The GOP tax bill is detrimental to college students

By Will Katcher

(Ting Shen/Xinhua/Zuma Press/TNS)

It’s been five days since the Senate pushed the GOP past a major milestone in their quest to enact significant legislation by the end of this year. After striking out on health care and a border wall, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 is the Republican Party’s last shot at victory in the first 12 months of the Trump presidency.

At its core, the bill is based on cutting taxes for the wealthy, and provides significantly skewed relief, with benefits leaning heavily toward Americans making six figures and above.

College students – graduate students especially – would be well-served to understand the proposal, given that within the pages of tax policy that the Senate and House have come up with are a group of revised tax rules that will significantly affect students across the country.

Three weeks ago, the House passed their version of the tax bill, which featured most of the changes that will affect students. While the Senate version is tamer in this regard, the final bill will be a combination of what the two bodies each individually passed.

Under the House bill, student loans (which many students at the University of Massachusetts and other schools will have to pay off following graduation) will no longer have tax-deductible interest. In the past, those with loans could claim a deduction of up to $2,500 a year on that interest. That will affect students and graduates across the board, as loans are the way many make college possible.

This pattern in the House bill could be similarly found in the Senate version, which the independent Congressional Budget Office said will result in increased taxes for many recent graduates, while also increasing the national debt by over $1 trillion in the next decade, which will ultimately fall on this generation to pay down the road.

While these changes will affect the majority of college students, it’s graduate students who will face additional challenges in the new system. Often, in order to afford advanced degrees, graduate students will receive tuition waivers in return for working for their college by researching and teaching classes.

These students will sometimes also receive a living stipend to cover the costs of food and housing. Currently, the stipend is taxed as income in the same way a salary is taxed, which makes sense, given that it’s money given to a student that they use to pay for essentials.

However, under the House tax bill, tuition waivers would be taxed as income. Taxing money a citizen receives, like a stipend, makes sense, but the waiver is a different case. In a realistic current scenario, a student is granted a $20,000 living stipend, and is waived $40,000 in tuition. They’d pay taxes on $20,000, as they’re taking $20,000 into their bank account that they can use to live off of. Under the new tax plan, they’d be taxed as if they made $60,000 a year, since a tuition waiver would qualify as income.

Opponents argue that a waiver is the same as income, and although it’s similar, those opponents fail to draw a distinction between receiving money (a stipend) and not paying money (a tuition waiver). What this proposal would do for most graduate students is push them up a tax bracket, thus effectively raising their tax rate by significant amounts.

The example of a student with a $20,000 stipend and waived $40,000 tuition demonstrates the true problem here. Under current law, that student would pay $1,440 in taxes, calculated by removing the standard deduction and personal exception, and then applying the 15 percent rate that student would pay. However, that same student would pay over $10,000 in taxes under the Senate’s proposed tax bill, and even more under the House’s.

Lower taxes are central to Republican policy, and with no major legislative wins on the table, the party must feel pressure to produce something in the final weeks of the year. But the Senate tax bill passed by the slimmest of margins, and it’s clear why. It was rushed, with final changes being scribbled in the margins in barely legible handwriting and Senators being given only an hour to read hundreds of pages of documents.

This is a tax cut bill, as long as you’re rich enough. Most Americans, though, will see just a fraction of the benefits in the first few years, and nearly none of them after that. In fact, by 2027, over 60 percent of the benefits will go to the top one percent of the population.

Fiscal responsibility is one thing, but this is a complete diversion from that type of policy, and it lays the cost on future generations – current college students included – at the benefit of the ultra-rich. Many students on campus may have heard of this proposal, and depending which news outlets you listen to, may support or oppose the bill. But at least now you know that regardless of your opinion on tax relief, under this bill that relief is going to a very small percentage, and the rest of us will foot the bill.

Will Katcher is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @will_katcher.