Filing Taxes on Your Own for the First Time?

ISV Ambassador Jay Bhatt shares his experience filing taxes for the first time and provides helpful advice for other international students.

We are nearing the end of tax season and I am sure all of you guys might have already filed for tax return or are in the final stages of filing. I had a unique experience filing my taxes this year and would like to share it with you all.

This year is my sixth year in the U.S. Since I have been living in the U.S. for more than five years, I am not considered a ‘Non-Residential Alien’ (NRA) anymore for tax purposes. I am now categorized as a ‘US resident alien’. The term ‘US resident alien’ does not give me any special benefits or rights; all it means is that I need to file my taxes like any other American citizen.

For the last five years, my university’s international office would help me with my taxes. It was very easy and straight forward. But this year due to my U.S. resident status, the office requested me to file taxes on my own. I am not fully aware if all the universities in the U.S. do it that way or not, but I know that most universities request ‘U.S. resident’ status international students to file their taxes independently. I am writing this article because I found the process of filing my taxes very challenging especially since it was my first time ever filing taxes independently.

My tax-related information:

Visa Status: F-1 student

Marital status: Married

Wife’s visa status: F2-dependent, living with me in the U.S. during the last year.

Tax status: U.S. resident alien

Tax Documents: I received only a W2 form. I did not receive 1042S form for scholarship. There are no treaty exemptions for students from India who are U.S. residents.

I filed my taxes listing my wife as an ‘unemployed’ dependent. Since my wife is on a F2-dependent visa she cannot work in the U.S. She needed an ‘Individual Taxpayer Identification number’ (ITIN) since she does not have a social security number (SSN). ITINs are used for federal tax reporting by individuals who do not have a SSN.

More ITIN information here: http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/General-ITIN-Information

There are a number of resources that international students can use for filing taxes:

  1. VITA program: VITA stands for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance. VITA program provides free tax help for individuals who make $52,000 or less each year. Yes I said FREE! There are a number of VITA approved sites that can help international students. More information here: http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Free-Tax-Return-Preparation-for-You-by-Volunteers

I used the services provided by United Way of Central Alabama. They were very professional, courteous and knew exactly what they were doing.

  1. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) office: For almost all tax related questions, one can go to a local IRS office. I had to go the IRS Birmingham, AL office to verify my wife’s W7 ITIN paperwork before I mailed the documents.
  2. Online resources: There are number of websites that we can use. One of the commonly used website I know of is turbotax.com. I have no personal experience using such resources, but they seem to be very easy and straightforward. The website walks us through a series of simple questions and taxes can be filed in about 30 minutes if we have all the required information. However, it is not free of cost.
  3. Professional help: I know of a number of graduate students that pay professional agencies like H&R Block to file their taxes. As international students we have to be careful since a number of professional agencies are well-versed only in the tax-filing intricacies of U.S. nationals. There is a small chance that they are not used to filing taxes for international students, especially those with treaty benefits. We have to be fully aware of our tax status and filing details before we approach professionals to just do it for us.

Disclaimer: I am fully aware that every international student would have to file taxes differently based on their visa status, country of origin, tax treaties, marital status etc. I would like to clarify that I am just sharing my personal experience which may or may not apply as is to your individual case. I definitely suggest taking expert advice for your tax return.

If you’re not sure what to do, go to your international office. They may be able to point you in the right direction or have resources available. For example, the University of Chicago purchased a tax filing software so all international students, non-resident aliens and residents, can file taxes.

The deadline to file taxes in the U.S. is always April 15. Good luck!

international student voice Jay BhattJay Bhatt

Home country: India

ISV Ambassador

University of Alabama at Birmingham

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