Federal Tax Policy and UNC

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1 Federal Tax Policy and UNC Introduction Federal tax benefits for colleges and universities have become increasingly important to overall higher education policy in the United States over the past 20 years. The federal government provides financial support directly to students and their families in two primary ways: through traditional student aid (grants, loans, and work-study assistance [See UNC white paper on Federal Financial Aid]) and through tax benefits. This paper will outline these various tax benefits for colleges, universities, students and parents as well as for donors/benefactors. UNC campuses and other traditional nonprofit public and private institutions of higher learning have historically been granted tax-exempt status which allows us to allocate more of our resources towards UNC s core mission: teaching, research, and public service. Currently, there are fourteen provisions in the federal tax code designed to assist students and their parents pay for higher education. These benefits come in multiple forms, including a combination of credits, deductions, exclusions, and other incentives. Unlike federal student aid (grants, loans, and workstudy assistance), the majority of higher education tax benefits are available after tuition, fees, or other related expenses have been paid. Federal financial aid is primarily directed towards students with financial need and tax benefits are available regardless of need. Therefore, federal tax benefits are the primary source of financial assistance for educating middle-class students. Key Tax Terms Tax Credit: The amount of money that a taxpayer can subtract from the amount of tax owed to the government. Credits can be refundable, nonrefundable, or partially refundable. Tax Deduction: A deduction from the total income that arises from various types of expenses incurred by a taxpayer. Deductions reduce a taxpayer s overall tax liability. As compared to tax credits, deductions are generally less valuable. Tax Exceptions: Exemptions reduce the amount of a taxpayer s income which is subject to taxes, by a fixed dollar amount per claimed exemption. Every taxpayer is allowed to claim one exemption, one for a spouse and one for each dependent. Exemptions are similar to deductions in that they reduce the income that is taxable; however they are based on a fixed amount per person rather than from expenses. Tax Exclusions: Types of income that are not considered taxable as the tax code explicitly excludes or exempts them from being taxed. Tax Exemptions: To be free from, or not subject to, taxation by regulators or government entities. A tax exempt entity can be excused from a single or multiple taxation laws. The government is often trying to encourage investment when exempting taxation.

2 Tax Deferred: Investment earnings such as interest, dividends or capital gains that accumulate tax free until the investor withdraws and takes possession of them. Education Related Expense: Defined by the IRS as tuition and fees required for the enrollment or attendance of a student for courses of instruction at an eligible educational institution. This includes fees for books, supplies, and equipment used in a course of study only if the fees must be paid to the eligible educational institution for the enrollment or attendance of the student at the institution. Marginal Tax Rate: The amount of tax paid on an additional dollar of income. The marginal tax rate for an individual will increase as income rises. This method of taxation aims to tax individuals based upon their earnings, with low income earners being taxed at a lower rate than higher income earners. Adjusted Gross Income (AGI): A measure of income used to determine how much of one s income is taxable. Calculated as your total income from taxable sources minus deductions. Types of Tax Benefits For Students and Parents American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC): The AOTC is a partially refundable tax credit, up to $2,500, that may be claimed for qualified tuition, fees, and required course materials expenses of each student in a taxpayer s family. To use the credit, a student must be enrolled: at least half-time, during the first four years of postsecondary education; and in a program leading to a degree, certificate, or other recognized credential. The AOTC is subject to an income phase-out beginning at $80,000 for an individual ($160,000 for joint filers) and ending for income above $90,000 ($180,000 for joint filers). The AOTC is 40% refundable. Without extension, AOTC reverts back to the Hope Scholarship tax credit benefit of $1,800 with narrower eligible education expenses and shorter period of eligible use, lower income thresholds, and no refundability. Status: Enacted on a temporary basis by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA; P.L ) and extended through the end of 2017 by the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA, P.L ). Lifetime Learning Credit: The credit is a non-refundable tax credit of up to $2,000 for qualified education expenses paid for all eligible students in a family. There is no limit on the number of years that the credit may be claimed for each student. In contrast to the AOTC, eligible expenses are limited to tuition and fees paid for the student. The credit can be claimed for a student enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate degree program or any course of instruction at an eligible school to acquire or improve the student's job

3 skills. The credit is subject to income limits of $60,000 for single filers ($120,000 for joint filers). Status: Permanent, no expiration. Tuition Deduction: The above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses allows students or parents to deduct up to $4,000 in eligible higher education expenses from their taxable income. Eligible expenses are limited to tuition and fees paid for the student. To claim the deduction, a student must be enrolled in one or more courses at the undergraduate or graduate level. The deduction is subject to an income phase-out beginning at $65,000 for and individual ($130,000 for joint filers) and ending for income above $80,000 ($160,000 for joint filers). Status: Established by the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA, P.L ) Technical expiration at the end of 2011, however the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA, P.L ) retroactively extends the deduction for two years, through Student Loan Interest Deduction: Taxpayers whose income does not exceed certain thresholds can take a tax deduction of up $2,500 for interest paid on student loans. Prior to 2001, this benefit was only allowed for 60 months and phased-out for taxpayers with income between $40,000 and $55,000 ($60,000 and $75,000 for joint filers). In 2001, Congress eliminated the 60-month rule and increased the income phase-out to $55,000 to $70,000 ($110,000 and $140,000 for joint filers). Status: Made permanent by American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA, P.L ). Section 127 Employer-provided Educational Assistance: Under Section.127, an employee may receive up to $5,250 in tax-free educational assistance per year from an employer for undergraduate or graduate-level courses. Tax-free educational assistance benefits include payments for tuition, fees and similar expenses, books, supplies, and equipment. The payments do not have to be for work-related courses. Status: Established by the Revenue Act of 1978 (P.L ), was set to expire at the end of 2012, made permanent by the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA, P.L ). Section 117 Qualified Scholarships: Section 117 excludes scholarship, fellowship, and grant funds (including Pell Grants) from taxation for a student at a college or university who uses the funds for the payment of tuition and fees, books, supplies, and equipment. Funds used for living expenses, such as room and board, are not excludable from income and are therefore subject to taxation. Section 117 also allows employees of certain educational institutions, including nonprofit colleges and universities, to exclude from

