College students and taxes: everything you need to know

With the 2021 tax filing season underway (along with some sweet stimulus checks), it’s important to be in the know about taxes for college students. Here is a quick and easy guide to some common questions about taxes.

Am I required to file a tax return?

It depends. According to Turbotax, as long as you’re:
• Under 65

• Not married

• Earn less than $12,400 per year

You probably don't need to file. If you have your own business, you might be a special circumstance and you'll want to double check. However, it’s a good idea to file regardless of if you have to, as income tax is deducted from your paycheck and there are a ton of different tax credits available to students. Instead of leaving free money on the table, consider filing.

What is a dependent (and how do I know if I am one?)

A dependent, in the simplest terms, is a person who has required substantial financial support by another taxpayer in the year. For the taxpayer, claiming a dependent can give them increased tax benefits, but also prevents the dependent from certain benefits as well, such as the first few rounds of the stimulus check. The best way to check if you’re a dependent is by looking at the different criteria here. You can also find out by asking your parents or guardians.

When do I have to file by?

The tax filing deadline was extended this year until May 17th, 2021.

Does filing taxes affect my stimulus checks?

Yup! Your taxes are tied to the  stimulus checks, so if you’re looking forward to receiving some government sponsored relief, it’s important to stay up to date on your filings. In this tax season specifically, being claimed as a dependent will not disqualify you from receiving a stimulus check - although it will go to who claimed you rather than in your pockets.

What happens if I don’t file taxes and I’m required to?

Tax evasion is a crime punishable by prison time and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. The government can pursue criminal charges six years from the un-filed return date.

Otherwise, the IRS has no time limit on collecting debt, interest, and any penalties you may incur as a result of not filing taxes.

What if I make a mistake on my taxes?

For small errors, the IRS will typically take of fixing it for you.

If it's a big error, your best bet is to file an amended tax return, which gives you the opportunity to correct the error. For more information on amended tax returns and tips to fix a mistake, check out the Forbes article here.

Can I file my taxes for free?

Yes you can! The IRS provides a free filing service here that can walk you through the process online. TurboTax and H&R Block also provide free services for students, including simple tax returns.

There’s a lot of nuance when it comes to the filing and maintenance of taxes in the U.S., but hopefully you've got answers to your burning tax questions as a student and know what tax time looks like for you.

Learn more about managing money in college