How Do I Deduct student loan interest?

An eligible taxpayer can deduct qualified interest on a qualified student loan for an eligible student’s qualified educational expenses at an eligible institution. The amount of the deduction is limited, and it is phased out for taxpayers whose modified adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds certain thresholds.

The maximum deduction allowed for educational loan interest is $2,500. This amount is not adjusted for inflation.  For tax years beginning in 2017, the $2,500 maximum deduction for interest paid on qualified education loans is reduced when modified adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds $65,000 ($135,000 for joint returns), and is completely eliminated when modified AGI reaches $80,000 ($165,000 for joint returns).

Planning tip: Some taxpayers may choose to take out a home equity loan to pay off their student debt. Use of a home-equity loan of up to $100,000 principal is allowed for purposes other than home improvement or purchase. Interest up to that amount is fully deduction, as an itemized mortgage interest deduction.

Student loan interest is an “above-the-line” deduction; the taxpayer need not itemize.

Eligible student. An eligible student for purposes of eligible debt is a student enrolled in a college degree, certificate or other program, including a program of study abroad approved for credit at an institution of higher learning where the student is enrolled, and leading to a recognized educational credential at an eligible educational institution. The student must also carry at least one half of the normal full-time workload for the course of study being pursued during at least one academic period beginning during the tax year.

Student loan interest is not deductible if a dependency exemption is allowed for the taxpayer on someone else’s return. Thus, if parents take a dependency exemption for a student who is the only person legally obligated to pay interest on a qualified loan, neither the parents nor the student is entitled to deduct any interest paid by the student during the time he is claimed as a dependent. A student may deduct interest paid in years after the student has ceased to be a dependent.

Legal obligation. The taxpayer claiming the deduction must be legally obligated to make the interest payments. Thus, a parent who had signed for the student loan and is liable personally for its payment may deduct interest paid on the loan.

If a third party who is not legally obligated makes an interest payment on behalf of a taxpayer who is legally obligated, the taxpayer is treated as receiving the payment from the third party and using it to pay the interest. For instance, if an employer makes an interest payment on behalf of the employee, and the payment is included in the employee’s income as compensation, the employee can deduct the payment. Similarly, if a parent pays interest on behalf of a non-dependent borrower, the borrower may deduct the interest.