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Tax season doesn’t need to be scary: 3 tips for college students

By Erin Kenney 

Natalie Rotolo juggles several jobs. In 2022, the University of Georgia senior worked as an assistant for one of her professors, a cashier at a cafe and as a student worker in her program’s equipment rental room.

Now that tax season is here, she’s stressed. She said the process has been a little nerve-wracking, and rounding up all of her W-2s and preparing to file her taxes is intimidating, she said.

“I don’t really know what I’m doing,” said Rotolo, an entertainment and media studies major. “So, I’m relying on my parents a lot to help me file, and I have a bunch of part-time jobs, so making sure I have all of the documents for that is a little daunting.”

She isn’t alone. For many students, tax season can induce anxiety and dread, not to mention a lot of confusion. Wil Golden, the coordinator for UGA’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, or VITA, encounters people’s apprehension towards taxes every year. Yet despite taxes’ bad rap, they’ve always made sense to Golden, who finds filing taxes pretty enjoyable.

“I love doing taxes — don’t tell anybody,” said Golden, who has worked with the VITA program since 2008.

Even though he can empathize with fearful taxpayers, Golden said filing doesn’t have to be scary. For college students preparing to file returns, he has three pieces of advice.

1. Know if your parents are claiming you 

The most important thing for students to know is if they are filing independently or if their parents are claiming them as a dependent. Golden gave an example, saying if a student files as an independent after they’ve already been claimed as a dependent, the student’s return is not going to be accepted by the IRS. This only lengthens an already stressful process. Golden recommends students ask their parents about their filing status during winter holiday break, so they don’t have any confusion once tax season rolls around.

2. Get to know your W-2 

While W-2s can be intimidating, Golden said getting acquainted with what each box represents will help students better understand their taxes in the long run. Knowing where to find wages and withholding and what these numbers represent can help students know if they’ll owe money or if they can expect a refund. Although getting a big refund might sound enticing to college students, Golden cautions against this, saying it’s best to try to break even.

“Generally, if you’re having 10% taken out (of your income), you’re going to be OK,” Golden said. “You’re not going to owe a lot, you’re not going to get a large refund, and neither one of those are good. (With) large refunds you’ve given the government a loan, and you’re not going to get interest on that.”

3. Know which receipts to keep 

Pop culture often depicts characters hoarding receipts in shoe boxes and carting them off to the IRS, but what do college students actually need to save throughout the year? According to Golden, not much. However, students filing as independents who are claiming an education tax credit should hold onto receipts for required course materials, like books and lab coats, which count as qualified expenses. To learn more about education tax credits and how they work, visit the IRS website at irs.gov.

Regardless of their filing status, college students don’t have to face tax season alone. For Rotolo, this means seeking her parents’ help as she prepares her return. But even students without tax savvy parents can seek advice from programs like VITA, which is run by the IRS and has sites across the country.

“We love to do student tax returns,” Golden said. “(VITA sites) are great places for (unbiased) information. We want to do your return.”

 

Erin Kenney is a journalism student at the University of Georgia

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