PLATTSBURGH - Students who attend college could be eligible for a major tax credit, according to U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.
Schumer paid a visit to the State University of New York at Plattsburgh Feb. 21 where he informed a group of students and local officials that a federal college tuition tax credit law he sponsored is available to middle class income families making less than $160,000 a year. The credit, said Schumer, gives students - or parents claiming their children on their tax returns - $1 back on their taxes for every $1 spent on tuition, up to $2,500 per year.
However, approximately 43 percent of those eligible for the credit actually claim it, said the senator, adding he was astonished when he first learned of the figure.
"It's as if there was a dump truck filled with money in the middle of campus and you could go over and take your share and you don't go over," said Schumer. "Why is it? I don't know."
The senator said he believes it could be because the credit is relatively new, having first been available during filing for the 2009 tax year.
"Whatever the reason, it is amazing," he said.
If every college student who qualified for the credit statewide claimed it, it would amount to "$1.1 billion in the pockets of New York students and their parents," said Schumer.
"Here in the North Country, it's $100 million," said Schumer. "That's a lot of money that could be used going to the restaurants and the stores and buying things, helping our local economy, rather than going to Washington to the tax man."
Those who didn't file for the credit on their 2009 tax returns aren't out of luck, however, noted Schumer. Last year's returns may still be amended, meaning students and their families are still eligible for their share of up to $38 million in savings.
"All you have to do is file a form with the IRS," said Schumer. SUNY Plattsburgh president Dr. John C. Ettling and Clinton Community College president John E. Jablonski each said they will be doing their part to spread the word through their respective public relations departments using e-mails and other means.
Getting the message out is important, said Ettling, who remarked he was "flabbergasted" such a high percentage doesn't claim the tax credit and ends up graduating college with debtloads in excess of $30,000.
"This is an opportunity that certainly will help mitigate that or offset it a little bit," said Ettling.
Jablonski agreed, adding Schumer's message will most likely benefit parents and students who prepare their own tax returns versus those who have them filed by qualified professionals.
"Most families, I hope, that have their taxes professionally prepared probably are catching this ... It's ones that prepare their own taxes that might have missed this," said Jablonski, who applauded Schumer's announcement. "It's a great opportunity and a great time of year to get this message out."
Mayor Donald M. Kasprzak - whose oldest son is a recent SUNY Potsdam graduate and youngest is a senior at SUNY Plattsburgh - said the announcement was of particular interest to him.
"Quite frankly, I just got educated on something that I did not know," said Kasprzak, who added he'd be looking into the tax credit for his family as well. "This is good news for not only SUNY students but also for the North Country."
Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, who supported and voted for the law to establish the credit, agreed, adding he felt the funding has the potential to help many students.
"This kind of information, this kind of legislation, is very important because, as we all know, the building blocks of a strong economy are very focused on education," said Owens.