While it can be difficult to live debt-free in today’s world, many American adults attribute a majority of their debt to educational loans. In fact, recent statistics show that Americans owe approximately 1.48 trillion in student loan debt and about 44 million Americans are currently paying on their student loans.

The recent conversations around tax reform had many students and those still paying their loans concerned about what the tax changes would mean for their debt-to-income ratio. Early proposals suggested the repeal of student loan interest and educational assistance deductions, as well as tax-free tuition waivers, which certainly left many feeling uneasy. The proposed changes would have removed around $2,500 in deductions and would have considered tuition waivers and employer-assisted tuition as taxable income, effectively bumping many into higher tax brackets.

Luckily, when the final legislation was passed in December of 2017, none of these changes were included. But, what changes were in the final bill that could affect your education and how you save for it?

One significant amendment is the expanded usage allowed under Section 529 accounts, which are tax-advantaged savings and prepaid tuition plans intended to encourage taxpayers to save for college sponsored by educational institutions, states or state agencies under Section 529 of the IRS code. As of 2018, qualifying distributions from Section 529 accounts include tuition for elementary and secondary schools as well as tuition for private, public or religious college institutions. At the federal level, funds are limited to $10,000 per student during a taxable year, however, states have the option to enact a different approach at a state income tax level.

While Section 529 accounts saw expanded usage, Coverdell Education Savings Accounts, which allowed taxpayers to set aside up to $2000 a year in tax-free money for college education, will be phased out under the new tax laws. Since employer-assisted tuition was left unchanged under the new code, employers can still contribute up to $5,250 a year to an employee’s qualified continuing education. The student loan interest deduction of up to $2,500 was also left intact, however, if you make more than $80,000 as a single filer or $165,000 as joint filers, you no longer qualify for this deduction.

While many deductions and educational credits were kept under the new legislation, taxpayers should still be wary of the implications of long-term loan repayment options and deferring loans. Determining the best strategy for repaying loans quickly and educating yourself on ways to reduce the tax implications on current loans will likely leave your credit and your taxes intact and manageable in the future.

Peter McAllister, CPA