Tax season spreads fear among students

josh.snyder

For many NMU students, filing taxes seems like a daunting task. W2s often conjure up images of mountains of paperwork, confusion and frustration. Most see it as a headache that could easily be passed onto someone else, such as professional tax accountants or family members. But filing taxes is an important yet simple process.

Still, many students aren’t sure how to file their taxes or where they can go for help.

Junior nursing major Katie Madden said when her mother offered to do her taxes, she took her up on the deal.

“It does seem complicated,” Madden said, referring to the paperwork associated with filing taxes. “It seems like a big form.”

One of Madden’s primary concerns is making a mistake in the filing process, one that could negatively affect her financial aid, a concern many seem to share.

But John Scram, a tax associate for H&R Block, said this shouldn’t be a concern for college students.

“It shouldn’t have any impact on their financial aid,” Scram said. When students apply for financial aid, it’s dependent on their parents’ income, he added.

According to Scram, the most important piece of information students need to know is if they are a dependent of their parents.

“The first thing students need to do is make sure if their parents are going to claim them,” Scram said.

There are many factors, such as age and marital status, which determine if a student is eligible to be a dependent of their parents.

Most students would be dependents of their parents for tax purposes, Scram said.

He added that being a dependent of a parent would not hurt students when filing taxes.

Junior art education major Sarah Elenbaas said she files her own taxes, but knows many students who don’t file for these same reasons.

“Some students don’t file their taxes because they don’t have the time or they don’t know exactly how to go about it,” she said.

Elenbaas added that filing taxes can seem especially difficult for first timers, adding to an already high amount of frustration.

“[Students] don’t have the time and can’t afford to do them [themselves],” Elenbaas said.

But students shouldn’t let the seemingly infinite stacks of paperwork deter them. Associate accounting professor Steven Foulks said that it’s not only important but easy for students to file taxes themselves.

“It’s very simple to do,” Foulks said. “When you have income, you’re going to have to do it every year of your life.”

Foulks recommended the IRS’s official Web site (www.irs.gov) as a great source of information for students. The IRS site also has links to free filers that students can use.

There are a few things to keep in mind before filing, Foulks said. First is to make sure students have all of their information before filing. If a student files and they later receive more information, they’ll have to file an amendment, which means more paperwork. To work around this, Foulks suggests that students file no earlier than mid-February.

“It’s always a good idea to wait until the middle of February,” Foulks said.

Employers must send out W2s no later than January 31, and if they send them out later they will be subject to a fine, he added.

Students filing taxes for the first time shouldn’t get stressed over it. There are plenty of options available for students, almost all of which are simple and free.

The deadline to file taxes is April 15, 2008.

Take notice, out-of-staters
Students who come to Northern from other states and have worked in both their home state and Michigan are eligible candidates for Michigan’s income tax reciprocity agreement.

The agreement allows students who have permanent addresses in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Minnesota or Kentucky to not pay any Michigan income taxes. Instead, their employer would withhold income taxes from their home state.
Students can notify their Michigan employer to withhold Michigan income taxes to save them from having to file a tax return in both their home state and Michigan.
“If the student doesn’t inform [their] Michigan employer of these facts, then they would withhold state of Michigan taxes. When the student finally figures all of this out, [they] will have to file a tax return with the state of Michigan to get the money erroneously withheld back,” associate accounting professor Steven Foulks said.

For example, if a student whose permanent address is in Wisconsin works both a summer job back home and an on-campus job while at school, they can notify NMU to withhold Wisconsin state income taxes and not Michigan state taxes. Because they are not a permanent resident of Michigan, they are not required to pay the state of Michigan any income tax.

If the student were to not inform NMU of this, NMU would still take out Michigan state taxes. If the student wanted to retrieve the money taken from their paychecks by Michigan, they would have to then file both Wisconsin and Michigan state taxes.

Foulks added that it is never too late for students to notify employers of the reciprocity agreement.
Students can visit their state’s official Web site to learn more about their state income tax laws.

Still need help?

There are a few places students can go to get help with filing their taxes or to find answers to some general questions.

$ www.irs.gov provides information for how to file your taxes. The site also has a link to a list of free filers that students can use.

$ If students have specific concerns or questions they can stop in at the local IRS office, located at 1055 W. Baraga Ave.

$ Tax accountant John Scram will be available to students Thursday, Jan. 31, in the lobby of Hunt Hall from 7-9 p.m. He will answer any questions students have concerning their taxes.