Tax Filing Guide: Filing Taxes as a Student
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- Single students who made over a certain amount of money need to file a tax return.
- Others may benefit from filing because of tax breaks, such as education credits.
- You may need multiple tax forms to report any income and claim credits.
- Free and affordable services exist to help students with their taxes.
Filing taxes as a student can be complicated. With all the forms and technicalities, it's a beast on top of your other responsibilities.
Maybe it's your first time filing taxes, and you want to know what you owe. Or, you've returned to school later in life and wonder how being a student changes your taxes.
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Whatever your situation, we've created this guide to make filing taxes as a student a little simpler.
Do You Need to File Taxes as a College Student?
To answer this not-so-simple question, you must first consider several other questions. Let's break it down:
How much money did you make last year?
Student or not, everyone must file a federal tax return if they make over a certain amount of income. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) uses different measures for calculating income. To find out if you have to file taxes, you'll need to know your:
- Earned Income: What you earn at a job plus any taxable scholarships
- Gross Income: Your earned income plus any other payments you receive, like from tips or dividends on investments
Single students under 65 generally must file taxes if their gross income was at least $12,550.
Are you married?
Married couples can file jointly or separately. There are different income thresholds in either case. Married couples under 65, filing together, must file taxes if their joint income reaches $25,100. If they file separately, each needs to file taxes if they made $5 or more.
Did you support other people in your household?
If you did, and you're under 65, you need to file a tax return if you made $18,800 or more.
Can you be considered someone's dependent?
Dependents have different income thresholds for filing taxes. Let's say you are a single, dependent student and not blind. Then, you need to file a tax return if:
- Your earned income exceeds $12,550.
- Your gross income exceeded $1,100 or your earned income plus $350 — whichever is higher.
That threshold is higher if you're blind. It's lower if you made money with a self-employed gig. Self-employed dependents who made more than $400 must file a tax return. Keep reading below to learn if you qualify as someone's dependent.
Did you work in a state that collects income tax?
You may need to file a state tax return in addition to filing federal taxes. If you moved for school and worked in two states, you may need to file two part-year returns. Your state tax website will be the best source of information on if you need to pay state taxes as a student.
If you worked, did your employer withhold taxes from your paycheck?
If so, you could get some money back. So, even if you don't have to file taxes as a student, you may want to. Additionally, full-time students might qualify for a returnable tax credit. Learn more about whether you qualify for student tax credits below.
Figuring Out Your Dependency Status in College
Your parent, foster parent, or another relative likely claimed you as a dependent on their taxes in the past. As long as you're in school, a relative can claim you as a dependent until you're 24 if they provide more than half of your financial support.
Your dependency status matters for a couple of reasons. First, as mentioned above, it affects whether or not you must file taxes as a student. Second, the person who claims you as a dependent may qualify for deductions and education-related tax credits.
What If I Have Dependents?
If you have a dependent, such as a child or younger sibling you financially support, you cannot be someone's dependent. In that case, you would file your taxes as the head of a household — not a single person —and claim a dependency exemption.
What Tax Forms Do Students Need?
If you're filing taxes for the first time as a student, it's a lot to keep track of all the forms you need. Here are some of the key forms for student taxes.
- 1040: This is the basic income-reporting form that nearly everyone uses. You might have to complete multiple add-ons called schedules. You should complete Schedule 1 if you made student loan payments. Complete Schedule 3 if you want to claim credits for education or child care expenses.
- State tax return forms: States have their own rules for who must pay state taxes. State tax websites typically provide forms for residents, nonresidents, and part-year residents.
- 1098-T: This form tells the IRS how much you paid in tuition and fees. Your school completes it and mails it to you or a parent. You need to include it when you file your taxes.
- 1098-E: Did you pay any interest on student loans last year? If so, your loan servicer should mail you this form. Include this with your tax filing to deduct interest payments from your taxes.
- 8863: Download and complete this form to see if you qualify for tax credits for college students.
- W-2: If you made $600 or more at work last year, your employer must provide you with a W-2. This form will show if you had any income tax withheld. Make sure you include it when you file your tax return.
Undocumented Student Tax Forms
DACA and undocumented students pay taxes with the same forms as students with citizenship. The only difference occurs when these students do not have a social security number (SSN) and if their individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) is expired.
- W-7: Complete this form to apply for or renew an ITIN. Submit it with the rest of your tax return. You do not need this form if you have an SSN or active ITIN.
International Student Tax Forms
- 1042-S: This form is like the 1040 for international students. Your employer will give you this form to report the income you earned. If your college awarded you certain stipends or travel grants, it would mail you this form.
- 8843: International students with zero U.S. income must complete this form and send it to the IRS to report that they earned no income in the country.
