Guide to filing taxes for F-1 Students

The deadline to file taxes is around the corner and you are not sure what to do.Filing taxes was never easy.. but the complexity reaches another dimension when you have to do it in a different country. As a student on F-1 visa, a ton of questions may be running through your mind.. “What rules apply to me ? “, “What is my status for tax purposes”, “Can I use a software to do this” ? So, how do you get started start amidst all the confusion. Simple. Just read on..

Federal Taxes

What is my status for filing tax returns ?

TL;DR: If you are under the F-1 visa status, you are most likely to be a non resident alien. (P.S.: If you want to be absolutely sure, you can read more on this link about Substantial Presence Test or this answer on quora)  As such, the tax form that you need to file as an F-1 Student is the 1040NR-EZ if you are single and 1040NR if you have a dependent (e.g., your spouse or your parent).

How can I file my tax returns ?

Luckily for us, this is the 21st century and we have softwares to the rescue.. even for NP hard problems like taxes. Several schools license the Glacier Tax Preparation software and allow their students to use it for free. If you study in one of such schools, it is best to use this. However if you do not have access to this software, you can use Sprintax, another software that supports the 1040 NR forms. The only drawback is that Sprintax charges about $36 to file your tax form.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Some students use TurboTax to file taxes as it is can file your taxes for free. It is important to note that TurboTax DOES NOT support the 1040 NR forms. This may not be evident when you use it since at no stage of the process does the software issue an alert/warning stating that it cannot file your taxes. It simply calculates your tax returns as a resident alien, which is ILLEGAL. So it is better not to be penny wise and pound foolish and use this software just to save money.

What do I do once I fill out all tax forms ? Where do I submit them ?

Well done.. you are almost there. The only step remaining between you and your federal tax returns is submission of the forms. Sadly, non-resident aliens cannot submit their federal tax returns electronically. As such, all completed forms have to be signed and mailed to the US Department of Revenue. The address is available here.

If you think you are finally done with taxes, you are probably wrong.. We still have the state taxes to file..now you ask how do you do that ? Just as we have described below.

State Taxes

What is my tax status ?

Wait. Didn’t I just determine that above ? Unfortunately not. Residency has a whole different meaning for state taxes and is not related to the your status for federal taxes. For state taxes, you can be a resident, nonresident or part-year resident.

  • Resident: If you stay in a state, you are considered to be a resident of that state for taxation purposes. So, if you go to college in state X, you are a resident of state X and you will file the form required accordingly.
  • Non resident: If you stay in state X but move temporarily for an intern or co-op to a different state Y. In this case, you are required to fill state taxes for more than one state. For state X, you are still required to file taxes as a resident, however, you are required to file state Y’s taxes as a non-resident. The process is as follows:

    1. Fill state Y’s non-resident tax form and file your state Y’s taxes. In this form, you will compute the taxes you are required to pay state Y.
    ◦ 2. Fill schedule CR. In this, you can compute the tax credits, if any, that you can get in state X’s form.
    ◦ 3. Fill state X’s resident tax form and apply the credits computed in step 2 in the form.
    ◦ 4. E-File/Mail state X’s taxes along with the schedule CR.

  • Part year resident: Say you graduate in the middle of the year from your college in state X and find a job in different state Y. So, you would be a part year resident of state X and part year resident of state Y and would have to file taxes accordingly in both states. There is some good news here. You may be able to get some tax credits for the money you spent in moving from state X to state Y. So make sure you save copies of receipts for all the money you spent while moving such as airplane tickets/gas charges etc.

Can I submit my state tax returns electronically ?

Good news ! Unlike federal taxes, most states allow the filing of taxes electronically. So you may be able to finish filing your state taxes without having to move away from your laptop.

We have tried to answer a few basic questions that pertain to F1 students in this post, however, please understand that we cannot cover the whole length and breadth of the tax structure which may be complicated enough to even elude lawyers. As such, do take the post with a pinch of salt to make sure which points apply to you and which do not. You can always find more information on IRS.

Did you find this information useful ? Or do you have more questions ? Reach out to us in the comments section below.

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