The Federal Student Loan Interest Deduction

Interest Paid on Student Loans Is Still Tax Deductible

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Student loan interest you've paid is one of those advantageous "above the line" tax deductions that you can claim without itemizing. It's tucked into the adjusted gross income section of the first page of Form 1040. You can take it in addition to itemizing other deductions, or you can take it if you choose to use the standard deduction rather than itemize. The deduction reduces your adjusted gross income, and this can directly affect your eligibility for numerous other deductions and tax credits.

Rumors of the Deduction's Demise 

It was initially believed that this lucrative tax break for students would disappear with the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act at the end of 2017. An early version of the bill did indeed include a provision to do away with the student loan interest deduction. Fortunately, many congressmen listened when students, colleges, and universities protested in significant numbers. The final version of the bill pulls the deduction back into the fold so it's likely to survive if the bill is passed in its current form at the end of 2017.

Reporting Student Loan Interest

There's no need to dig through all your student loan statements for the year trying to track down how much interest you paid. Your lender should send you a Form 1098-E sometime after the first of the year. The amount of interest you paid is reported in box 1.

Are You and Your Loan Eligible? 

You can deduct interest on student loans paid by you, or by your spouse if you file a joint return.

You can't claim the student loan interest deduction if you file a separate married return. You must use the single, head of household, qualifying widow(er), or married filing jointly filing status to claim it.

You must also be legally obligated to repay the loan—this means you or your spouse are the signatories on the loan if you file a joint return—and you can't be claimed as dependents on anyone else's tax return.

The loan must be a qualified student loan for the benefit of you, your spouse, or your dependent. Loans from a qualified employer plan don't count, nor do private loans from family or friends. 

Limits and Income Limitations 

The most student loan interest you can claim as a tax deduction is limited to $2,500 as of the 2017 tax year. The deduction is also limited by your income—it's reduced for taxpayers with modified adjusted gross incomes in a certain phase-out range and it's eventually eliminated entirely if your MAGI is too high. 

What Is Modified Adjusted Gross Income? 

Your modified adjusted gross income is critical to the computation of whether you're subject to the deduction phase-out. It's your all-important adjusted gross income before you take other deductions into account. These include the student loan interest deduction you're hoping to qualify for—you can't deduct this first before calculating your MAGI. You must also add back in any deductions you took for tuition and fees on line 34 of your 1040, and for domestic production activities which would appear on line 35.

You must also add back the following exclusions and deductions if you took any of them, but these are somewhat rare:

  • The foreign earned income exclusion
  • The foreign housing exclusion
  • The foreign housing deduction
  • The income exclusions for residents of American Samoa or Puerto Rico

Student Loan Interest Deduction Phase-Outs 

The phase-out ranges for the 2017 tax year are: 

Filing StatusPhase-out BeginsPhase-out Ends
Married Filing Jointly130,000160,000
Qualifying Widow(er)65,00080,000
Head of Household65,00080,000

If your MAGI is under the threshold where the phase-out begins, you can deduct up to $2,500 in student loan interest or the actual amount of interest you paid, whichever is less. Your limit is prorated if your MAGI falls within the phase-out range. The IRS explains how to calculate the reduced student loan interest deduction:

"If your MAGI is within the range of incomes where the credit must be reduced, you must figure your reduced deduction. To figure the phase-out, multiply your interest deduction (before the phase-out, but not more than $2,500) by a fraction. The numerator is your MAGI minus $65,000 ($130,000 in the case of a joint return). The denominator is $15,000 ($30,000 in the case of a joint return). Subtract the result from your deduction (before the phase-out) to give you the amount you can deduct." (From Publication 970, Chapter 4).

Unfortunately, your student loan interest isn't deductible at all if your income is more than the ceiling where the phase-out ends. 

You can use the worksheet found in Publication 970 to calculate the deductible portion of your student loan interest.