Student Loans and Taxes
In 2022, you can deduct up to $2,500 of what you paid on student loan interest in the prior year. That is, as long as your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) was less than $85,000, or $170,000 if you're married. MAGI is equal to your total income minus some expenses like business expenses and alimony payments, if you have them.
However, you don't qualify for this deduction if your employer paid your student loan interest through an employee assistance program. Make sure to include the 1098-E form that your loan servicer provides to you when you file your taxes.
Scholarships and Taxes
Typically, scholarships and grants that cover your tuition and fees are tax-free and not considered part of your income.
However, suppose you used any funds from your scholarship to pay for room and board, travel, or other student expenses. In that case, you must include those amounts as part of your taxable income.
Also, some grants pay students to teach a class or contribute to research. If this applies to you, you must report that payment as taxable income unless you participate in one of the following programs:
- National Health Service Corps Scholarship
- Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship and Financial Assistance
- The Federal Work-Study Program
Tax Breaks for College Students
One advantage of filing taxes as a student is that you may qualify for education credits or deductions. Two types of tax credits exist for college students or people who claim students as dependents.
The American Opportunity Tax Credit
AOTC is available to some students or parents of students. To qualify:
- You must be in your first four years of higher education.
- You must be enrolled in a degree, certificate, or another postsecondary program at least half time.
- The filer's MAGI must be under $90,000.
AOTC offers a credit back for certain education expenses, such as tuition, up to $2,500. In addition, this credit is refundable. That means if the credit covers more than the amount of taxes you owe, you can get some of the remaining credit refunded to you.
The Lifetime Learning Credit
If you don't qualify for the AOTC, you may still be eligible for the LLC. The LLC is for part-time or full-time students enrolled in a degree, credential, or job-skills training program. Plus, you can use it even if you've already completed four years of higher education.
The LLC may provide up to $2,000 in credit. Unlike the AOTC, it is not refundable. To see if you qualify for either student tax credit, make sure you complete form 8863.
Tax Filing Help for Students
You don't have to do everything yourself. There's help for college students filing taxes.
Free and Affordable Tax Filing Software for Students
- IRS Free File: If your adjusted gross income is less than $73,000, you qualify for free guided tax preparation through an IRS partner site.
- H&R Block: This service allows you to prepare your state and federal taxes for free. It includes forms that are helpful for student taxes, such as tuition deduction forms. You can also purchase time with a tax pro for extra help.
- Cash App Taxes: Cash App allows you to file a federal and one state tax return for free. There are no extra charges. However, you don't have the option of filing multiple state tax returns or talking to a pro.
- FreeTaxUSA: Here, you can file federal taxes for free. State taxes cost about $15 to file. There's a $7 fee for live customer support, which can help if it's your first time filing taxes.
- TaxAct: TaxAct offers a free option for federal tax preparation that caters to dependents and current students. It's $40 to file state taxes.
Find Help Filing Taxes on Campus
Some colleges offer free financial education through a student money management center, including guidance for student taxes. If you haven't already, find out what financial education programs your school may offer.
In addition, the IRS partners with colleges throughout the country as part of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. VITA offers free tax guidance to anyone who lives with a disability, speaks limited English, or earns less than $58,000 a year. You can take advantage of this program or even get trained and become a volunteer yourself.
Frequently Asked Questions on Filing Taxes as a College Student
Is college tuition tax deductible?
As of 2021, you can no longer deduct tuition and fees from your taxable income. However, if you paid tuition or other qualified educational expenses, you may qualify for a student tax credit. Complete Form 8863 to calculate and claim your credits.
Do students have to file a tax return?
College students must file a tax return if they made over a certain income. That income threshold depends on multiple factors, including if you are a dependent or married. Generally, if you're a single student who made more than $12,550, you will have to file a tax return.
If you received a W-2 from an employer that shows a federal tax withholding, you might want to file taxes even if you didn't make much money. You could get a refund check.
Can my parents claim me as a dependent?
Your parents can typically claim you as a dependent if:
- You're under 19.
- You're under 24 and a full-time student.
- You don't have any dependents yourself.
- They provide more than half of your financial support outside of any scholarships you've earned.
Should I file my own tax return as a student?
Generally, if you made more than $12,550, you need to file your own tax return. But that number differs for married students, the head of a household, or those over 65.
Also, if you didn't make that much money, you don't have to file a return, but you might want to. Let's say you worked a job that withheld federal taxes from your paycheck. In that case, you may want to file a tax return because you could get refunded some of what you paid throughout the year.
Do you have to file taxes on student loans?
You cannot deduct the entire amount of your student loan payments from your taxes. However, you can deduct the interest you pay on student loans -- up to $2,500 -- if you make less than $85,000 a year.
When you file your taxes, complete Form 1098-E from your loan servicer to claim this deduction.
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