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SNHU Tax Instructor Shares 5 Steps for Filing Taxes as a Student

Some steps to help you during tax season include determining your need to file, gathering necessary documents, understanding applicable deductions, identifying required IRS forms and choosing a filing method.
A woman reading tips about filing taxes as a student

Nearly 146 million Americans are expected to file individual tax returns for 2023, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) estimates. In 2024, tax season officially opened on January 29, and the filing deadline is April 15.

Whether you expect to owe money or are hopeful for a nice return, here are five steps you can follow to help you through this year's tax season. 

Step 1: Determine if You Need to File Taxes This Year

Even if you only worked part-time, chances are, you will be among one of the millions of Americans required to file taxes this year. For example, if you are under 65 and made at least $13,850 in 2023, you must file taxes according to the 2023 IRS Publication 17, which outlines all the rules and regulations for individuals filing taxes (Publication 17 PDF Source). 

The same applies to married couples under 65 filing jointly who made more than $27,700, according to the IRS. Although, different income thresholds apply to people older than 65, married individuals filing separately, heads of households and qualifying surviving spouses.

You may wonder whether you can be claimed as a dependent by your parents and what effect that could have on your filing status. One test for dependency is whether you're living on your own and providing more than 50% of your own support, said Jeremy Glines, an instructor of accounting and taxation at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). Throughout his nine years at SNHU, Glines has also been director of the SNHU Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) site in Manchester, New Hampshire, where over 2,000 people have had assistance filing their taxes.

Even if you're a dependent, you'll need to file a tax return if you meet the requirements for filing in 2023, and parents or guardians must file for dependents who may not be able to file for themselves, according to the IRS. 

Step 2: Collect Your Income Documents

Before you can even think about filing your taxes, you must be sure you have all the documents showing proof of your earnings — most are issued to you, but others you might need to download or collect. 

If you worked as an employee for a company, the most important document you’ll need to collect is your W-2 form, said Glines. If you worked more than one job during the year, you’ll need to collect W-2 forms from each of your employers, too.

W-2 forms are prepared annually by employers and include information such as an employee’s total gross earnings, Social Security earnings, Medicare earnings and federal and state taxes withheld from the employee, according to the IRS. The purpose of this form is to provide the employee with information that must be included on your income tax form.

But not all employees should assume they are W-2 employees, Glines said. If hired as an independent contractor, you must collect a 1099 form from any employers for whom you provided contract work. The IRS has examples of the 1099 form, so you know what to look for (1099 PDF Source). 

Employers must issue forms to anyone paid over $600, and employees must report any income they receive throughout the year regardless of whether they receive a 1099 form.

“A 1099 form gives a different picture. As a W-2 employee, you may be entitled to salary, health benefits, a 401k or another retirement plan at a cost to your employer,” Glines said. “On the flip side, if you are a 1099 employee, the employer hires you as an independent contractor. It is then your responsibility to tell the government that you earned money and pay taxes on the employer and employee side." 

Glines said the advantage of the 1099 form is subtracting certain costs like travel distance, phone and your workspace at home. He added that it's essential for 1099 contractors to maintain records of all their business expenditures. 

You're also responsible for other documents besides your W-2 or your 1099 forms that report taxable sources of income. 

A yellow money symbol on a blue background Other taxable income sources can include:

  • Bank account interest year-end statements
  • Business income
  • Interest on investments, such as stocks or mutual funds
  • Pension distributions
  • Rental property income
  • Social Security year-end statements
  • Student loan interest statement
  • Unemployment income

Step 3: Gather Documents That May Reduce Your Tax Burden

Glines said you’ll want to collect documents that can be itemized on a tax form and, therefore, reduce the amount of taxes you pay, depending upon your income. 

You might be able to itemize beyond the standard deduction, too, which is adjusted each year for inflation and varies based on filing status, age, if you're blind and whether you can be claimed as a dependent, according to the IRS. 

Documents you may be able to itemize include:

  • Automobile registrations
  • Previous year's mortgage interest statement
  • Medical expenses
  • Proof of charitable donations
  • Proof of childcare expenses
  • Qualified business expenses
  • Real estate tax statement
  • Statement of mortgage points paid
  • Student loan interest

The biggest misconception that most people make is that they're able to itemize deductions that don't make sense, given the standard deduction the government already gives them, Glines said. He noted that it's good for you to gather any itemized documents, too, in case they qualify beyond the standard deduction.

Step 4: Understand Which IRS Tax Documents You Need to File With Your Return

Identifying which government tax forms you should prepare is a little trickier for some people to discern, but most people preparing individual returns should expect to fill out a 1040 form or some type of it, Glines said. Other similar forms include the 1040EZ and the 1040A. 

Here are some other forms for deductible expenses that you may need if they apply to you:

  • If you plan to deduct child care expenses, you must fill out and attach a Form 2441 to your 1040 Form for Child and Dependent Care credit.

  • If you want to take advantage of the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), you’ll complete form 8863. According to the IRS, this is a tax credit of up to $2,500 for tuition, fees and course materials paid during the taxable year. Also, 40% of the credit (up to $1,000) is refundable, even if you don’t owe any taxes.

  • If you owned a small business, you might attach a Schedule C form, which itemizes profit or loss from a small proprietorship.

  • If you live in a state that requires you to file state or city income taxes, you must file those as well.

Glines said that all documents and instructions are available on, and the site provides step-by-step instructions about specific forms and who should file them.

Step 5: Decide How You’ll File and Understand What Resources Are Available

For some taxpayers, filing on one’s own can prove to be daunting, especially if it’s being done for the first time, Glines said. 

You can mail paperwork that you complete yourself to the IRS, file your tax documents using the IRS’s Free File electronic filing program, pay for a tax preparer and file through them or even get your taxes prepared and filed for free at an IRS-certified tax assistance site, according to Glines (VITA PDF Source).

An icon of a calculator with a white outline.He added that tax software programs such as TurboTax and commercial tax preparers such as H&R Block Premium can also assist you in preparing and filing your tax returns for a fee. PC World Magazine recently published a review of the top tax preparation software to help consumers weigh the pros and cons of each.

There are VITA centers registered with the IRS across the United States that can help you file your taxes for free if you qualify. The program is for those who need assistance filing, such as:

  • Limited-English-speaking taxpayers
  • Persons with a disability
  • Those who made $64,000 or less the previous year

This IRS locator tool can find a VITA site near you. 

At the SNHU VITA site, undergraduate accounting students become volunteers. 

"It's a requirement for students in the SNHU accounting program, and it's a service-based experiential opportunity that is built directly into the curriculum — VITA allows each student to work with a diverse population of tax filers," said Glines. "VITA not only supports resident returns, but we also help many campus-based non-resident students file forms like the 1040NR."

Even if you're new to filing taxes, starting with the right documents and understanding what resources are available can help you fearlessly face this year's tax season.

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SNHU Student Financial Services (SFS) does not offer tax advice and encourages students to seek the advice of a tax professional.

Krysten Godfrey Maddocks ’11G is a writer who covers K-12 and higher education topics, including policy and the role of digital technology in education. She spent almost a decade working in various marketing roles at an educational assessment company before launching a strategic marketing company. Maddocks earned a master's degree in marketing from Southern New Hampshire University and a bachelor's degree in English/ journalism from the University of New Hampshire. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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