Advertiser disclosure

Filing Taxes as a College Student

Filing taxes can be confusing for most people, so it is no surprise that as a college student you might have questions or need clarification. Keep reading to find out whether you need to file taxes as a college student as well as when you might not need to do so. 

Do college students have to file taxes?

In general, it is a good idea for college students who work to file their taxes. Filing taxes gives students and recent graduates access to education-related credits and a deduction. These benefits can earn you a higher tax return. The IRS does not automatically issue tax returns, so if you were hoping to receive one, you must file. Additionally, students or the person who claims them as a dependent must file their taxes if they’ve earned money in order to complete the annual FAFSA.

That being said, there are a few cases where college students don’t have to file their taxes. The requirements depend on whether the student is claimed as a dependent or is filing independently.

Independent students are not required to file taxes if they:

  • Are under 65 years old
  • Are single
  • Did not work or earned less than the standard deduction for a single taxpayer ($13,850 in 2023)
  • Don’t have special circumstances that require them to file (such as self-employment income)

Dependent students are not required to file taxes if they:

  • Are under 65 years old
  • Are single
  • Did not work or earned less than the standard deduction for single dependents ($1,250 in 2023)

There is no penalty for filing taxes when you aren’t required to. However, there can be penalties if you were required to file and did not. Even if you don’t make enough that you’re required to file, you should do if federal taxes were taken out of your check as they’ll be refunded to you.

Tax benefits for college students

College students and those who are paying student loans can claim a few different credits and a deduction.

The two IRS education credits are the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) and the Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC). These credits help offset the cost of higher education by reducing the amount of tax owed. There are individual requirements for each credit, but both share these three requirements:

Here is more information on each education credit. Keep in mind that a student – or the person claiming a dependent student – cannot use both credits in one year.

American Opportunity Tax Credit

The AOTC is a credit that can be used on qualified education expenses during a student’s first 4 years of higher education. The maximum annual amount for the AOTC is $2,500. If the credit brings the tax owed to $0, the student can have 40% of the amount of the remaining credit refunded to them (up to $1,000). 

In addition to the 3 requirements listed above, an eligible student must:

  • Be enrolled at least half time for at least one academic period beginning during the tax year
  • Not have completed the first 4 years of higher education at the beginning of the tax year
  • Have not claimed the AOTC for more than 4 tax years
  • Not have a felony drug conviction at the end of the tax year
  • Receive a 1098-T form from their institution (more on this form below)

Lifetime Learning Credit

The LLC can be used to help pay for undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree courses. This includes courses taken to learn or improve job skills. There is no limit to how many years a student can claim the LLC. The annual maximum amount is $2,000. Unlike the AOTC, the LLC is non-refundable. This means you can use the credit to pay any tax owed, but remaining credit will not be refunded to you.

In addition to the 3 requirements listed above, an eligible student must:

  • Be taking a higher education course or courses to get a degree or other recognized education credential or to learn/improve job skills.
  • Be enrolled for at least one academic period beginning in the tax year.

See also: Top certificates to earn

In addition to the AOTC and the LLC, there is a Student Loan Interest Deduction. Deductions allow people to reduce their income before calculating the amount of tax they owe.

Student Loan Interest Deduction

This deduction is for students or former students who are paying off student loans. If the student’s modified adjusted gross income is less than $80,000 ($160,000 if filing jointly), they can take the Student Loan Interest Deduction. The maximum annual student loan interest deduction is $2,500. The deduction can be used on the interest paid on a student loan for yourself, your spouse, or your dependent. 

See also: Top alternatives to four-year universities

Needed information and forms

To file taxes and claim any of the above benefits, students need a few forms in addition to their W2 or 1099. 

First, students need their 1098-T Tuition Statement. This form reports the expenses and tuition paid for higher education. Students receive this form from their institution, usually by January 31. To take a Student Loan Interest Deduction, you must have your 1098-E Student Loan Interest Statement. Anyone who paid at least $600 to a loan servicer will receive a 1098-E. If you have multiple servicers, you’ll receive a form from each. Form 8863 is the form used to claim the AOTC or LLC. Students must complete this form and attach it to their tax return.

How to file your taxes

Filing taxes can be complicated, especially for a busy college student. Fortunately, most college students and recent graduates will file a simple tax return. These returns can be filed easily and for little cost (or free)! Students have a few options for actually filing their taxes.

The IRS Free File Form allows people to electronically submit their tax return to the IRS for free. The user must prepare the return themselves. Those whose adjusted gross income is $73,000 or less have access to Guided Tax Preparation. This program provides free tax preparation through the IRS and its partners.

In addition to filing directly through the IRS, students and graduates can use commercial tax preparation services. These companies provide self-service federal tax filing for free. Note that some may require payment for filing state taxes. Some examples are: 

File before the deadline!

If a student is required to file their taxes, be sure to do so before the annual deadline. In 2024, the deadline is April 15. In general, it is on or around April 15 every year. There can be consequences for not filing on time if you are required. If the student held a job during the tax year, even if they didn’t earn enough to require doing so, students should file their taxes to earn a tax return and claim education-related tax benefits. 

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

  • Before filing taxes assess how much money you made in the past year and whether or not you qualify as dependent or independent
  • Even if you do not need to file taxes, it may be a good idea so that you can claim educational tax credits
  • Don’t forget that there are also tax deductions that you may qualify for, but only if you file your taxes
  • Filing taxes can be complicated, but as a student you may have some very accessible and affordable options available to you
Key Takeaways

Frequently asked questions about filing taxes as a college student

Is it better for a college student to claim themselves or be dependent?

As a college student, you are usually better off letting your parents claim you than you are claiming yourself. Your individual situation will need to be assessed by you and your parents though. If taxes are overwhelming to you, look to see what resources your college may offer to help you in the process. Don’t forget that some companies may also offer free tax services to college students.

Can you claim a child as a dependent if they made over $4,000?

A child can still be claimed by their parents even if they make over $4,000. There are just a few qualifying rules that must apply as well. A “child” must be “under age 19, or under 24 if a full time student, not provide more than half of their own annual support and the person who claims you cannot be a dependent themselves. For more information talk to a tax professional. 

Can I file as both a dependent and independent student?

No, you cannot file as both a dependent and independent student. Because both independent and dependent students qualify for various benefits, you cannot file as each and claim two sets of benefits. If you’re confused as to how to file, you should be able to use the information from the first part of this article to help you. If you still need further help, reach out to a professional who can give you all the information you’ll need and help you explore your options.