If you’re a college student, you may not think a lot about taxes. After all, you may not earn a lot of money, or you may get work-study money and assume you don’t need to pay taxes. However, it’s important to be aware of the topic, even if you think they don’t yet apply to you.
Even if you’re in college, you may still have to pay taxes. While you can only answer these questions yourself, you may want to check with your parents and/or a tax professional as well for the best, most accurate advice.
Are You an Independent or Dependent Student?
In many cases, even if your parents have claimed you as a dependent on their taxes, and even if you’re a student, you may still have to file taxes. It depends on how much money you earned throughout the year.
If you were self-employed during the past year and made more than $400, you will have to file a federal tax return and pay self-employment tax. In addition, even if you received Federal Work-Study, you still are generally subject to federal and state income tax. However, unlike self-employment tax, your work-study income is exempt from FICA taxes, provided you’re enrolled full-time in school and work less than half-time.
No matter what income you receive throughout the year, you’ll want to make note of any earnings when you fill out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Your FAFSA helps determine how much aid you will receive in the upcoming year for school. You should always fill it out, even if you think you or your family make too much to qualify.
Do Students Qualify for Tax Benefits?
College students may qualify for some tax breaks, or benefits, as long as they’re attending an accredited university, college, vocational school, or adult education classes. There are two tax credits in particular students will want to be aware of, as they can help lessen your tax burden and help you pay off student loan debt while you’re still in school.
As a student, you’ll want to check out the American Opportunity Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit. While you can only apply for one credit per person (i.e. you and a sibling could qualify for each credit, but you yourself can’t claim both), these credits are very helpful toward reducing your tax burden.
If you’re a student currently paying off student loans, you can also qualify for the student loan interest deduction and the tuition and fees deduction. Here are additional tax credits which you may also qualify.
"Will I Pay Taxes on Scholarships or Grants?"
This will likely come as a relief to many of you: you do not have to pay taxes on scholarships and grants. Any scholarships you’ve received for merit, athletics, and more do not have to be included in your gross income on your tax return. This also includes fellowship grants, which many graduate students receive.
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Once you've determined if you need to pay taxes, and how much you need to pay (if anything), it's time to file your taxes. If you're a dependent, you can work with your parents and provide them any paperwork they need to complete their taxes. If you're filing on your own, you can always e-file, likely for free since you're a student and don't make much money. In all likelihood, you won't owe anything and you may even get a tax refund. That's why it's always important to file your taxes, even if you think you didn't make enough of an income. Never leave money behind!
The tax code can be very complicated, regardless of your status as a student. See our Ultimate Tax Guide for more assistance.