One of the benefits of working an on-campus job when you’re an international student is that you get a great feel for the culture. You’ll make new friends, learn how things are done in the U.S. and earn some spending money.
Still, the most authentic experience you’ll have after working on campus is filing taxes with the rest of America. The tax forms, which need to be filed to the Internal Revenue Service by April 18, can be a little confusing even to people who have filed in the past. Here’s how to do it.
The First Steps
International students are allowed to work up to 20 hours weekly at an on-campus job depending on their visa status. While you’ve seen local and federal taxes already deducted from your paycheck, you still need to file taxes. These paychecks deductions aren’t an exact science, so it’s possible you’ve been paying too much in taxes or too little. If it’s the former, you’ll experience another American tradition when the IRS sends you money back. If not, you may have to make a payment on top of what’s already been deducted from your paychecks.
When you land an on-campus job, you must obtain a Social Security Number. These are used for identification purposes and to see how much money you’ve earned over the years. Even if you’re in the U.S. for only a year, you still need to obtain one to do your taxes.
To obtain a Social Security Number, look up the closest Social Security office and bring a letter of employment, your passport with visa, the I-20 form (certificate of eligibility for nonimmigrant student status) and a completed I-94 card (you can get one online). It should take about a month to get your Social Security number after applying. If you need help, your international student advisor will be able to walk you through the steps.
Federal tax forms can be a little tricky, as they can get bogged down with exemptions and multiple forms of income. If you’re just working a campus job, it should be fairly straightforward. You’ll need to fill out Form 8843 and Form 1040-NR EZ.
Most scholarships and fellowships are tax-exempt, but some are considered taxable. This might be the case if your scholarship requires working as part of the stipulation. There’s a line on the federal tax form for scholarships in this case.
If math isn’t really your thing or you’re confused — don’t worry. People who earn less than $62,000 a year are allowed to use free tax preparation software on the IRS’ website. While filing online, you can sign up to have your tax return deposited directly to your account. This ensures that you’ll get your money quickly.
The most important form you’ll need is the W2, which gives a breakdown of all your earnings from the previous year. This is sent to employees in mid-January and needs to be included in your tax form.
That just about covers what you need to know for federal taxes, but you still need to worry about state taxes. Every state has its own form, so you’ll need to find the correct one. If a place on campus has the federal tax forms for students, then they’ll likely have the state tax forms online. Some states offer free online filing, so check on that possibility.
Once your forms are filled out, either on paper or online, it’s time to submit to the IRS. If you’re uncertain about something, campuses typically offer tax-filing help to ensure that you didn’t make any mistakes. Even if you’re confident that everything is in order, it’s a good idea to get an outside perspective, especially if it’s your first time filing. You can also check out InternationalStudent.com’s Tax Center for more information and guidance on how to proceed.
If you end up staying in the U.S. after graduation to pursue your career, you’ll be glad you’ve had experience with taxes. Personal finances are so important, and learning to budget taxes, investments, retirement funds, and living expenses are all something you’ll have to tackle on your own. These things may seem overwhelming and complicated right now, but if you learn up on these things early on, you’ll be used to them soon enough.
Happy tax season!