Tax season is upon us, and you should be aware of the educational tax credits available to you when filing.
The first is the American Opportunity Credit, which began as an extension of the Hope Credit Act of 2009. The American Opportunity act is currently extended until 2017. Among the changes included in its extension are the expenses covered by the credit and the number of years the credit is available. This credit now pays expenses for required course materials in addition to tuition costs, and it is available to cover expenses for four years of post-secondary education instead of just two.
For the American Opportunity Credit, the maximum annual credit amount is $2,500 per student. The full credit is available to single filers with incomes of less than $80,000 and to those filing jointly with incomes less than $160,000. A partial amount of this credit still may be available to those with incomes higher than these levels.
The second is the Lifetime Learning Credit. This is a maximum $2,000 credit available to students and parents paying for school. As the name indicates, there is no limit on the number of years that this credit can be claimed. It is particularly useful to graduate students, those who are only taking one course, and those who are taking courses but not pursuing a degree.
You can claim this credit if you are paying eligible educational expenses for an eligible student who is yourself, your spouse, or a dependent. The full credit is available to single filers with incomes of less than $63,000 and to joint filers with an income of less than $127,000.
If you are eligible for both the American Opportunity Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit, you will only be able to claim one or the other per tax year per person. However, if there are two eligible students in the same family, they can each claim a different credit, but they cannot both claim both credits.
This article explains the tax credits available for education, but there are also tax deductions available for educational purposes. Tax deductions are not the same as tax credits. Tax deductions depend on taxable income, and their value is proportional to the amount of income being taxed. Credits reduce the tax amount overall, and are the same value for everyone who is able to claim the credit.
For more information on the American Opportunity Credit, go to: http://www.irs.gov/uac/American-Opportunity-Tax-Credit
For more information on the Lifetime Learning Credit, go to: http://www.irs.gov/publications/p970/ch03.html
For more information on educational tax deductions, go to: http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Benefits-for-Education:-Information-Center
If you are a student at Marquette, you have probably received several e-mails about applying for federal student aid over the past few weeks. You know what that means. It’s time to file your 2014-2015 FAFSA.
The FAFSA is not as scary as many students imagine it to be. Filling it out takes less than an hour, and it is the best way to get financial aid for school. The federal government spends approximately $150 billion on grants and loans for those who apply. To make sure you get your fair share of this funding, you need to fill out the FAFSA.
To file the FAFSA, you might need some of the following information, depending on your circumstances:
•Your social security number (if you are a dependent student, you will also need your parents’ social security numbers)
•Your alien registration number (if you are not a US citizen)
•Your driver’s license number
•Most recent federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other relevant records of money earned (if you are a dependent student, you will also need this information from your parents)
•Bank statements and records of investments (if applicable)
•Records of untaxed income (if applicable)
•A Federal Student Aid PIN (if you are a dependent student, your parents will also need a PIN) so that you can electronically sign your federal student aid documents (if you are filing electronically) ◦To apply or request a duplicate PIN, go to www.pin.ed.gov
You can begin filing your FAFSA as early as January 1st, but keep in mind that the 2014-2015 FAFSA requires 2013 federal income tax return information. While it is great to file the FAFSA from a completed return, it is far better to file the form early with estimates rather than later with exact figures. Once your 2013 tax returns are filed, you will be able to update your FAFSA from your (and your parents’) completed returns by using the Link to IRS tool.
Two helpful resources for completing the FAFSA and using the Link to IRS Tool are:
•The Step-by-Step Guide: http://www.marquette.edu/mucentral/financialaid/documents/StepbyStep.pdf
•IRS Data Retrieval Tutorial: http://www.marquette.edu/mucentral/financialaid/resources_verification_guidelines_1314.shtml#irseligibleyes
Ideally, you should submit your FAFSA by February 15th at the latest. This way, the Department of Education has time to process your FAFSA and submit it to Marquette by the March 1st priority deadline.
It’s not so easy for college students to obtain a credit card anymore. While students used to be able to get them with little to no hassle, the Credit CARD Act of 2009 has made the requirements for obtaining a credit card a bit stricter for applicants under the age of 21. Now, college students can only get a credit card if a parent or guardian is willing to cosign, or if the student has a job with an income sufficient to pay credit obligations. Of course, if the student is over 21 these restrictions do not apply.
While cosigning with a parent or guardian may seem like the easiest option, it is also important to keep in mind that not all banks permit cosigners. Bank of America, Chase Bank, Wells Fargo, and Discover all offer the option to cosign, but American Express, Citibank, and Capital One do not have that option.
If you are unable to cosign on an account, most lenders do provide the option to add authorized users to the account. Both cosigning and being an authorized user will allow a college student access to a line of credit, but they do differ in terms of who owns the debt. On an account with a cosigner, both parties are equally responsible for any debt incurred. On an account with an authorized user, only the account holder is responsible for the debt. If you are able to cosign on an account, the only way to be removed as a cosigner is to close the account. Authorized users can be removed from an account at any time without closing the account.
If you would rather just demonstrate to the lender that you have sufficient income to pay your credit obligations, it is important to know that “sufficient income” varies from person to person and lender to lender. The lender will estimate your income based on information from your credit card application, your credit report, employment information, and IRS databases. If they do choose to offer you credit, your credit limit will also be influenced by this information.
While there are now a few extra hoops to jump through on the way to getting a credit card if you’re under 21, it is still possible to get one. The Credit CARD Act was designed to keep you from accruing debt you can’t afford to pay off. Learning how to manage credit card debt now will make essential purchases like a home and a car easier and less expensive in the future.
One of the most frequently misunderstood components of the financial aid package is Federal Work Study. Though many people receive it, they are unsure of how it works. It is not a loan; it does not need to be repaid. However, it is also not a grant, and you need to work in order to earn money through the program. In technical terms, it is a federally subsidized hourly wage program. In layman’s terms, it means the government gives your employer a portion of the money to pay you. The work study program is only available during the academic year; it is not offered during the summer.
Since it is not a loan or a grant, the money can be used for whatever expenses you see fit to use it for. The money from the program is intended to assist with educational expenses, but it does not necessarily need to be spent on only tuition or books. You can spend the money on pizza, printer ink, or enough coffee to get you through midterms.
If you do not have Federal Work Study in your financial aid package, you can still work on campus through Marquette Student Employment, or MSE. In MSE, your employer will still pay you full wages even without the work study award. It is important to keep in mind that the program is only available during the academic year, so you will need to find some other way to fund your pizza habit in the summertime. However, there are employers who will allow Federal Work Study students to work during the summer and simply pay them MSE in the absence of work study funds. You can check with your employer to see if this is an option.
Overall, work study is a great program to help you earn money during the school year, as well as gain valuable work experience. Make sure to fill out your FAFSA by February15th priority date so that you can receive the best financial aid package available to you!