Tax FAQs for College Students

A college student files her taxes on a laptop computer using TaxSlayer

If you’ve never filed a tax return on your own before, you may be wondering what’s expected of you now that you’re a high school graduate. This article will help you understand more about what you need to do to receive a tax refund. 

Should I file taxes now that I’m in college? 

You don’t have to file taxes just because you are in college or because you turn 18. The IRS has specific filing requirements. If you meet the requirements, then you are expected to file a tax return. If you are single (as in, you’re not married), you’ll need to file a federal return if: 

  • You earn more than the standard deduction amount OR
  • You have more than $1,100 of unearned income  

Do I need to pay taxes on my scholarship?

In general, scholarship money that is used to cover tuition costs and other direct education expenses isn’t considered taxable income. But, if your scholarship or grant money is used to pay for unqualified expenses – such as a study abroad program or your general room and board – you would need to report that on your tax return. Read Is My College Scholarship Taxable? for more details.

Are there tax breaks for college students? 

Yes. Your status as a college student might make you eligible for the following tax deductions and credits: 

  • The American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) is worth up to $2,500 per year for an eligible college student. It is refundable up to $1,000, which means you can get money back from the credit if you do not owe any taxes. 
  • The Lifetime Learning Credit is worth up to $2,000 per year. It is not refundable, but it can still reduce the amount of federal income tax that you have to pay. 
  • The student loan interest deduction allows you to deduct up to $2,500 in interest paid on your school loan.

Learn more about these tax credits and deductions for college students.

Can I still be a dependent if I’m in college? 

When you’re a full-time college student, your parents can claim you as a dependent until you are 24 years old*. If you are working and earning money while in school, your parents can claim you as a dependent as long as they still provide more than half of your financial support. They can claim you as a dependent even if you file your own return. 

*at the end of the year

Should I file taxes even if someone claims me as a dependent? 

If you are required to file a federal income tax return–say, because you earned more this year than the standard deduction amount–you should plan to do so. You will simply indicate that someone else can claim you as a dependent in the appropriate section on your return.

If you earned less than the standard deduction, but your employer withholds money from your paycheck for income taxes, you might be entitled to a tax refund. The only way to get your refund is to file an income tax return. So, you probably want to file taxes and get back the money you deserve. Use TaxSlayer’s Refund Calculator now to estimate how big your tax refund will be. 

Can I get a student discount on tax filing? 

TaxSlayer offers a free tax filing option for people who have a simple tax situation. You can qualify to use TaxSlayer Simply Free if: 

  • You are filing with a W-2 
  • You are filing as single (or married) 
  • You are not claiming dependents 
  • You are taking the standard deduction 

You can claim education tax credits and even get the student loan interest deduction with TaxSlayer Simply Free. 

What tax forms do I need to claim my tax breaks for college?  

If this is your first time filing, you won’t need too many documents. To get started, you’ll need: 

W-2 or 1099 – If you’re filing an income tax return, it means you’ve got income to report. When you’re employed by a business or business owner, you get a W-2 from your employer. If you are self-employed, look for a Form 1099-MISC from anyone who has paid you more than $600. 

Form 1098-T, Tuition Statement* – You’ll need your Form 1098-T to claim the American Opportunity Credit or Lifetime Learning Credit. The 1098-T shows how much you paid to your school for tuition and other qualified expenses. It also reports information about scholarships. The 1098-T will come from your school. 

*If you don’t get a Form 1098-T because your school isn’t required to send one, you just need to prove that you were enrolled at an eligible educational institution and paid tuition and other qualified education expenses. 

Check out this tax prep checklist for a longer list of forms to have (if they apply to you). 

Can I file taxes as a side hustle? 

Preparing tax returns for clients is a real profession, and you can also prepare them part-time/seasonally. But before you file your roommate’s taxes, read this article about filing taxes for someone else. 

Are you ready to get your tax refund? TaxSlayer makes it easy to file your taxes fast, so you can get back to the things you’d rather be doing. Click here to create a free account. 

This article is intended to provide general information to the public and does not provide personalized tax, investment, legal, or business advice. You should seek the assistance of a professional for advice on taxes, investments, and any other financial, legal, or business matter pertinent to your individual situation.