(From the Financial Literacy Blog) – According to a report by the Institute for College Access and Success, the average Maine college graduate owed $32,600 in student loans last year. While higher education can help you advance your career, it’s no secret that the cost can be a difficult barrier to overcome. Whether you’re an aspiring college student or you’ve already graduated, there are some student loan relief programs that can help.
Here in Maine, there is a tax credit for students who live and work in the state following graduation. The Maine Educational Opportunity Tax Credit (often referred to as Opportunity Maine) provides a credit that can be claimed on the state tax return. Depending on what year you graduated from college, you’ll receive different benefits. Students that graduated as far back as 2008 are eligible, but they won’t receive the same benefits as a recent graduate. Ever since 2016, graduates are eligible for up to $77 per month for an associate degree; up to $377 per month for a bachelor’s degree; and up to $338 per month for a graduate degree. If you graduated with a bachelor’s degree last year and now live and work in Maine, you could see a maximum credit of $4,404.
The way the credit is applied depends on your major. For non-STEM majors (science, technology, engineering, or mathematics), the tax credit will offset whatever you owe the State of Maine in taxes. For example, if you paid $2,000 in student loans last year, but owed the state $2,500 in taxes, you would only owe the state $500 after the credit is applied. If the tax credit is worth more than what you owe the state in taxes, whatever credit you can’t use can be held and carried over for up to 10 years. If you’re a STEM major, the tax credit is considered refundable––meaning after being applied to your income tax, you’ll get a check in the mail or receive a direct deposit for the remaining credit.
It’s important to remember that while you’re eligible for up to $367 back per month with a bachelor’s degree, you won’t receive that amount in credit if you’re making lower payments. If you’re paying $200 a month in student loans, you’ll receive the following in credit: $200 x 12 (months) = $2,400. If you’re paying $400 a month in student loans, which is over the credit limit, you’ll receive the following in credit: $367 x 12 (months) = $4,524. If you’re a STEM major and your payments are below the maximum credit number, you’re essentially being forgiven for the entirety of your debt. You do have to make the payments each month, but the money is refunded to you after you file your state taxes.
In order to receive the benefits from Opportunity Maine, you need to fill out the Educational Opportunity Tax Credit worksheet when filing your Maine income tax return. You can find the worksheet at both opportunitymaine.org and maine.gov. Along with the worksheet, you simply submit an official transcript, proof of loan, and proof of loan payments. After that’s all submitted to the Maine Revenue Service, you’ll receive your credit. Opportunity Maine is a unique incentive program designed to encourage those with degrees to live and work here in Maine. Whatever your major may be, it’s an extremely beneficial student loan relief program and the short time it takes to complete the worksheet during tax season can save you thousands. To find out the maximum credit available for the year you graduated, or for more details, visit opportunitymaine.org.