Filing taxes can be a complicated process for both students and other working adults, said Jason Stanfield, assistant professor of accounting at Ball State.
“I think the majority of the reason our taxes are so complicated is our economy has gotten very complicated in the way that people make income, receive gains and some of those sorts of things,” Stanfield said.
With the deadline for filing taxes — April 15 — less than two months away, Stanfield, who also supervises Ball State’s free IRS-sponsored program Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), offered tips for students this tax season.
Step 1: Determine if you have to file taxes
- Those who don’t have any income don’t have to file taxes.
- People don’t have to file federal taxes if their total earnings for the year do not exceed the standard deduction amount — the threshold at which a person would have to file taxes.
- The standard deduction for single taxpayers or married couples filing separately is $12,200, for married couples filing a joint tax return it is $24,400 and for heads of households it is $18,350, according to the IRS’ website.
List of online tax-filing packages:
On its website, the IRS lists Free File Online products for people whose adjusted gross income was $69,000 or less to file their federal taxes:
- Free 1040 Tax Return
- H&R Block
- Online Taxes at OLT.com
Step 2: If you determine you don’t have to file taxes
- If students wish to get back the money listed as federal or state withholdings on their W-2 form — the prepayment for the taxes they might owe — they should file their taxes, even if their total earnings fall below the standard deduction amount.
- All income-earning students are encouraged to file taxes because state tax rules aren’t always the same as federal rules, and students might meet the minimum state requirements for filing taxes.
- If students haven’t earned any money for a tax year but have filed taxes for previous years, they can file a zero return so the IRS has it on record that a person didn’t forget to file a tax return for a particular year.
- There’s no reason to file a zero return if a student has never filed taxes before.
Step 3: How to file taxes
- Students can use IRS-recommended websites like TurboTax, TaxAct and H&R Block to file their tax returns themselves.
- Subject to IRS eligibility requirements, most students, employees and families of Ball State and Muncie Community Schools with annual incomes less than $56,000 can use Ball State’s VITA program for help filing taxes by scheduling an appointment on the program’s website.
- Students can also bring the tax returns they filed through any online tax-filing service for verification with the VITA program to gain confidence in the quality of their tax returns.
- Students are encouraged to seek professional help when dealing with complicated tax-filing situations, such as filing taxes in more than one state.
- Students who have had prior income but haven’t filed taxes before should consider seeing a professional or using the VITA program, although the latter typically assists with those prior-year filings after the tax season is over.
- Students can request former employers or ask the IRS for assistance with getting copies of W-2 forms from previous years.