Filing taxes is a tedious and confusing chore for many who don’t understand what the process is all about. Thankfully, those who do know what’s going on are willing to share some advice.
1. Know the different options for filing and where to go for help
Not only does BYU have its own Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program, but according to site coordinator Jacob Hager, there are many other free services available for students.
“For most students, it’s not effective to go to places like H&R to file for taxes, but free services like VITA are great for simple returns,” Hager said.
James Embree, a VITA volunteer, explains that the VITA process is quick and refined, where participants first answer a few questions and then make an appointment where the tax return is completed in just a few minutes.
“People often worry that these questions are deciding if we can take them or not, but they are actually to determine your level of tax return to give you the best return possible,” Embree said. “All the VITA volunteers are IRS trained, and we have a checks and balances system where a manager reviews the forms for errors before they are sent in to the government.”
VITA is also providing a free online service this year at myfreetaxes.com/byu as well as a support line for any questions.
2. Know all documents required
Many people are unsure what documents will be required for their taxes, and a mad dash to gather the required paperwork often results. Embree lays out the basic documents needed to file your taxes.
“To file your taxes you must have your social security card and documents backing up any (place) where you made money,” Embree said. “This includes scholarships and grants, W2s from work, stock information, 1099 forms or the 1098T form for students.”
3. Know what credits are available
To make sure a student receives the best tax return, it’s important to know what credits students qualify for.
“There are two tax credits students can receive as well as credits for having children and simply having worked,” Hager said. “Also, make sure your parents aren’t claiming you as a dependent when you really aren’t. Students 24 and older are not dependents, and for other students their parents must provide at least half of the student’s income. If they don’t then you are not a dependent.”
4. Know the common mistakes people make
No one likes surprises on their tax returns, and catching some common mistakes might save a lot of grief as people file their taxes.
“Recently married couples still need to list the name they have on their social security card,” Hager said. “Often people use their married name when they haven’t updated their social security card and their taxes get rejected. Other times people forget to take into account the scholarships and grants they have received. If they exceed the cost of tuition, fees and books, that excess amount is taxable. Also, students who do summer-sales jobs often don’t realize that their company hasn’t been taking taxes out of their paycheck. So, if you do a lot of summer sales, be prepared to pay taxes rather than receive them.”
5. Know some tips to help improve tax returns
Students often need every cent they can get so Embree gives some tips to improve future tax returns.
“Keep track of school expenditures such as tuition, school fees and books,” Embree said. “You don’t necessarily need to save receipts, but you do need to keep some sort of record.”