For those of you who have already filed, even received your refund, kudos. For those who are reading this while taking a break from your pile of receipts or waiting in an around-the-corner line at the post office: good luck to you. For those of you who were hoping to get a bit of a tax break for college expenses and ran into this red tape: it’s time to advocate!
We learned through Gus Smith, a Virginia criminal justice advocate, tax preparer and parent of Kemba Smith whose 1994 drug sentence was commuted by President Bill Clinton in 2000, that he has had to tell a lot of Virginian’s that taxpayers cannot receive certain education-related tax deductions if they have been convicted of a felony drug offense.
Had you heard about that one?
Huffington Post breaks down the restrictions to “big” tax deductions related to higher education:
“ … But there are some significant restrictions. The student must not have completed the first four years of post-secondary education as of the beginning of the taxable year. Also, this credit can only be claimed four times -- generally once for each undergrad year. The student must be enrolled in a degree or certificate program, be enrolled at least half time, and have no felony drug conviction.”
This restriction is further documented by the feds in an overview chart posted on irs.gov.
Mr. Smith said he’s had to explain this to several clients much to their dismay and disappointment because it just doesn’t seem fair. Once a person – if afforded a fighting chance – has the opportunity to successfully re-enter their community, find housing, gainfully enroll in a college or university AND afford tuition, it only seems fair that they be eligible to receive a tax deduction.
As you go back to celebrating your refunds, pouting about having to pay the government back, or grumble about the work you have ahead of you today before midnight, mark your calendars for advocacy on behalf of those who, despite trying to change their life, can’t catch a break – not even a tax break.
Zerline is JPI’s director of communications.