As an international student or scholar in the US, you are obligated to file a US tax return every year.
Understanding the US tax system and filing a tax return is an overwhelming and confusing experience for any student. That’s why, to make things easier for you, Amherst College has teamed up with Sprintax, an online tool specifically designed for international students and scholars which helps you prepare your federal and state return in less than 20 minutes.
Why should you file a tax return?
Everyone living in the US, including F-1 students, must file income tax forms whether they earn money in the US or not.
- The most important reason to file a return is that it is a legal requirement of the US. Failing to file may impact the status of your current visa and make future US visa applications difficult.
- Ø Avoid penalties. If you miss the April 15 deadline, you may face late filing penalties. Filing prior to this date prevents this, so the earlier you file, the better.
- You may be owed a tax refund! Most international students filing a tax return are due a tax refund for overpaid tax. It’s worth checking if you are due a refund.
There are two types of tax returns:
- State tax return: Massachusetts nonresidents have to file an MA state tax return only if their Massachusetts source income (or their prorated Massachusetts personal exemption, whichever is less) was more than $8,000 in the last calendar year.
- Federal tax return: If you did not work or receive any income in the US, you are legally obliged to file the Form 8843. If you worked or received a stipend, grant or allowance in the USA (over a certain amount) you may also need to file the Form 1040NR.
You must file federal and most state taxes by April 15 if you earned money the previous year; June 15 is the deadline for federal returns if you did not earn money. If you request an extension to file your tax return and owe money but pay nothing by April 15, you will be charged monthly interest on the initial amount you owed.
If you believe your earnings from employment in the US will complicate your tax situation in your home country, you should consider contacting an accountant. Furthermore, some countries have tax treaties with the United States that should be considered when reviewing your tax liability. The more complex your situation, the more strongly it is recommended that you seek assistance from an accountant familiar with your country's tax structure.
As tax filing time approaches in February and March, the Center for International Student Engagement (CISE) provides information about using the online Sprintax service, as well as how to seek additional advice from a tax professional, should that be necessary.
Resident and Non-Resident Status for Federal Tax Purposes
Generally, most international students are considered non-residents for tax purposes. International undergraduate students in F-1 and J-1 status are automatically considered non-resident for their first five (5) calendar years in the US. If you’ve been in the US for longer than the 5 years, the Substantial Presence Test will help determine your tax residency.
After you login to Sprintax, it will ask you a series of questions about the time you have spent in the US and in which immigration status, looking back over a period of years. Sprintax will then determine your tax status. If it determines that you are a "nonresident alien" (NRA) for federal tax purposes, you can continue to use it to respond to a series of guided questions. If it determines you are a resident alien for federal tax purposes, you won't be able to continue using the software and wil have to file taxes independently.
Get Started With Sprintax
Check out Sprintax's visual instructions, too!
- Gather up the documents that you might need to file your tax returns*:
- The 1042-S, for scholarship and grant funds you received through the College;
- The W-2 form, if you worked in the US and earned wages (available to download from AC Data under the “Employee” tab);
- The 1095-B, the federal health insurance statement (required for federal taxes);
- The 1099-HC, a Massachusetts state health insurance statement (required for MA state taxes)
*The forms needed to file your taxes may differ depending on your individual tax circumstances. You must also have a Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
- Get your institutional code from the CISE to be eligible for free state and federl tax return preparation.
- Register for a Sprintax account.
- Complete each section (entering the institutional code/s when you check out to avoid charges).
- Sprintax will prepare your tax return and check if you’re due a refund. (As a reminder, you have to print, sign and mail your documents once you complete the preparation process in Sprintax.)
Taxable Scholarship Information
If you are a nonresident of Massachusetts and have a scholarship specifically designated for room and board or other living expenses, your scholarship is not taxable.
In reference to your 1042-S, Sprintax will prompt you to answer "yes"/"no" to whether "that amount [is] specifically designated for room and board or other living expenses." This questions helps Sprintax to determine whether you should pay taxes on the scholarship amount. If you are not sure whether your 1042-S reflects funding for room and board/living expenses, refer to your financial aid offer and, if necessary, ask the Office of Financial Aid to review your scholarship funds with you.
Need more help?
If you have any questions, please check out Sprintax's visual instructions or use their live chat function and their team will be happy to help. You also have access to the Sprintax YouTube account where there are a number of educational videos on non-resident taxes to provide further clarity on the subject of using Sprintax and non-resident tax. There is also a Sprintax Blog which go through tax related topics and can be of use to you.
You can also consult with a qualified Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or tax attorney, or take advantage of the free VITA program at UMass Amherst.
Disclaimer: Amherst will attempt to provide you with the general information necessary to satisfy your filing obligations. The ultimate responsibility for the reporting and payment of your taxes, however, lies with you. The CISE staff are not permitted to assist students with any IRS tax form preparation or tax-related questions. We suggest that you seek advice from Sprintax, a certified tax preparer, or a local IRS field office if you have questions.