Category Archives: Tax Credits and Deductions

FAFSA Basics: An Example

Having gone through the FAFSA formula, let’s take a look at how it works with a few scenarios that illustrate how small changes can have big impacts on EFC, or alternatively, how big changes can have small impacts. Our hypothetical family is a family of four with two children, one a high school senior and the other a high school junior. Both parents are 48. Their 2018 household income was $106,800 and they filed married filing joint in 2018. They live in Oregon. To simplify life, let’s assume that all $106,800 is earned income. Neither student has income above the student income protection allowance ($6,840), nor does either have any assets. Continue reading FAFSA Basics: An Example

“Where Do I Begin?”

I’m taking a brief break from the programming I outlined for myself a week or so ago. It’s September and that means that many people are looking seriously at college for the first time. They may be parents of seniors, parents of freshmen, parents at any point who think now is a good time to start investigating this big future step. And after a few google searches or conversations with friends or counselors, they have concluded, “This is overwhelming! Where do I begin?” Continue reading “Where Do I Begin?”

Scholarships and Taxes

Do you have to pay taxes on a scholarship? It depends what the scholarship is for. To understand taxes on scholarships, it’s worth remembering that the IRS defines qualified expenses differently for different purposes. Expenses get more or less the same treatment for taxability of scholarships as they do for education tax credits, so let’s review those. Continue reading Scholarships and Taxes

529 Withdrawals

529 withdrawals are always pro-rata contributions and earnings. That means that if you contributed $30,000 to your account over the years and it’s now worth $40,000, then your withdrawal will be 75% contributions and 25% earnings. That’s moot in the case of a qualified withdrawal, but it matters for a non-qualified one: tax and penalties will apply to the earnings portion. On the federal side, it’s taxed at the marginal rate of the person Continue reading 529 Withdrawals

Why 529s Always Make Sense

It’s easy to explain to parents of younger children why 529s make sense: Contribute now and your account grows tax-free for 18 years until college. If you live in one of the more than 30 states that offers a tax deduction, that’s an even bigger incentive. Here in Oregon, for example, we get a tax deduction for the first $4,865 in contributions to the Oregon College Savings Plan. If I contributed that much for my newborn (well, they act like newborns sometimes) I’d get an immediate return of 9% (state tax rate) or $437.85. Suppose that my account then grows for 18 years at 5% (I’m drastically simplifying the math here), I’d have almost $12,000 when my child was ready to start college, and no tax bill to access it. Added bonus: the FAFSA and Profile don’t count that gain as income in their formulas, unlike how it would be treated if it were in a taxable account. Continue reading Why 529s Always Make Sense

What’s in a 1098-t

(and what isn’t)

A 1098-t is a tax form that serves several purposes. It reports qualified tuition and fee payments made to your college, as well as scholarships received to offset those costs. But qualified expenses is a big tent-type of phrase that means different things in different situations. All by way of saying, your 1098-t is not an exhaustive list of qualified expenses. Continue reading What’s in a 1098-t

To Borrow or Not to Borrow

Planning for college cash flow can be tricky. It’s not just that the average public university costs over $25,000 per year whereas the average family has saved just over $18,000 total. There’s also the combination of tax credits and their attendant rules, a confusing menu of borrowing options, and misunderstandings about how aid formulas treat savings. Add multiple children with overlapping college years and it’s no wonder many parents throw up their hands in despair. One common theme I hear from parents is a version of, “We’ll just spend our savings until it’s gone and then borrow what we need.” This may or may not be the right answer. Continue reading To Borrow or Not to Borrow