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. 

Do college students have to file taxes? 

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 either one of the following applies: 

  • You earn more than the standard deduction amount (in 2020, that amount is $12,400) 
  • You have more than $1,100 of unearned income (as in, a college fund in your name) 

Am I 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 if someone claims me as a dependent? 

Did you make more than $12,400 from your job this year? If the answer is yes, you’re probably required to file taxes based on the amount you earned. In that case, you should file your own federal income tax return. Note: You will indicate that someone else can claim you as a dependent in the appropriate section on your return.

If you earned less than $12,400, 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. 

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 Tuition and Fees Deduction can lower your taxable income by up to $4,000.  
  • 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. 

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

Can I get a student discount on my taxes? 

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?  

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 tuition and fees deduction, American Opportunity Credit, or the Lifetime Learning Credit. That’s because 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 business? 

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.