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Student Tax Return


student tax

As an international student in the United States, you might not realize that you are required to file US tax documents, and most importantly, the deadline is fast approaching: April 15th! The following guide will answer the most important questions about filing taxes in the US and will help you start the process.

Summary

Most international students are considered non-residents for tax purposes.

If you have not received any source of income -> then you’ll need to file Form 8843.

If you have received income in the last calendar year -> then you will need to file Form 8843 and most likely Form 1040NR-EZ.

Every international student along with their dependents will need to file Form 8843. Every individual, regardless of whether they are one family, will need to file their own Form 8843 and send it in a separate envelope. For more information, read on for more specifics on filing your taxes in the US.

Why should I file taxes?

Every international student and their dependents (including spouses and children of all ages) are required to file their taxes if they were in the US during the previous calendar year. While filing your taxes may sound difficult, there are a number of benefits to filing your taxes other than it’s the law:

  • You might get a refund. Some international students will qualify for a refund due to tax treaties and a lack of serious income if they’ve earned income in the US.
  • Protect taxation of your worldwide income.
  • You fulfill your visa obligations. All international students must file at least Form 8843 (see below) in order to remain legal under F, J, M & Q visas, even if you didn’t earn any money in the US.

The American Tax System - An Overview

Americans and others residing within this country must pay taxes to the state and federal government, and the process is completed through an agency called the Internal Revenue Service, or the IRS. Usually when someone earns money a portion of it is automatically deducted and sent directly to the government. Organizations that pay individuals send a summary of how much money they paid you every January or so, as well as how much of that was sent to the government. The purpose of filing your taxes is to report all your sources of income to the government, what you already paid, and what you still owe. It is also an opportunity to claim deductions or exemptions you may qualify for. At the end of the process, you calculate how much in total you should have paid. If you paid more than what you owe during the year, you get a refund. On the other hand, if you didn't pay enough, you have to pay the difference.

How do I file taxes?

There are many ways to file your taxes. You can file the proper forms on your own, you can hire a tax attorney, or you can purchase tax preparation software such as Sprintax. Most international students file on their own, however this will depend on the complexity of your earned income (if any!).

Sprintax

Generally, most international students who are on F, J, M or Q visas are considered nonresident aliens for tax purposes. International students on F1 visas are automatically considered non-resident aliens for their first 5 calendar years in the US, and students on J visas are automatically considered non-residents for their first 2 calendar years in the US. If you’ve been in the US for longer than the 5 or 2 calendar years, the Substantial Presence Test if will be the formula to determine if you should be taxed as a resident or nonresident alien.

I am a nonresident.

ALL nonresidents MUST fill out Form 8843, which essentially proves that you’re a nonresident. Additionally, all F-2 and J-2 visa holders must file the same form separately regardless of age and income.

I am a resident for tax purposes.

If you file as a resident, you will be required to declare both your US and your worldwide income. Therefore, before filing as a resident, check to see if you qualify for the Closer Connection Exception. If you still believe you qualify as a resident, you should file taxes as if you were an American citizen. You can do so for free at the IRS website, or you can use one of the many aforementioned tax preparation program.

Be advised that the factors determining whether you made money from American sources is different for nonresidents than that which applies to residents. If you do have US source income, it will probably come from wages, scholarships, and/or bank interest. (See the entire list of taxable sources).

In addition to the links provided below to download each form, the IRS provides instructions for filling out most forms as well. The instructions can be found by going to the IRS website, and then searching by form number.

