My Story: Learning to File Taxes as a Student

By Alexandria Baca, College Connect blogger 

Filing taxes can be scary for working folks of all ages. In fact, more than 80 percent of filers used a tax-preparation service or software to complete their yearly returns. 

I first filed my taxes as a single person in college, after my parents stopped claiming me as a dependent on their returns. I spent hours hunched over my computer, studying the IRS website and going over my W-2 forms from employers. When I finally prepared my paper return, I understood why so many people are quick to hire others for the job. 

As a student, hiring a tax-preparation service can be cost-prohibitive. But, chances are, your taxes aren’t too complicated — and the IRS offers services to make filing easy and quick. 

Here’s what you’ll need as you prepare to file: W-2 forms from any employers during the year (usually mailed by the end of January); 1098-E from your student loan provider; and 1098-T from your university or college. (You might need other forms based on your personal financial situation, but these three are most common for student taxpayers. Other forms could include K-1s or 1099s you may have received from investments, independent contract work, etc.) 

Your W-2 lists how much you were paid for the year and how much money was withheld for taxes. The 1098-E is a student loan interest statement (any interest you paid is deductible), and the 1098-T is a tuition payments statement, which determines whether you’re eligible for certain education-related tax credits. 

Now here’s the good part: for people whose adjusted gross income is less than $57,000, the IRS offers the use of tax-preparation software for free, with partners such as H&R Block and TurboTax. Visit the IRS website for a complete list of Free File software providers. 

I’ve used H&R Block’s Free File software for the past three years, and it walks you through the preparation process while automatically searching for any deductions or credits for which you might be eligible. 

You can file your return online, providing a bank deposit for electronic deposits, and that’s all there is to it. Pretty simple, right? The Free File software will tell you where to look on any forms to plug in numbers for your return. Probably the hardest part is just making sure you’ve kept track of the documents you need to prepare your return. Once you’ve finished your federal return, filing a state or local return is easy, too. Check your state’s tax website for more information. 

This year, I received a refund which posted to my checking account within a week. Oh, and that’s the other good news — low earners can receive a refund of some taxes withheld during the year. So make sure you’re filing, and file early. 

You can also check with your university or college to see if it offers tax-preparation help. Many schools, especially those with accounting students, will help students prepare their tax return for free.

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