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Earnings Unlimited Under New Tax Law

Now Must Offer Half of Support boy!"

By William W. Bartley iii

There is a tide in the affairs of men, says the Bard, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Many students, whose incomes have been on the ebb for the past few years, have found good tidings in the new tax law.

A few may claim to regret the passing of the new bill. indeed, its birth has killed one of the college man's best ploys for impressing his friends. And accompanying it to the grave has gone many a student's vacation. Still, only a few weep at the funeral.

Gone are the days when September dining halls were filled with tanned faces smugly narrating summer experiences, and murmuring over their teacups, "Had a wonderful little job this summer. Earned $300 a month. But it was frightfully boring! I finally quit and spent the rest of the summer relaxing."

This ruse fooled only those who hadn't worked during the summer and those who had worked at piddling jobs that brought in $30 to $40 in a good week--those who had never thought of earning over $600 in a college year.

Frustration Every Summer

But to the many students who had or could have earned well over $600 with summer and term earnings the smug tale was all too often a very familiar story. As likely as not it was their story too. They had faced the frustration--in spite of the forced vacation--of giving up several hundred dollars that could have made their college year more enjoyable--just to save their parents a tax exemption. They too had occasionally wondered why parents had to be one of the hardships of a minor's life. But the ruse went unabashedly on.

For many years an iron bound internal revenue clause has stated that a parent would lose a $600 dependency exemption on any of his children who earned over $600 in a year. For those in the higher income brackets this could be a sizable figure. But the law hurt perhaps most deeply those in the lower income strata whose children really did have to work their ways through college.

In the $200 yearly income bracket, for example, one $600 exemption should make a difference of $133. In the $5000 brackets, the difference could be $140 or more. $130 to $150 seems like a small amount; but it can often be a huge sum for families in the below $5000 income bracket who are trying to help their sons through college.

According to a yearbook survey taken three years ago, 21 percent of Harvard students' parents are in this group. Altogether, over 50 percent of University students--coming from families earning from below $2000 to almost a million dollars a year--work at some time during the year.

Therefore, the new tax law which President Eisenhower signed on August 15 came as a welcome relief to harried student self-supporters. Under the new provisions, retroactive to January 1 of this year, a student may earn as much as he is able without his parents losing the right to count him as a dependent on their income tax returns. On the other hand, if he does earn over $600 he must file and pay tax on the remainder. When he does this he is permitted another exemption for himself. In effect, therefore, a student is allowed a double exemption.

There are several rules and conditions surrounding this right. The dependent child either must be under 19 years old or else must attend school during some part of at least five monts during the tax year. Most important, a very definite "iron-clad" rule says that a parent must still pay half of Junior's expenses to claim him as a dependent. This provision is almost tissue-paper thin. Half of Junior's expenses to claim him as a dependent. This provision is almost tissue-paper thin.

The original pressure for this bill came primarily from the eastern seaboard colleges. One story claims that the movement never would have started if, in the summer of 1951, one of the bright young men from an Eastern college--faced with unemployment for the summer--had not hit upon a new approach to the problem. After being turned down a half dozen times by employers who feared he would leave them before the summer was over lest he top his $600 limit, he abandoned his role as "College Student Seeking Summer Employment."

Instead he hurried home, stripped off his oxford shirt, rep tie, and cord suit, and dressed in his oldest dungarees, T-shirt, and battered loafers. Later that afternoon, posing as a boy just out of high school, he landed a $65-a-week job with a construction company. Nine weeks later, having made his $600, this young fellow quit his job and put his tie back on.

More and more alarmed by such stories, which were constantly growing bigger and more clever, college student employment heads determined to do something about the situation. In the middles of December, 1951, at a meeting held on the University of Pennsylvania campus in Philadelphia, Minot C. Morgan, then head of the Student Employment Agency of Princeton, was delegated to pressure Congress for revision of this part of the tax law. With heavy Harvard backing, Morgan called up an old friend whom he had met when he was mayor of Princeton--Congressman Charles L. Howell, of New Jersey.

Morgan explained to Howell the committee's objections to the then extant $600 limit tax law, describing how it stifled initiative, hindered the student who is perhaps most to be commended from helping himself, and handicapped college scholarship and loan boards, which could use their funds to provide more people with educations if students could cut down their scholarship needs by employment.

Bill Supporters Overcome Oppositions

Howell, now Democratic candidate for the Senate in New Jersey, championed the bill in the House of Representatives.

Even those who were most strongly opposed to the bill readily recognized the self-supporting college student's need for assistance. But they objected to the bill on other grounds.