4 taxable income qualified undergraduate tuition reductions they, or their dependents, receive from their employer. Neither the institution as an employer or the employee pays federal income tax on the amount paid by the institution for tuition expenses. Status:? (K, can t find anything that says that this provision (Section 117 (c)) expires but our Policy Agenda says that we would like to see it restored. ) Coverdell Education Savings Accounts: Coverdell Education Savings Accounts are taxexempt savings accounts used to pay the higher education expenses of a designated beneficiary. In 2001, Congress increased the annual contribution amount from $500 to $2,000 and expanded the definition of education expenses to include elementary and secondary school expenses. Status: Made permanent by American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA, P.L ) Section 529 Education Savings Plans: Under Section 529 of the tax code, state are authorized to sponsor Qualified Tuition Programs that are tax-advantaged savings vehicles for qualified post-secondary education expenses, such as tuition, fees, books, required supplies, equipment and room and board. There are two types of 529 Plans: savings plans, which allow families to save for expenses, and pre-paid tuition programs, which generally allow families to make advance tuition payments to cover future attendance at a designated in-state public college or university system. Any U.S. resident or citizen, regardless of income, can open an account. Investments grow on a tax-deferred basis; earnings are free of federal income tax and redemptions are also exempt from federal income tax if used to pay for qualified education expenses. Status: Permanent, no expiration. For Donors and Benefactors: Charitable Income Tax Deduction: This deduction a taxpayer to partially deduct gifts made to charities from their taxable income. Charitable deductions are generally limited to no more than 50% of a taxpayers adjusted gross income (AGI). UNC campuses receive millions of dollars annually in charitable gifts and those contributions are essential to UNC s financial well-being and sustainability. Some gifts are used to fund current academic and research programs; however many gifts are given to a campus endowment to support certain scholarships or research activities in the future. See Appendix 1: Total Gifts by Campus and Endowment Value, June IRA Charitable Rollover: The IRA Charitable Rollover tax incentive allows individuals age 70½ and older to donate up to $100,000 from their Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and Roth IRAs to public charities, including colleges and universities, without

5 having to count the distributions as taxable income. Status: Additional one year extension from the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA, P.L ). Expires December 31, For Colleges and Universities: Tax-exempt Bonds: The interest earned on tax exempt bonds issued by state or local governments, including colleges and universities, is excludable from total income for the purposes of federal income taxes. Colleges and universities generally issue bonds to help pay for long-term capital projects, like a new residential, academic, or research facility. For instance, in November of 2000, after the urging of the UNC Board of Governors, the General Assembly authorized a $3.1 billion bond referendum. This was and remains the largest capitol bond issue for higher education in U.S. history. A total of 728 projects, involving new construction or renovation, were completed at universities and affiliates associated with the UNC system and community colleges throughout the State under the bond program. Research and Development Tax Credit (R&D) Tax Credit: The R&D tax credit is a business tax credit for qualified research expenses that can be deducted from overall corporate income taxes. Current law allows companies to claim the credit for R&D activities conducted at universities or other qualifying organizations, including research consortiums which may include universities. Universities benefit indirectly from the R&D tax credit. The tax credit encourages industry to take on new R&D challenges that are important to industry but also well-suited to academic research. When companies contract with universities to conduct R&D, faculty and students benefit from receiving complex academic and practical research problems and the financial support to study them. The R&D tax credit, in turn, promotes greater collaboration between industry and universities, including employment opportunities for students and graduates. The R&D tax credit also fosters start-up companies, many of which grow out of new technologies developed at universities. Status: Established by the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 (P.L ). One year extension from the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA, P.L ). Expires December 31, Conclusion UNC supports federal efforts to continue to ensure accessible and financially stable policies for U.S. colleges and universities by affirming their current favorable tax treatment. Further, we

6 support guaranteeing the proper balance between transparency and tax compliance burdens and costs. Recognizing that federal tax benefits are the only form of financial aid that middle class students and families qualify for, UNC strongly encourages policies that provide a favorable tax treatment for students and families who do not otherwise qualify for need-based financial aid. Further, UNC specifically supports the following: -Enhancing current student-centered tax benefits, including the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), the Hope Scholarship Tax Credit and Lifetime Learning Tax Credit. -Preserving Section 117(d) qualified deductions. -Preserving Section 127 employer provided education assistance benefits. -Preserving Section 117 exclusion for qualified higher education expenses. -Maintaining the student loan interest deduction. -Maintaining charitable giving proposals, including deductibility, gifting rules and valuation of gifts. -Extending and expanding the IRA charitable rollover.

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