You may need to fill out some or all of the following forms:

Form Purpose Requires additional form? More information
Form 8843Declaring your nonresident statusNoMandatory for all nonresident aliens, even if you didn’t have any US source income. A SSN or an ITIN is not required.
Form 1040-NRDeclaring your US source income and determining how much taxes you owe on that income.NoMandatory for all nonresidents with US source income. Requires a Social Security Number (SSN) or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
Form 1040NR-EZSimplified version of the 1040-NR. Most international students can use this form.NoRequires a SSN or ITIN.
Form W-7*Application for an ITIN. Yes; see below.You do not need to submit this form if you already have an ITIN or a SSN.
Form 843Request for a refund of Social Security and Medicare taxes withheld.Yes; you must also submit form Form 8316.
8233Request for a tax treaty benefit on salary earned.Yes; submit also a Country-Specific Statement found in Appendix A of Publication 519, US Tax Guide for Aliens.Submit this form to your employer, NOT the IRS.
W-8BENRequest for a tax treaty benefit on scholarship money.NoSubmit this form to the organization that pays your scholarship, NOT the IRS.
State-level returnPay taxes owed to the state rather than the federal government.Depends on your tax situation and the state.Consult your international student advisor about whether you have to file state tax returns and what forms to fill out.

*If you’re submitting Form W-7, you must also submit proof of identity and foreign status. This is to be done through your Designated School Official (DSO) at your school, who can provide letters authenticating your identity and certificated copies of your documents. The following is a list of documents your DSO may require to issue this certification, but check with an international student advisor to be sure:

  • Photo copy of your Passport
  • Photocopy of your visa
  • Photocopy of your I-20
  • Admission or scholarship award letter

*If you’re submitting Form W-7, you must also submit proof of identity and foreign status. This is to be done through your Designated School Official (DSO) at your school, who can provide letters authenticating your identity and certificated copies of your documents. The following is a list of documents your DSO may require to issue this certification, but check with an international student advisor to be sure.

  • Photo copy of your Passport
  • Photocopy of your visa
  • Photocopy of your I-20
  • Admission or scholarship award letter

You will need the following documents to properly fill out your tax forms or to submit to tax preparation services such as Sprintax. Copies of each of these forms must be sent with your federal and state tax returns.

Form Purpose Sent By
W-2Your employer reports wages you earned and taxes withheld from those wages.41670
1099Your bank reports interest earned on your accounts.41670
1042-SReports wages paid to you if you already claimed a tax treaty benefit, and scholarship income that was used for expenses other than tuition and fees (such as room and board or travel).March 15th, 2014

Once all the forms have been filled out properly, you will know if you owe taxes or if the government owes you a refund. If you need to pay, the best option is to enclose a check with your tax documents, because you will have to file by mail (see step 7).

Before finally mailing off your documents, make sure the following items are correct on all the forms:

  • Your name and either SSN or ITIN appears on every page (unless you are applying for an ITIN, and therefore don’t have one yet).
  • Your mailing address is correct on every form so you can receive your refund check.
  • Double-check the math on every form.

Nonresidents are not allowed to file electronically. Therefore, you must mail hardcopy documents to the correct address. It is important to send the files to the correct address; otherwise, you risk being fined for filing a late return. Remember the deadlines!

Forms to be Filed Address Deadline
ONLY Form 8843 Department of the Treasury
Internal Revenue Service Center
Austin, Texas
73301-0215
June 15th, 2014
Forms 8843 and 1040-NR, and others if appropriate (NOT filing a W-7, NOT enclosing a payment) Department of the Treasury
Internal Revenue Service Center
Austin, Texas
73301-0215
April 15th, 2014
Forms 8843 and 1040-NR WITH PAYMENT ENCLOSED Internal Revenue Service
P.O. Box 1303
Charlotte, North Carolina
28201-1303
April 15th, 2014
Form W-7, along with all required tax return forms, including payment Internal Revenue Service
ITIN Operation
P.O. Box 149342
Austin, Texas 78714
April 15th, 2014
State tax return forms Consult your International Student Advisor for the mailing address for your state tax returns. State filing deadlines vary, but it is best to file your state taxes at the same time as your federal taxes.

It is recommended that you keep tax documents for at least seven years in case the IRS makes a claim.

Where can I get more information?

For more information on tax treaties, see Publication 901.

For more information on filing taxes as an alien, see Publication 519

For more information on how taxes are withheld on nonresident aliens, see Publication 515.

For information on Volunteer Income Tax Assistance for nonresident aliens, see Publication 4152.

For more information on taxation as a foreign student in the US, consult this portion of the IRS website.

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