Basics of Taxes, Part 2: How 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.


Here’s an overview of how to file your tax return.

Documents You Need

  • W-2s
  • 1099s
  • Tuition statements from your college (Form 1098-T)
  • Receipts for other school expenses (such as books, supplies, computers)

Should You Do Your Own Taxes?

Yes! (If you feel comfortable doing them yourself.)

There are a number of DIY options, many of which will be free for college students.

  • IRS “Free File”: if your income was less than $57,000, you can use the on-line IRS Free File program to file your taxes
  • Volunteer income tax clinics: available in many communities. The same income restrictions as the Free File program apply to the clinics
  • TurboTax or other DIY software: cost ranges from “free” to $100

When to Ask for Help

You should seek the help of a tax professional if:

  • You have income from multiple states. We’ll talk about this later.
  • You’re self-employed in addition to being a student
  • You feel like you’re in over your head
  • You have kids and are not sure if you qualify for tax credits related to having kids

In part 3, we’ll get into the mechanics of filing a tax return. Filing status, tax credits, etc.