As an international student in the US, you are obligated to file a U.S. tax return every year.
Understanding the U.S. tax system and filing a tax return can be 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 and J-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. Failure to file may impact the status of your current visa and make future US visa applications difficult.
- Avoid penalties. If you miss the tax filing deadline, you may face late filing penalties. Filing prior to this date prevents this. The earlier you file, the better.
- You may be owed a tax refund! Many 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 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 must file Form 8843. If you worked or received a stipend, grant, or allowance in the US, you may need to file Form 1040NR.
You must file federal and most state taxes by the mid-April deadline. If you request an extension to file your tax return and owe money but do not pay by the April deadline, you will be charged monthly interest on the initial amount you owed.
As tax-filing time approaches in February and March, the Office of Immigration Services (OIS) provides information about using the online Sprintax service.
Resident and Non-Resident Status for Tax Purposes
Generally, most international students and scholars who are on F, J, M or Q visas are considered nonresidents for tax purposes. International students on J-1 and F-1 visas are automatically considered nonresident for their first five calendar years in the US, while Scholars/Researchers on J visas are automatically considered nonresidents for two out of the last six calendar years in the US. If you’ve been in the US for longer than the five or two-year periods, the Substantial Presence Test will determine your tax residency.
After you log into Sprintax, it will ask you a series of questions about the time you've spent in the US and your immigration status. Sprintax will then determine your tax status. If it determines that you are a "nonresident" (NRA) for federal tax purposes, you can continue to use Sprintax to respond to a series of guided questions. If Sprintax determines you are a "resident" for federal tax purposes, you won't be able to continue using the software and will have to file taxes independently.
Get Started With Sprintax
Check out Sprintax's visual instructions, too!
- Gather up the documents that you need to file your tax returns, including*:
- Passport, visa, I-20/DS-2019 for F-1/J-1 visa holders
- Entry and exit dates for current and past visits to the U.S.
- Social Security Number
- 1042-S, for scholarship and grant funds you received through the College
- This form is used to report:
- Stipend, scholarship, fellowship income, and travel grants (not
tuition reduction or exemption)
- Income covered by a tax treaty
- Payment for other types of services (eg by the semester
as a note-taker)
- If you received this type of income, the 1042-S will be emailed to you by 15 March by the payer.
- Note: Only Nonresident tax filers receive this form. If your tax status changes to a Resident you will not get a 1042-S. Login to Sprintax to check your tax status if you’re not sure.
- W-2, if you worked in the US and earned wages
- This form reports your wage earnings if you worked. If you had more than one employer you should get a W-2 from each employer. It is issued by the end of January for the previous year. Make sure all employers from last year have an up-to-date address for you.
- 1095-B, the federal health insurance statement (required for federal taxes)
- 1099-HC, a Massachusetts state health insurance statement (required for MA state taxes)
- 1099, if any
- This form reports miscellaneous income. Can be interest on bank accounts, stocks, bonds, dividends, earnings through freelance employment
- *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).
- Create a Sprintax account.
- Federal Taxes: Follow the Sprintax instructions. Enter the institutional code (which the OIS provides via newsletter each spring) in the "Review your order" page to remove the charge from your account.
- State Taxes: Complete a state tax return if needed. Enter the institutional code (which the OIS provides via newsletter each spring) in the "Review your order" page to remove the charge from your account.
- Sprintax will prepare your tax return and check if you’re due a refund. (You will either need to print, sign and mail your documents once you complete the preparation process in Sprintax, or you may be eligible to e-file. Sprintax will direct you accordingly.)
Taxable Scholarship Information
If you are a nonresident of Massachusetts and have a scholarship specifically designated for housing and food 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 the amount is specifically designated for housing and meals or other living expenses. This question 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 housing and meals 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, check out:
- Sprintax's visual instructions or use their live chat function and their team will be happy to help.
- The Sprintax YouTube channel offers educational videos on nonresident taxes to provide further clarity on nonresident tax.
- The Sprintax Blog is updated regularly with very helpful tax-related topics.
- Sprintax also offers a series of free open tax webinars each year. Email OIS for dates/times (or refer to your most recent OIS tax reminder email).
- OIS (and all other university staff) are not qualified or allowed to provide individual tax advice. That's what Sprintax is for!
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.
The OIS and Amherst College are not permitted to assist any student/scholar with any IRS tax form preparation or tax-related questions. The information provided is intended for your benefit. Any questions or concerns should be directed to Sprintax, a certified tax preparer, or a local IRS field office.