The federal tax return filing deadline is April 15. If you haven’t filed your taxes yet, I get it. You’ve probably been through a lot last year — attending or graduating college, starting a new job, saving for retirement, or maybe buying a first home. When it comes to tax time, all those big moves mean you might be eligible for one of several credits or deductions.
Saving is a healthy financial habit for people of all ages. The sooner you start, the better. The large majority (93%) of young adults between 22 and 35 are saving according to Money Under 35, a study conducted by Navient and the global market research company Ipsos. Twenty-nine percent of them say they are saving for retirement.
If you’re one of them, you can earn more savings when it’s tax time. So here’s the deal: individual filers can claim a credit of up to $1,000, or $2,000 for joint filers, for contributing to an Individual Retirement Account, 401(k), or similar qualified retirement savings plan. Individual filers whose adjusted gross income is less than or equal to $31,500 or $63,000 for joint filers, are eligible for the credit.
Are you a student? The American Opportunity Tax Credit is a per-student, partially-refundable tax credit. For tax year 2018, you can claim a tax credit of up to $2,500 for expenses on tuition, fees and educational materials in the first four years of post-secondary education. To receive the maximum credit amount, an individual filer must have a modified adjusted gross income of less than $80,000, or $160,000 for joint filers.
Or check out the Lifetime Learning Credit, a per-taxpayer, non-refundable credit of up to $2,000 that applies only to expenses for tuition and fees. Students in undergraduate or graduate programs or any continuing education program may be eligible. The credit may be claimed for any year in which qualified tuition and fees are paid. To receive the maximum credit amount, an individual filer must have modified adjusted gross income in 2018 of less than $57,000, or $114,000 for joint filers.
If you had student loans and paid interest on them, you may qualify for a tax break. The Student Loan Interest Deduction is an “above-the-line” deduction of up to $2,500 for interest paid on qualified federal or private education loans. To be eligible for a full or partial deduction, an individual filer’s modified gross income must be less than $80,000, or $165,000 for joint filers.
You should refer to the IRS Form 1098-E or other interest statement received from your loan servicer to help figure out the amount of student loan interest you paid on one or more qualified student loans during the year. Keep in mind the student loan interest deduction is for interest actually paid, not interest that may have accrued.
For borrowers with loans serviced by Navient, filers may securely download their Form 1098-E from their online account. Navient customers who paid $600 or more in eligible student loan interest will be sent the statement automatically.
Randi from Des Moines, Iowa, is one such borrower who wrote off student loan interest when filing taxes.
“Start paying early,” she says. “You can write-off the interest on your taxes every year, so just make some sort of payment. The companies that handle the loans are easy to work with so just talk with them!”
Did you buy a new home in 2018? Congrats! Most homeowners probably know they can deduct mortgage interest payments. But, you may not be familiar with the tax deduction for mortgage points. If you bought a house in 2018, you may be able to claim points paid as deductible interest; homeowners who paid points when they refinanced their mortgages might also be able to deduct them.
If you qualify for any of these tax breaks, you’ll likely be able to lower your taxable income or your tax bill. Then you might ask, “What will I do with my tax refund?” Good question. Personally, I’m planning to spend my refund on a much-needed vacation. (I’m planning a trek to Machu Pichu.) Though, I admit: There are smarter ways to spend an extra chunk of change.
Some of our customers have used tax refunds on their student loans to help them speed up the repayment process. Kimberly from Centralia, Wash., did exactly that.
“Pay off these loans as soon as you can,” she says. “Live frugally. Do not buy an expensive vehicle; ride an old beater into the ground if you have to. If you receive any payment after filing your yearly taxes, send that money to pay off more of your loans.”
Lacee from Cave Creek, Ariz., is all about having a game-plan when it comes to student loans, as well as using any extra money, including tax refunds, towards repayment.
“Start with a plan and an end date that isn’t too far out of reach,” she says. “When I received a ‘bonus’ of sorts or unexpected income (i.e. income tax refund), I would put a large percentage towards my student loans. Don’t ever miss a payment.”
It took discipline, doubling up on payments and tax returns to help Michael from Bardstown, Ky., pay off his student loans.
“I doubled up my payments each month and used my annual tax returns to pay off big chunks of the loan,” he says. “It’s all about disciplining yourself to get it paid off.”
As the deadline approaches, make sure to review your options. Consider the changes from recently enacted tax reform. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act mean new income tax rates, a higher standard deduction, and new limits on many popular deductions.
For more information on the various education deductions and credits available, see IRS Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education. Also, it’s a good idea to speak with a tax adviser to determine what you’re eligible for and what’s best for your situation.
Nikki Lavoie is a national spokeswoman for Navient, a leading provider of asset management and business processing solutions for education, healthcare and government clients at the federal, state and local levels. The company supports more than 12 million student loan customers to successfully manage their loans.