Federal Income Tax Return for U.S. Citizens - How to file
Generally, U.S. citizens, Green Card Holders or Resident Aliens for Tax Purposes who receive any type of payments, e.g., salary, stipend, honorarium, scholarship, prizes, interest, dividends, etc. are required to file a Federal Tax Return. For information on the different types of income for students see this article.
However, if you earned less than $9,500 for 2011 and don't have any special circumstances (see here for an easy test), you do not have to file a federal tax return.
Even if you are under this threshold, if taxes where withheld from your paycheck, you might want to file a tax return to receive a refund of those taxes paid.
Most States, including Vermont, California, Massachusetts, and D.C., also require you to file a tax return. See here for more information on State returns.
You have basically two choices:
- You fill out the return manually
- You fill out the return with the help of a tax software
Either way you can then send the return via postal mail or file it electronically. We recommend filing electronically as you will get confirmation that the return was submitted and if there is any refund due to you, you will get it much faster.
The IRS provides information on the forms to choose if you want to do it manually but also gives you links to FREE software. See here.
NOTE: If your adjusted gross income is $57,000 or less in 2011 software companies offer free tax preparation and e-filing.
What you need to fill out your federal income tax return:
- Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) if applicable of yourself and your child if the child is a U.S. citizen or resident alien for tax purposes
- Last Year's Federal Tax Return if you filed one and if you want to file electronically
- Form W-2 (employment income) if any
- Form 1098T (scholarship income) if any
- Form 1042S (employment and or scholarship income) if any
- Form 1099MISC (self-employment income or prize income) if any
- Form 1099INT or 1099DIV etc. for Interest and Dividend Income
- Form 1099G (state tax refund from previous year) if any
- Checking account information, i.e., account and routing number for direct deposit of tax refund if any
Some notes on filing your federal income tax return:
- If you received a Form 1042S, but it turns out that you actually were a resident alien for tax purposes, please contact the Tax Office, so that we can update our records accordingly. You do need to report any income from income code 15, exemption code 00 under scholarship income. If you already paid tax for the scholarship income (see Box 7 on Form 1042S), you need to report that amount paid in order to get a refund. If your 1042S is showing income from income code 17, 18, or 19, please contact the Tax Office to find out whether you were eligible for the treaty benefits in this tax year. If you were, check here how to report the treaty benefits. If you were not because of your new status, you will have to report that income as wage income.
- To determine whether any part of your financial aid is a taxable scholarship you have to look at the detail of the aid. Any aid that went towards tuition (tuition is reported in Box 2 of Form 1098T) is non-taxable, any financial aid greater than tuition and any other payments made to you like support for an internship etc. is considered taxable scholarship. IRS Publication 970 has a table showing what can be considered taxable versus non-taxable. Note that Middlebury College reports tuition billed not paid. Thus, instead of using Form 1098T find out how much tuition you actually paid during the calendar year (look at your bank statements) and subtract the amount of aid you actually received in that calendar year (form Box 5 Form 1098T).
- You might be able to claim an education (Hope and Lifetime Learning) credit. Detailed information is available in Publication 970.
Remember: Tax Returns (Federal and State) are due postmarked or sent electronically on April 15.