Student tax breaks survive the tax bill, make the most of them

Graduates celebrate receiving a Masters in Business Administration from Columbia University during the year's commencement ceremony in New York in this May 18, 2005 file photo. dreams of many college seniors. REUTERS/Chip East/Files

By Gail MarksJarvis

CHICAGO (Reuters) – If you are going to college, getting extra training for a job, or paying off student loans, there are myriad tax breaks worth thousands of dollars to people burdened by college costs.

Although many were threatened in early versions of the tax bills crafted by the Senate and House and Representatives, students can breathe a sigh of relief that the benefits all remain. Tax experts suggest using these strategies before the end of December to get every penny possible:

* Student loan interest deduction

About 12.4 million borrowers make use of this deduction. You can deduct up to $2,500 in interest per year, which can result in tax savings that for some top $600.

The deduction depends on how much you have paid in a single tax year toward your student loans and also depends on your income.

If your loan payments made so far for 2017 do not qualify for the $2,500 maximum deduction and you are still paying off student loans, consider paying more before the end of the year to boost the deduction, said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of You can find out how much interest you have paid so far this year from the student loan servicer that collects your monthly payments.

To take the full $2,500 deduction, an individual cannot have a modified adjusted gross income over $65,000, and for couples $135,000. For individuals with incomes up to $80,000 and for married couples earning up to $165,000, smaller deductions apply.

Paying extra by Dec. 31 would be particularly wise if your income next year is likely to put you over the income cutoff, said Gil Charney, director of tax and policy analysis for The Tax Institute at H&R Block.

* College credits

Both the American Opportunity Credit and Lifetime Learning Credit provide tax breaks to help pay for education, but apply to different stages.

For undergrads, the American Opportunity Credit is worth up to $2,500 per year, but can be used only for the first four years of college. Students must attend at least half-time.

If you have not paid enough tuition and fees to qualify for the full credit this year and have been billed for the first quarter or semester in 2018, consider paying the bill now to maximize the 2017 credit, Charney said. The credit covers 100 percent of the first $2,000 in tuition and fees paid in a year; then 25 percent of the next $2,000.

Remember, there are income limits. You can’t get the full credit with modified adjusted gross income over $80,000; $160,000 for couples.

If your income will exceed the limit in 2018 but qualifies in 2017, this would be the year to capture as much as possible.

The same strategy applies to the Lifetime Learning Credit, which is valuable to part-time students, graduate students or workers trying to enhance job opportunities with an extra course or training.

The Lifetime Learning Credit is worth $2,000, or 20 percent of the first $10,000 spent in a year. So consider paying ahead for 2018 education, especially if you are near an income cutoff: over $56,000 in modified adjusted gross income for individuals, or $112,000 for couples for the maximum credit.

Keep in mind that if two spouses are going to school they cannot both claim the $2,000; it is a maximum per household. The American Opportunity Credit is kinder because it applies per student. Parents with three children in college at the same time could claim the credit for each child and do it annually for the four years a child is in an undergraduate program.

For more details, see IRS Publication 970

The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters.

(Editing by Beth Pinsker and Leslie Adler)

“Little” Lori is Married!

This past week, my second oldest daughter, Lori Ann, married a wonderful young man in a beautiful ceremony at the Tabernacle.  I must admit that watching her marry the man of her dreams brought a torrent of emotions for me.  Lori is beautiful – she always has been.

From the moment I saw her being born to this special moment, she has always had a glow about her.  Not just on the outside, but inside as well.

As I stood at the Tabernacle and watched her coming down the aisle on Jim’s arm, my mind was flooded with memories.

I drifted back to that occasion, December 6, 1990, the day I witnessed her birth.

The day before, Lloyd Zeigler (my mentor) had interrupted one of my classes.

“Margie’s in labor,” he said. “She called and asked for you.”

I immediately left for the hospital, and I sat with Margie all that day and through the night; she was having a horrible time of it. The next morning, the doctors finally decided to do a C-section. Her previous children had all been delivered vaginally, and Margie had never had any kind of surgery before. She wanted me in the operating room with her.

“Do you think you can handle it?” the doctor asked me.

“I think so,” I replied. “I’ve been through childbirth classes, and I’ve assisted with several deliveries. I want to do this.” I had been present at the births of three children—Nicole (or Nikki Bee as we called her), Bobbi’s daughter; my niece Amber, Mark’s daughter; and the child of my close friends Christy and John— but I had never done anything like this. I wasn’t worried, though, because I had discovered that a calming presence always came over me when a baby was being born, and it seemed quite natural to be in the delivery room helping.

Previously I’d held the baby as it came out of the mother’s womb. I had cut the umbilical cord. I knew I could do this, even though a C-section would be a lot different.

Margie was scared by this new—and traumatic—experience. Right before they put her out, she motioned to me, and I leaned over the gurney.

“Jesus is here with me,” Margie said. “He told me to just go ahead and go to sleep because he would stay with me.”

“That’s right,” I told her. “And I’ll be here too.”

Scrubbed and gowned in hospital greens, I stood by Margie’s side and watched the doctor cut open her abdomen. It was extraordinary, looking down and seeing a person inside of another person, and I was overwhelmed as the doctor reached in and brought out a baby girl in his hands. C-section babies are beautiful. Their heads are perfectly shaped because they haven’t gone through the trauma of the birth canal. This tiny little girl with a full head of black hair yelped and gulped, filling her lungs for the first time outside her mother’s womb.

As I helped cut the umbilical cord, I was awestruck.

The anesthesiologist brought Margie around quickly, and the doctor presented her with a brand-new daughter.

“What do you want to name her?” he asked.

Margie didn’t hesitate. “Lori.”

“No! You can’t do that,” I said. We had never even discussed it.

“Yes,” she said. “I want to name her Lori. I don’t ever want to forget what you’ve done for me and my family.”

Little Lori—or Little Luvins; I was Big Luvins—was seven now, and I’d been there for every milestone in her life—every birthday, every holiday. Maricela, Margie’s next oldest girl, had tattled on Lori the last time I’d seen them. “Auntie Lori, Little Luvins says bad words.” It was true, unfortunately; my namesake could already cuss like a sailor.

Lori Bakker in “More Than I Could Ever Ask”

Little did I know that very soon, I would be married to Jim Bakker and both of these wonderful girls would be our daughters to raise and love.

A few years after Lori was born (we now call her “Little Lori”), the circumstances of life led us to a place where Jim and I could adopt this beautiful child.  She was and is my namesake, and she is beautiful, inside and out.

“Little Lori” is now 21 years old.  Not only is she an amazing human being, she is gifted in many areas.  She has done a wonderful job producing our television show in the past, and today she is studying and preparing for a career in management and fashion design.

I can truly say that raising “Little Lori” was one of the greatest joys of my life.  Though not without its own distinctive challenges, the privilege of being trusted to raise this remarkable child and now, married young woman, was sacred to me.

God, in His infinite grace and mercy, restored to me the privilege of being a Mother to this wonderful girl…. along with 4 other amazing children!  That makes a total of 5 children God has given to Jim and I to parent.

Perhaps some may believe that we intentionally adopted 5 children to replace the 5 children I had aborted in my days of rebellion, but I assure you that is not the case.  No, dear friends, these children were given at different times and under different circumstances.  Each one is a unique blessing and each one has a testimony belonging only to them.

Even if I had planned it, God planned it better!  Little did I know what God would do with the beautiful child that was born that day I accompanied Margie to the hospital!