Basics of Taxes, Part 1: Who Has to File

apple-256261_1280This is an excerpt from a presentation I give to college students about the basics of income taxes.

The presentation and this series of blog posts are geared toward college students and their typical tax situations.


Let’s start by talking about who has to file a tax return.

There are two reasons why a college student would file a tax return:

  1. You’re required by law to file a tax return because your income was above certain limits
  2. You’re owed a refund

Let’s talk about item 1. Here are the situations where you’d be required to file a tax return:

For 2014 tax returns:

If you were claimed as a dependent by your parents

  • You must file if income from your job was more than $6,200

If you were not claimed as a dependent by your parents

  • Must file if your income is more than $10,150

The requirements are different if you’re married, you’re self-employed, or you have a large amount of investment income. These topics are more advanced and beyond the scope of what we’ll be getting into in this series.

You might still want to file a tax return even if you’re not required to, so you can claim a refund of tax withholdings.


The deadline for filing your federal tax return is April 15th. You might also need to file a state tax return. Most states use April 15th as the filing deadline — but in Iowa, the filing deadline is April 30th.

What Happens if You Don’t File

If you’re owed a refund:

  • You won’t get your refund if you don’t file
  • The government won’t hunt you down to tell you you’re owed a refund

If you owe money to the government:

  • The government will send the IRS after you
  • You’ll have to pay the taxes, plus interest and penalties

In Part 2, we’ll get into the documents you need for filing your return, and options for how to get the return filed.