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Post-purchase Federal Financial Aid: How (in)Effective is the IRS’s Student Loan Interest Deduction (SLID) in Reaching Lower-Income Taxpayers and Students?

Manuel S. González Canché ()
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Manuel S. González Canché: University of Pennsylvania

Research in Higher Education, 2022, vol. 63, issue 6, No 2, 933-986

Abstract: Abstract Federal financial aid policies for higher education may be classified based on their “for-purchase” and “post-purchase” natures. The former include grants, loans, and workstudy and intend to help students finance or afford college attendance, persistence, and graduation. Post-purchase policies are designed to minimize financial burdens associated with having invested in college attendance and are granted as tax incentives/expenditures. One of these expenditures is the IRS’s Student Loan Interest Deduction (SLID)—which offers up to $2500 as an adjustment for taxable income based on having paid interest on student loans and has an annual cost of $12.81 billion—about 45.7% of the Pell grant cost. Despite this high cost, SLID has remained virtually unstudied. Accordingly, the study’s purpose is to assess how (in)effective SLID may be in reaching lower-income taxpayers. To address this purpose, we relied on an innovative analytic framework “multilevel modelling with spatial interaction effects” that allowed controlling for contextual and systemic observed and unobserved factors that may both affect college participation and may be related with SLID disbursements over and above income prospects. Data sources included the IRS, ACS, FBI, IPEDS, and the NPSAS:2015–2016. Findings revealed that SLID is regressive at the top, wealthier taxpayers and students attending more expensive colleges realize higher tax benefits than lower income taxpayers and students. Indeed, 75% of community college students were found to not be eligible to receive SLID—data and replication code ( https://cutt.ly/COyfdKC ) are provided. Is this the best use of this multibillion tax incentive? Is SLID designed to exclude the poorest, neediest students? A policy similar to Education Credits, focused on outstanding debt rather than on interest, that targets below-poverty line students with up to $5000 in debt, would represent a true commitment, and better use of public funds, to close socioeconomic gaps, by helping those more prone to default.

Keywords: Post-purchase federal financial aid policies; Tax breaks incentives; Multilevel modelling with spatial interaction effects; Hierarchical simultaneous autorregressive models; Regressive at the top policies; Geography of disadvantage; Policy analysis; Machine learning; Social stratification; Spatial econometrics; Higher education finance; Community colleges & public 2-year colleges; Taxable income; Social and spatial context; Geographical information systems; Reproducible research; Data science; Data visualization; Equity; Geography of advantage and disadvantage; Geopolitics; Neighborhood effects; Bayesian spatial statistics; Social policy; Economic sociology; Economic geography (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2022
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DOI: 10.1007/s11162-021-09672-6

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