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Frequently Asked Questions
1. What happens if I fail to file my taxes?
First, many international students are owed a tax refund on the income they earned. You can only get your refund if you file a tax return.
If you owe taxes and don't file, the IRS can assess penalty and interest and seize U.S. bank assets for repayment. Fines and penalties can often amount to more than the original tax debt.
There can also be immigration consequences for failing to file taxes. Applicants for permanent residency "green cards" are frequently asked to show proof of tax filing for previous years in the U.S.
2. I'm an F-1 or J-1 student and I had no U.S. earned income or scholarships for 2016. Do I need to file?
Yes. You must file IRS Form 8843. Dependent spouses in F-2 and J-2 status must also file Form 8843.
3. I only arrived in the U.S. in December of 2016 and I didn't work. Do I still have to file Form 8843?
Yes. If you were in the U.S. even 1 day in 2016, you must file Form 8843.
4. I had bank interest on my checking or savings accounts. Is that earned income and must I file other tax forms?
No. Simple bank interest and interest on certificates of deposit ("CD's") are not considered earned income for non-resident aliens, and therefore are not reportable. Your bank generally reports this interest on Form 1099 and you should retain this form for your records, but not mail it with your tax filing. If you file taxes as a "resident alien", bank interest is taxable income.
5. I only worked for a very short time in 2016 and I didn't earn very much. Do I still have to file?
Yes. If you had any U.S. source earned income or scholarship you will need to file IRS Form 8843 AND either Form 1040NR-EZ or Form 1040NR.
6. I'm married and have a child who was born in the U.S. Can I claim personal exemptions for my wife and child?
Generally, no. Only students & scholars from certain countries can claim exemptions for their dependents (Mexico, Canada, Korea, Japan, and India.).
7. I tried to get a Social Security number for my spouse or dependent child and was refused. What do I do?
For dependents not eligible for a Social Security number, you must apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). Complete Form W-7 and submit along with the required supporting documents to the IRS office. ITIN numbers are for tax filing purposes only. It takes up to six weeks to receive the ITIN.
8. I am from one of the countries that can claim an exemption for my spouse and/or child. Can I claim them if they don't have a social security number or an ITIN?
No. In order to claim personal exemptions for dependents they must have a valid social security number or an ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number). See question 7 above for more information on the ITIN.
9. My young children live with me. Can I claim the Child Care Tax Credit?
Not as a rule. Only those students and scholars in non-resident tax status who are from one of the countries that can claim dependents (Mexico, Canada, Korea, Japan and India) can claim the Child Care Tax Credit.
10. I am a non-resident for tax purposes. Can I claim the HOPE or Tuition Tax Credit or the Earned Income Credit?
No. Non-resident aliens can not claim the HOPE or Tuition Tax Credit or the Earned Income Credit.
11. I have a student ID starting with "T000xxxxx" that looks just like a social security number. Can I use this number as my tax payer identification number?
No. You must have a valid social security number or an ITIN (Individual Tax Payer Identification Number). This ID number is for use within Teachers College only.
12. I just received my W-2 for the wages I earned in 2016. Can I file my taxes now?
Not necessarily. If you are from a country which has a tax treaty with the U.S., or you received a U.S. based scholarship or fellowship, you may also receive Form 1042-S from your scholarship sponsor. You will need to have both W-2's and scholarship forms before you can file.
13. My country has a tax treaty with the U.S. and I earned below $5000, which is the amount of wages exempt by my treaty. Do I still need to file?
Yes. You must file Form 1040NR-EZ or Form 1040NR. In the case where you earned more than the exempt amount of your treaty, you may receive both a Form W-2 and a Form 1042-S or you may just receive only a Form 1042-S.
14. I worked on-campus at TC and received some tuition points. Is this the same as a scholarship or fellowship?
No. On-campus salary payments are not considered scholarships or fellowships. Income from tuition point exemption is considered earned income and is taxable.
15. I worked on the TC (or Columbia) campus. Can I deduct or exclude the cost of my tuition, books and/or fees?
No. Only those students who had bona-fide scholarships or fellowships (no work was required as a condition of receiving the award) may deduct expenses paid for tuition, books and fees up to the amount of the scholarship/fellowship.
16. Can I deduct the cost of a computer as a valid educational expense?
Not generally. Equipment, such as a computer or educational supplies that are not required course items, are not deductible expenses.
17. I am from India. Can I claim the standard deduction?
Note that residents of India may be able to claim a standard deduction. Please refer to Publication 519 on the IRS website.
18. Can students and scholars claim itemized deductions?
Yes, but they are limited. You can claim itemized deductions for state & local taxes, charitable contributions to churches or charities, casualty and theft losses, certain non-reimbursed job expenses and tax preparation fees.
19. Should I keep copies of my tax return and other tax forms?
Yes. Always keep copies of your tax return, W-2, 1042-S, 1099 bank interest statements and any other pertinent forms as proof that you have filed. The IRS can audit individual returns for up to 3 years following the filing deadline and your tax records are essential in proving your case.
20. What is the deadline for filing my tax return?
If you are filing Form 8843, Form 1040NR-EZ or Form 1040NR, the deadline to file is April 18, 2017.
21. If I owe tax, to whom do I make the check payable?
If you owe taxes, make checks payable to United States Treasury. Make sure that your social security number is on the check and that in the memo section your write, "For 2016 income taxes".
22. Where do I mail my tax return?
Mail all Form 1040NR-EZ's, 1040NR's and Forms 8843"s to:
Please consult the instruction forms for the most up-to-date mailing information.
23. I'm unable to file by the deadline, what do I do?
File Form 4868, "Extension of Time to File", which extends the deadline to file until October 16, 2017. If you owe any taxes though, you must still mail your estimated tax payment by April 18, 2017 or you will be assessed penalty and interest as of April 18, 2017, on any payment owed.
24. I need tax forms or additional help or information. Where can I get the necessary forms or assistance?
- For questions about refund checks call 1-800-829-4477
- For problem resolution, call Technical Services Division of the IRS at 1-800-829-1040
- To download tax forms and publications, go to the IRS web site at http://apps.irs.gov/app/picklist/list/formsPublications.html
25. I am leaving the country before I can file my taxes. What should I do?
Make sure the Registrar has your foreign address so that your Form W-2 can be mailed to you. Download the appropriate forms and instructions http://apps.irs.gov/app/picklist/list/formsPublications.html and file your U.S. taxes from abroad. Save copies of all forms submitted for your records.
26. My employer withheld Social Security and Medicare taxes from my salary. Can I get this refunded?
Yes. F and J visa holders are not subject to Social Security or Medicare taxes as long as they are considered a "non-resident alien for tax purposes" (IRS Publication 519, page 39 and 40). Refund of these taxes may be requested from your employer. If your employer is unable to refund these taxes, you may file IRS Form 843 for a refund from the IRS.
These instructions are from the University of Texas at Austin. For more information please see their webpage:
Or see a tax preparation professional.