With April 15 quickly approaching, filing tax returns might appear daunting to some students.
The IRS, however, aims to make filing tax returns a simple process for everyone.
According to Jennifer Henrie-Brown, an IRS tax specialist, the IRS has an informative website that includes instructions to guide people through the filing process.
If a student is not certain as to whether they should file a tax return, the IRS has three charts to assist students.
Most students who are obligated to file a tax return, according to Henrie-Brown, will fall under Chart A as singles under the age of 65 with a total income of at least $9,350. Students under the age of 24 can be claimed as dependents by their parents, but students who are claimed as dependents should still file their own taxes if they earned more than $5,700.
Even if a student is not expected by federal or state law to file a tax return, it might be beneficial for students with jobs to do so.
“There is a possibility that [students can] get refunded. If [a student] is not required to file a tax return, but the employer withholds federal income tax, the only way for [the student] to receive the money is to file a return,” Henrie-Brown said.
Though the IRS has attempted to make the process as simple as possible, some students still shy away from filing their own taxes.
“Even though I have a job, I’ve barely made any money,” said Ava Casados, a junior majoring in fine arts and psychology. “It’s definitely easier for my parents to [file my tax return] because there’s really not much work that needs to be done.”
Ari Stobaugh, a freshman majoring in political science, said she also relies on her parents to help with her tax return.
“I help my parents, but I basically let them handle my tax return because they’ve done it for 30 years and just know what they’re doing,” Stobaugh said.
Though many students at USC find it easier to have their parents handle their tax returns, Thomas Griffith, professor of law and taxation, said he believes students should attempt to file their own returns.
“Students should bite the bullet and try to do the tax returns [themselves],” Griffith said. “And if you make a mistake, don’t worry about it. As long as you are not trying to cheat the IRS, they will send you a letter either with the amount still owed or money because you paid too much.”
Griffith said the IRS instructions are fairly clear for students who take their time to understand them, and he thinks tax preparers are superfluous for students.
Since changes to the tax laws occur frequently, Henrie-Brown said it can be difficult for most people, especially students, to stay up to date. To make the process smoother, the IRS offers e-file, a “fast, easy and accurate solution to filing tax returns.” The service is available at www.irs.gov.
Students and others who earn an income under $57,000 can also use Free File, the free IRS version of e-file, also online.
“Free File asks simple questions and it completes your tax forms for you. It ensures that you get all of the tax breaks you are supposed to,” Henrie-Brown said.
According to Henrie-Brown, Free File has an accuracy rate of 99 percent as opposed to paper returns that have an 80 percent accuracy rate.
Students who file on Free File also receive an acknowledgment of receipt 48 hours after the IRS receives the forms.
But even with Free File and e-file and the IRS instructions, some students still find tax preparers helpful.
“I know e-file is really quick and does it for free, but I’m just scared that I won’t get the maximum amount of money,” said David Herrera, a junior majoring in accounting. “I don’t want to risk it, so I figured I’d just pay someone $60.”
Students who are worried about mistakes on their tax returns can speak with trained individuals from the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program who help low- to moderate-income taxpayers.
“Even I have made some mistakes but for students, books about taxes and preparers are unnecessary. The IRS site and instructions are just as good,” Griffith said.
While many students seek help from tax preparers or have their parents deal with it, a few choose to file taxes on their own.
Sarah Morris, a senior majoring in theatre, filed her own taxes last year to gain the experience.
“I wanted to feel prepared after college,” Morris said. “My parents helped me for three years, but [tax returns are] fairly easy. It’s mainly a lot of paper trailing so it’s more tedious than difficult.”
The tax process is slightly different for international students, who cannot do e-file or Free File at the federal level but can do e-file or Free File for the state level unless they had income exempted by a tax treaty, according to Rebecca Peterson, an international students adviser for the Office of International Services.
On March 26, at 4 p.m. in room 202 of Taper Hall, the Office of International Services will host a session to help international students fill out the California tax form.
Clarification: Ava Casados said she did not file an income tax return because she did not have an income last year.