Tax tips for college students

Your April 15 tax return due date is only weeks away. Whether you’ll do an online income tax return filing or go with old-fashioned paper filing, you’ll need some tax tips to help you out. Income tax brackets for college students tend to be low because you work part time, often for minimum wage.

Now is time to take care of the dreaded tax return. (Credit: QuickMeme)

Now is time to take care of the dreaded tax return. (Credit: QuickMeme)

Whatever you’re earning, you’re going to want your tax refund status to show the highest amount possible. Let’s take a look at how you can make tax filing easy and profitable.

Free filing options

According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), 70 percent of Americans can do their taxes for free. If your income was $60,000 or less, then you are eligible for a service called Free File. Several partner companies provide the software tools for you to use. All you need is an email address, a copy of your 2013 tax return and the W2s and other documents for your income and deductions.

For those whose income is more than $60,000, there is the Free Fillable forms service. With Fillable Forms, you must know how to do your taxes yourself. The online forms will do the math for you and offer basic guidance.

If you live in one of the seven states that have no state income tax, then Free File is all you need. To learn more, including the list of 20 states that have their own version of Free File for their state taxes visit the IRS FreeFile site.

Do it yourself tax filing

You might choose to use commercial software to complete your tax return and then file it electronically. Typical tax preparation software uses a question and answer format to make it easier to complete the tax forms. You will have to sign your return electronically by using a PIN number.

Ben Steverman provided a cost comparison of the most popular tax preparation software in a January 23, 2015, article for Bloomberg.com, “The Cheapest Tax Prep Software for 2015 (Hint: It’s Not TurboTax).”

The comparison for the top three software packages revealed the following:

  • TaxACT: The deluxe package of federal, state and guidance costs $20.
  • H&R Block: A simple return will cost $20 for federal and state, but Steverman said that this applied to only a narrow group of filers. Most taxpayers would likely pay anywhere from $30 to $50 for the Block online service. One benefit, however, is Block’s “in-person audit support” service.
  • TurboTax: According to Steverman, the cost for both federal and state returns could easily top $90.

“TurboTax does offer one bargain. For a limited time, people with very simple taxes – using 1040A or 1040EZ forms – can file for free. That includes a state return, which competitors’ ‘free’ options charge for,” Steverman added.

Know your tax law

If your parents are supporting you, then they will probably claim you as a dependent on their tax return. In that case, they can also claim certain deductions and tax credits that apply to college students. If you are not claimed as a dependent, then you can take advantage of these tax benefits on your return.

The list of deductions and tax credits includes:

  • Student loan interest deduction
  • Tuition and fees deduction
  • Education tax credits: The American Opportunity Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit

For a quick tutorial on deductions and credits for students and their parents, check out the article at TaxHelp.org, “Tax Help for Students.”

In order to qualify for these tax benefits you must meet certain criteria.

  • Attend an accredited post-secondary college or university
  • Attend a vocational or career training program offered by a legally authorized school

The education tax credits are subject to limitations based on your income. Moreover, education tax credits are based on the amount paid for tuition and required course materials or equipment only. The tax credits will not take into account what you paid for room and board or student fees.

Where to get help

  • Where’s my refund? [www.irs.gov/refunds]: Wait until four weeks have passed since you filed your return then use this online tool to check on your federal tax refund status. You must know your Social Security number, filing status and the exact refund amount.
  • IRS tax forms and publications [www.irs.gov/Forms-&-Pubs]: the official online source of IRS tax forms, instructions and publications.

What method do you use to file your income taxes? Tell us about it in the comments.

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