The Smart Student's Guide to Doing Taxes

If you have a paying job, you need to learn how to file taxes and get the most out of the dollars you earn. Understanding a few tax-time basics will take much of the stress and anxiety out of filing. Here’s what you need to know:

When to File

Although your federal tax return isn’t due until April 15, you should get into the habit of thinking about taxes throughout the year. File scholarship records; financial aid documents; and receipts for tuition, textbooks, and work expenses so that you’ll know where to find them at tax time.

As April approaches, consider whether you think you’ll need more time to file your tax return, in which case you can apply for a six-month extension. Under no circumstances should you neglect to file your forms; if you don’t file, you will be penalized.

How to File

You have two options: hire someone to prepare your returns or prepare them yourself. A tax preparer will charge you anywhere from $100 to $250 or more, depending on the complexity of your return. However, the average student can prepare his or her own taxes using Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form 1040 or the simplified 1040EZ form. You can complete your return online or mail it in.

If You Owe

If you owe federal taxes and you can’t pay it all at once, you have a few options for spreading out payments. But remember, it’s better to file on time and figure out payment later than not to file at all.

Free Advice

If you need additional assistance filling out your form and you make less than $51,000 a year, you can seek free advice through the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. Find certified volunteers stationed in libraries, schools, and other locations around the country from January to April.

If you have other questions about preparing, filing, or paying your taxes, including questions about whether or not you need to file, visit the IRS website. For student-specific information, the agency has set up a page just for you.

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