Being a college student is difficult, between studying for exams, a campus job, and managing finances, college students might find their lives being stressful. This is only compounded during tax season, especially considering many students have never filed their own taxes before. Before taxes are due on April 15th, make sure that you are prepared for your first time doing taxes by checking out these easy to follow tax tips to get ahead this tax season.
1. Check if your parents can claim you as a dependent
Before you start your taxes, make sure to check if your parents can claim you as a dependent. In general, it's usually cost advantageous to have you parents claim you as a dependent for as long as they can, as they will save more money that way than if you claim yourself. Normally, your parents can claim you as a dependent if you are not earning income until you turn 19, but if you are in college they can claim you until you turn 24. If your income is more than $4,050 your parents won't be able to claim you as a dependent. If you're someone who relies heavily on financial aid to pay for college, you could be considered dependent if your parents pay for more than half of your living expenses.
For more information on claiming dependents, check out this article from the IRS here.
2. File even if you don't have to
If you make less than $6,350 you actually aren't legally obligated to fill out an income tax return, though it could be cost advantageous to do so (Link), because income tax is automatically withheld on some paychecks, if you have had that tax withheld you could be due that money back if you reach certain income thresholds. To decide whether or not you are due money back, you should take steps to obtain your W-2 form. W-2 forms are tax forms that are sent out by your employer that contain valuable information about your income, and money taken out for different taxes. Your employer is legally obligated to mail out your W-2 by January 31st the year following the tax year (Link).
3. Check if you can file deductions
If you cannot be claimed as a dependent by your parents, you'll want to take advantage of the different credits and deductions you might have access to. If your parents don't claim you as dependent, you'll want to claim tax exempt status yourself and take advantage of the tax benefit that you are due.
4. Check out free tax assistance from your college
If you're still in college and filling out your taxes, you should check and see if tax assistance is provided by your college. Tax professionals at your college will help you make sure that your forms are filled out correctly and that you are taking advantage of every credit available to yourself. Check out student groups and business professors as well, as these types of people will be able to guide you or point you in the right direction with your taxes. If your college doesn't provide any tax help, check to see if you can utilize the IRS VITA program, which is a tax assistance program for low income individuals.
You can check out more about the VITA program here: https://www.irs.gov/individuals/irs-vita-grant-program
5. File Early
After receiving all necessary documents, you should make sure that you start the process early Even though the deadline to file your taxes is technically in April, you want to make sure that you have time to do your taxes right and that you aren't rushed. Filing early also allows you to get the necessary help if you need it, whether that help be from tax professionals, tax prep software, or the VITA program.
6. File for Free
If you are not claimed as a dependent, and you make less than $66,000 household income, you can file your taxes for free with the IRS free file program (Link). The free file program allows you to take advantage of your favorite tax prep software and lets you file both your federal and state return for free. If you qualify for the VITA program you can also get free tax help, so make sure to check if you qualify here (Link).
7. Watch out for fraud and scams
If you're doing your taxes for the first time, be on the lookout for scams and fraudulent practices. As someone doing your taxes for the first time, you might be confused and scared. You're afraid of messing up your taxes and having the IRS come after you. Don't allow yourself to get scammed! Take advantage of free IRS programs and be on the lookout for people making false promises or shady companies asking for your personal information. Protect yourself and make sure that the tax preparer that you use is legit (Link).
8. Read all instructions
Though earlier we said that you should start doing your taxes as early as possible, you should make sure that you don't rush your taxes. Be careful and methodical: read all pertinent instructions and make sure you do everything correctly. If you have questions ask them; get the assistance you need early on so that you set yourself up for success.
9. Don't rush for your refund
Though you are probably excited for all of the money you are due back on your taxes, you should make sure that you don't rush through your taxes to get to the end and get your refund. If you end up making a mistake on your taxes, you might end up having to give the government back part of the refund you are due. Because of this you want to make sure you don't immediately spend your refund, take a couple weeks to make sure that everything is settled.
10. Find the right forms
If you're doing your taxes for the first time, you might not be sure which forms you need. Before you start your taxes make sure that you have your 1098-T from the current year handy, as well as your 1098-T for the past year. Likewise you will need your W2 for every job you've had during the tax year. Making sure that you have the right forms first off will allow you to save time and, most likely, money in the long run.
11. If you've graduated check out your 1098-E
Though it might seem a little far off if you just started college, after you graduate you'll have to start paying off the loans that you took out while you were in school. If you paid off any loans in the tax year, you will be able to deduct the interest you paid during the past tax year off your loans.
You can learn more about the 1098-E here.
Tax season is a stressful time for most people, and if you're in college it can be doubly stressful. Take advantage of these tax tips to set you up for success this tax season!