What is a W-2 and why is your employer suddenly sending you mail? Why do some states want more money from you than others? And why on earth do your parents keep saying you are their dependent when you haven’t lived with them for years, and you pay for all your own groceries?
Taxes can be confusing if you have never done them on your own before, and they will continue to be confusing if you do not take the time now to understand the process that you will have to do every spring for the rest of your life.
College is the time to ask questions. Your parents, professors and peers are a resource to help you learn and succeed. Therefore, students should take advantage of this opportunity to try filing their own taxes and use these resources for assistance, rather than just asking their parents to do it for them. If you’re old enough to make the money, you’re old enough to file your own taxes.
Programs such as TurboTax, H&R Block and TaxAct take users through filing their taxes step by step — they include descriptions of every possible deduction and exemption as well as informative and inviting graphics and animations.
These programs usually take between 30 minutes to an hour to use. Tax returns must be filed by April 15, but it’s best to get it out of the way early since it takes so little time to complete.
College students are also eligible to file their taxes for free, as long as their income is less than $66,000, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
Parents can be a valuable resource when reporting your taxes for the first time. If you live in-state and travel home every month or so, ask your mom or dad to sit down with you on a Saturday morning and go through the process over a bowl of cereal, rather than calling them in tears on April 14 and asking them to just do it for you.
If, however, you’re from out of state, FaceTime or Skype can be a great way to tackle your taxes with parental support. Better still, if you’re feeling confident, start to file them on own and then if you have a question, give them a quick call.
The do-it-yourself programs mentioned above also walk you through filing taxes in more than one state, so don’t think they forgot about that summer job at the ice cream shop back home in Missouri.
For students who are planning to get married soon after college and will have two sources of income to report, it will make more sense to try filing on your own first before you have to file for two people.
Once your taxes are signed, dated and sent off, you can look forward to your tax refund. These vary depending on how much money you’ve made throughout the year and how much is deducted from every paycheck, but typically you’ll be able to treat yourself to something you’ve had on your wish list for a while — or maybe just a fridge full of groceries for the first time in a while.
Ultimately, you know your income better than anyone else. You know how many late nights you’ve spent waiting tables with minimal tips, how many doubles you’ve picked up to help out a friend and how many boxes of old clothes you’ve dropped off at Goodwill. Your parents won’t file your taxes for you for much longer, so you might as well start figuring it out now.