Student Loan Interest Deduction Basics for 2020

Michael Lux Blog, Strategy, Student Loans 3 Comments

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated on December 19, 2019, to include the latest information from the IRS.

When planning your finances, an important detail that should not be overlooked is the student loan interest deduction. Unlike car payments or credit card bills, interest paid towards student loans can be a deduction on your taxes. It is one of many special considerations for student loan borrowers at tax time. While this deduction is a nice program, it has several limitations that must be considered.

How much student loan interest can I deduct from my taxes in 2020?

For the tax year 2019 (aka the taxes filed in 2020), the maximum deduction is $2,500. At the end of the year, your lender should provide you a copy of your 1098-E if you paid more than $600 in student loan interest. This document will list the exact amount that you spent on interest for the year.

Note: If you were charged less than $600 in student loan interest, you still can claim the deduction. Reach out to your student loan servicer and ask for a 1098-E so that you can have one for your tax records.

Does a $2500 deduction mean I save $2500 on my taxes?

No. This is a very common misconception. When tax people use the term “deduction,” they are talking about “deducting” it from your income, not from what you owe. If you paid over $2500 in student loan interest on a salary of $52,500, your salary in the eyes of the IRS would be reduced to $50,000.

In short, the deduction means that you are taxed on less of the money you earn.

How much can I save with the student loan interest deduction?

Because of the limits that are in place on income, the most an individual can save on their taxes is $550. This number is based upon a tax rate of 22%.  While some people do fall in higher tax brackets, their income is too high to qualify for the deduction.

What is the maximum income for the student loan interest deduction?

To qualify for the entire deduction on their 2019 taxes, individual income must be less than $70,000 (or $140,000 for married couples). At that point, the student loan interest deduction begins to phase out, meaning people who make above $70,000 can only claim a portion of the deduction. Individuals making over $85,000 (or couples making over $170,000) per year cannot claim the deduction at all.

Couples that file their taxes as married filing separately cannot claim the student loan interest deduction.

Note: These numbers are adjusted each year. For those planning their 2020 taxes, the limits may be even higher.

Can I deduct student loan interest if I don’t Itemize?

Yes. The student loan interest deduction is known as an “above the line” deduction. That means that all taxpayers can take the deduction, not just those who itemize.

Generally speaking, taxpayers have the option of taking the standard deduction or itemizing all of their deductions. The exceptions to this general rule are called above the line deductions. Student loan interest falls within this exception. Taxpayers can take the standard deduction and the student loan interest deduction.

What happens if I made payments that were not required?

The important detail is the interest. Suppose you are in your 6-month grace period after graduation or on a forbearance. Payments that you make during this time could potentially be applied to your principal balance or towards interest. Payments applied towards interest, even if the payment wasn’t required, can be deducted.

Why should I even worry about paying off my student loans if I can deduct the interest?

The student loan interest deduction helps out some borrowers at tax time, but due to the many limitations that we have already described, borrowers can still take a beating on interest.

Letting student loans linger just for a tax break would be like paying a dollar to get a quarter. Getting a quarter is good, but not if the cost is a dollar.

In most cases, the student loan interest deduction is not enough to alter student loan repayment strategy.

Further Reading: For more detailed information on the student loan interest deduction and how it works, check out the IRS page on student interest. The IRS also has a handy tool for determining if your payments were eligible.