"Why don't the college just make up a list of all the special favors they want and simply put all their begs in one ask-it?" they wondered. At a time when there was still frequent criticism of student deferment from the draft, the academic world appeared to be asking that an exception for students be made in the tax structure. Scholars, in effect, seemed to be asking that their earnings be tax-free.

At this point, college efforts were still being directed toward raising the $600 limit to $1200. Most bills of this nature never even got out of committee.

The bill which the Senate finally passed in August was much more generous. But it was also more tactful and less blatantly exceptional.

Insisting on their theme of the uniqueness of the low- income students's position in the dependency scale, college lobbyists--aided by many student organizations, continued their efforts. Finally, resistance was either convinced or worn down and the compromise, but better bill was passed --due largely to the original efforts of Morgan and John U. Monro '34 of the Financial Aid Center here.

Strong support from Yale was conspicuously absent. For the New Haven college includes term-time student employment--compulsory for all scholarship holders--under the tax-free scholarship classification. Primarily a matter of interpretation, the Yale tax stand on this point enables its students to earn more during the summer.

"Yale really couldn't get too excited over our efforts, Morgan said last week. "After all, she's been breaking the law for years and getting away with it."

All who had been in on the groundwork of efforts to pass the law were jubilant. But few were as surprised as Morgan, now general manager of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton. "After the Republicans took over, we thought there was no hope of a new tax law in the next few years," he said. "We had resolved to bide our time."

Term-time Wages Increased

But the expected long wait for the "Return of the Democrats" has not been necessary. Already the results of the bill are beginning to affect student plans and the policy of the Student Employment, Center here. At the center during the past summer several extensive changes have been carried through.

Term-time wages have been greatly increased in various part-time jobs throughout the University. Dinning hall, dormitory crew, and library salaries have been raised.

With greater wage potential and better possibilities of taking out loans from the Financial Aid Center, more students will now be able, according to Miss Gladys M. Fales, supervisor of the Student Employment Office, to build up a backlog of earnings in one year. Savings from one year may provide a trip abroad the following summer or eventual graduate school study.

If the new law should change students' earning habits to any sizable extent, the Student Employment Office and the Financial Aid Center may have to further reconsider their programs. But the scope of the necessary changes will depend in large part on what happens in the next few years in the national economy.

A parent's right to claim his child as a dependent is still tightly bound by important restrictions.

But by far the most important and perhaps most misunderstood restriction says that a parent must still pay half of a child's support in order to have the right to count him as a dependent and use him as an exemption. At first glance this might seem that Dad has to at least match whatever Junior earns. This is not the case.

Suppose an enterprising student wins himself a scholarship from the University worth $1000 a year. Then suppose that he can earn still another $1000 a year. Father does not have to add $2000 to Junior's income in order to claim him as an exemption. For scholarships, under the new law, are tax exempt. The parent in this situation has to match only $1000--his son's actual earned income.

Imagine another case where the son has won an $800 scholarship, earns $700, and borrows another $400 from the Financial Aid Center. Here Father would have to match $1100. Although he can ignore the scholarship he must include the amount of a loan in the figure which he must balance, in the opinion of a Corporation tax counsel.

But suppose Grandmother has be-queathed Junior a yearly income of $10,000. If Dad is stingy he and son put their heads together and decide to save $8,500 of Junior's income each year. The son will contribute $1,500 toward his own expenses and Papa will add an equal amount. This gives Junior an annual income of $3000 during his college years as well as providing him with a kitty of $34,000 plus interest when he graduates.

Another catch in the 50 percent clause is the varying standard of living among students. The Financial Aid Center says a student can live comfortably here on $1800-1900 a year. Many young gentlemen of Mount Auburn Street, however, are living lives just as much cramped by the purse strings on incomes of $4000 and $5000 a year.

Since the average student expense here is, according to University figures, approximately $2400 per year, a student must watch himself when he starts earning over $1200.

Thus, as Graham R. Taylor '49, director of the Student Employment Office, commented this week, "The old problem is still there, but it affects far fewer people. Few college students can earn as much as $1200 a year, but literally thousands can easily top $600.

Next April 15, when all the tax returns are finally mailed in, a few sleepy-eyed students will find themselves several hundred dollars richer. Their pleasure-- if they notice the extra dollars-- will be well warranted, for in the next few years, until the tax law is changed again, many students will be financially better off as a result of it.

Inequalities and gaping loopholes still remain, but as far as the student is concerned Monro and Morgan have won their battle

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