1

I'm a recipient of an undergraduate scholarship that covers full tuition and provides an additional annual stipend (paid directly to me) for general living expenses in return for employment after graduation. The sponsoring party states that I'm considered an "independent contractor", not self-employed, or employed by them.

I want to set aside a budget for myself and use some of this money to invest for my future; after some research, I've opened an IRA with plans to make monthly contributions from the stipend. However, it's been brought to my attention that these funds aren't eligible for an IRA, since I receive a 1099-MISC and not a W-2 from the sponsor.

The IRS states that

A scholarship or fellowship is tax free only to the extent:

It does not exceed your expenses;

It is not designated or earmarked for other purposes (such as room and board), and does not require (by its terms) that it cannot be used for qualified education expenses; and

It does not represent payment for teaching, research, or other services required as a condition for receiving the scholarship.

The stipend is definitely taxable as it exceeds explicitly stated qualified educational expenses on the website, so I've paid taxes already for it. Also, receiving the stipend is contingent upon my fulfillment of the employment commitment post-graduation; if I fail to honor this commitment, I am required to pay it all back.

According to the IRS:

You must include in gross income:

Amounts used for incidental expenses, such as room and board, travel, and optional equipment.

Amounts received as payments for teaching, research, or other services required as a condition for receiving the scholarship or fellowship grant. However, you do not need to include in gross income any amounts you receive for services that are required by the National Health Service Corps Scholarship Program or the Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship and Financial Assistance Program.

My questions are:

1) Why wouldn't I be able to contribute to an IRA if it is taxable? Since I am spending the stipend on living expenses, shouldn't it count as income and thus make it eligibile for an IRA?

2) If I can't contribute to an IRA, what would be the smartest way to invest/save excess funds?

1

1) Why wouldn't I be able to contribute to an IRA if it is taxable? Since I am spending the stipend on living expenses, shouldn't it count as income and thus make it eligibile for an IRA?

Not any income is eligible for an IRA. Only earned income (compensation) is eligible.

From the link - see the second bullet item:

For 2015 and 2016, your total contributions to all of your traditional and Roth IRAs cannot be more than:

  • $5,500 ($6,500 if you’re age 50 or older), or
  • your taxable compensation for the year, if your compensation was less than this dollar limit.

In your case this is not an earned income, since you haven't performed any work. You promised to perform work in the future, but you'll get paid for that work separately. This income is taxable, but doesn't qualify for the IRA. If you have any other earned income, you can use the stipend funds to make the actual deposits, and use that other earned income for calculating the limits.

  • Thanks for the response! I'm still confused as to why I can't define the stipend as compensation/earned income, since I'd have to pay back all funds in full if I stopped going to school. How come I'm not "earning" it by going to school? I tried and failed to find a good definition for compensation or earned income. – ploman May 29 '16 at 11:13
  • @ploman: Here is one description: irs.gov/credits-deductions/individuals/earned-income-tax-credit/… . – BrenBarn May 29 '16 at 17:51
  • @ploman See the IRC Sec. 32(c)(2): law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/26/32 You're not earning income by going to school. You're not providing any services to any employer. This is income, but it is not earned income. You get paid to learn, which is a service you are providing to yourself, not the entity paying you. – littleadv May 30 '16 at 7:46

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .