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 $10,000 for 2013 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 were withheld from your paycheck, you should file a tax return to receive a refund of taxes paid. You may also need to file to apply for federal student loan applications.

Most States, including Vermont, New York, California, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia, also require you to file a tax return. See here for more information on State returns.


You have two choices:

  1. You fill out the return manually, or
  2. 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.  If you file electronically you will get confirmation that the return was submitted and if there is any refund due to you, you should receive it much faster. If you file your return by mail, be sure to mail it certified or registered to obtain a receipt from the IRS.

The IRS provides information on the forms to choose if you want to prepare your return manually and also provides links to FREE software. See here.

NOTE: If your adjusted gross income is $58,000 or less in 2013 software companies offer free tax preparation and e-filing. Not all companies offer free state software.

How To's

What you need to fill out your federal income tax return:

  1. Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) if applicable of yourself, your spouse or Domestic Partner and your child if the child is a U.S. citizen or resident alien for tax purposes. Be sure that the name on your Social Security or ITIN card match the name you put on the form.
  2. The prior year's Federal Tax Return if you filed one and if you want to file electronically
  3. Forms W-2 (employment income) if any
  4. Form 1098T (scholarship income) if any
  5. Forms 1042S (employment and or scholarship income) if any
  6. Forms 1099MISC (self-employment income or prize income) if any
  7. Forms 1099INT or 1099DIV etc. for Interest and Dividend Income
  8. Forms 1099G (state tax refund from previous year) if any
  9. 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:

  1. 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 such as support for an internship etc. is considered taxable "non-qualified" 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). Note that not all aid reported in Box 5 might have been used for tuition, some might have been used for room & board, health insurance, etc.) See www.1098-t.com for details of what Box 5 contains.
  2. 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 unless otherwise noted by the IRS (due to holidays or national events).