction works. Here, in a nutshell, are the rules to follow.
- The deduction for student loan interest is not an itemized deduction, so you don't have to file Schedule A to claim this deduction. You enter the amount you can deduct right on page one of the tax return.
- The maximum amount you can deduct is $2,000 (this will increase to $2,500 next year and for future years). If you paid more than $2,000 in student loan interest, there is no provision for carrying over the excess amount and deducting it in a future year.
- You should receive a statement shortly after the end of the year from the lender or lenders showing how much student loan interest you paid. If you don't receive such a statement, that doesn't prevent you from taking the deduction.
- The student loan interest deduction can be taken only for interest paid during the first 60 months of the loan payment term. If you have been paying interest on the loan for more than five years, you are no longer entitled to claim a deduction. There are exceptions to this rule. For example, if the loan payments have been suspended for a period of time, and then the payments resume, the 60-month clock doesn't keep ticking during the suspension period.
- There are income limits that prevent many taxpayers from claiming this deduction. Single, head-of-household, and surviving spouse taxpayers must have income under $55,000 to claim at least part of the interest payments as a deduction. Married taxpayers filing a joint return must have income under $75,000. Married taxpayers who file separately are not entitled to the deduction.
- The loan must be for expenses relating to higher education costs including tuition and fees, room and board, books, supplies, and equipment, and other expenses necessary and directly related to the education, such as transportation costs. The student must be enrolled at least half-time in a degree or certificate program.
- The person claiming the deduction must be claimed as an exemption on the tax return where the deduction appears. For example, if you are a parent paying college loan costs for your child's education, you must claim the child as a dependent in order to qualify for the student loan interest deduction. A college student claiming his own student loan interest deduction cannot be claimed as a dependent on someone else's tax return.
- You cannot take a deduction for student loan interest in a situation where the school costs are paid for by scholarships, tax-free-withdrawals from an Education IRA, U.S. Savings Bond interest, or other non-taxable payments (other than gifts or inheritances) received for the purpose of paying the education costs. The amount borrowed must actually be used to pay for the education costs.
- The loan on which interest expenses are being paid cannot be a loan from a related person. Related people include siblings, spouse, ancestors (parents, grandparents, and so on), and lineal descendents (children, grandchildren, and so on). Related people also include corporations and other businesses in which you or one of the relatives mentioned previously have at least a 50 percent ownership interest.
- The person claiming the deduction must be legally obligated on the loan. If you borrowed the money for your child's education and your child has no ownership of the loan, your child cannot claim the deduction for interest payments, even if he is making the payments on your behalf.
If you were entitled to claim a student loan interest deduction and failed to do so on your tax return, or if you claimed such a deduction in error, you can correct the error by filing Form 1040X between now and April 15, 2004 and amending your 2000 tax return.