By Kathryn Moore
April 18, 2011, the due date for filing federal income tax returns for tax year 2010, is approaching quickly. Many college students do not know where to start when it comes to filing tax returns.
Deciding whether to file on one’s own, determining what method to use to file and keeping track of what documents are required can overwhelm a student who knows nothing about the tax process. However, filing a tax return is not as difficult as it seems.
The first step is deciding which form to use. The most basic form is a 1040-EZ, but students with investments or dividends should complete the 1040A or 1040 forms.
Judy Fletcher, Union alumnae and certified public accountant at Alexander Thompson Arnold in Jackson, said most college students choose to file federal tax returns online because it is fast, easy and free.
“I filed online at H&R Block because they guide you through everything and tell you where to fill in information from your W-2s,” said Kayleigh Mitchell, junior biology major.
Meeting with a tax professional will most likely ensure taxes are filed accurately, but a drawback is paying commission for his or her services.
“My parents pay a lot of money to have someone else do their taxes, so filing online for free was easy and the most economical for me,” Mitchell said.
Other students who can still be claimed under their parents can choose to let parents file their taxes.
“I don’t need to do my own taxes because I could possibly mess up,” said David Speer, sophomore political science major. “When I can let my parents pay a professional to do it for me, it assures me my return will be correct.”
Although filing through parents is convenient, Fletcher said students who file taxes as their own dependency might be eligible for special education tax credits.
“If a college student is claiming his or her own dependency, there are some education credits and some tuition and fees deductions,” Fletcher said. “If the student is claimed by the parents, the parents get any tax credit that has to do with the student’s higher education.”
Making sure one has gathered the correct documents to complete the return can help avoid difficulties with the Internal Revenue Service.
Fletcher said any required documents needed to file, such as W-2s or interest forms will come in an envelope containing special federal tax information.
“Be sure before you file that you have every document you need,” Fletcher said. “If you file a return and forget a W-2 or other source of income, at some point you will get a notice from the IRS, and you will be audited.”
No matter how one chooses to file taxes, whether online or on paper, it should not be a time-consuming task.
“If you just have a 1040-EZ or a 1040A and you have all of your documents together, you should be able to sit down and complete federal tax forms in 15 minutes,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher encourages students to file taxes by themselves and to educate themselves about the tax process to prepare for when they are on their own.
“Taxes are a part of life, and from this point forward college students are going to need to know about taxes,” Fletcher said. “The earlier a student begins learning about taxes, the more prepared they will be in the future.”