Student filing taxes with keyboard on white desk

Taxes 101 part one

With school, work and internships, friends, family, and everything else you have going on, filing taxes may be the last thing on your mind. Unfortunately, it’s a part of adulting. But don’t panic; we are here to help make your taxes easier to understand and let you know how to file them — for free.

You may be wondering:

Do I really have to file taxes?

You do, probably. Technically, if you made less than $10,400 last year, are filing as an independent (more on this later) and are unmarried, you’re not required to file. But if you received a paycheck at any point in 2019, there are a lot of good reasons to file. Like getting any money you overpaid on your paycheck (from the amount withheld on your W-2) back as a refund. There are other specific reasons you may need to file as well, like being self-employed (side hustlers click here). So filing can be a good idea, even if you’re just doing it for the refund.

Am I legally someone’s dependent?

Just because your mom may have to talk you through doing your laundry doesn’t automatically mean you’re a dependent. (It does mean you should read our article on the art of laundry.) The easiest way to find out if you’re a dependent is to ask your parents if they are claiming you on their taxes. But if you just want to know: you’re legally a dependent if your parents provide at least 50% of your costs while you’re in college up to the age of 24. For more info on this and other types of dependents, check out this infographic.

What do I need to have to start the process?

Here’s a quick list of the essentials to start your taxes.

  • drivers license or government-issued ID

  • W-2 earnings statement from all employers in 2019 (These should have been mailed to you by the end of January if you made more than $600 last year)

  • Social Security number

  • Federal and state tax returns from the last year you filed

Didn’t you say I could file for free?

Sure did. Once you have everything listed above, and if you earned under $66,000 in 2019, you can fill out this form to search for the free software you qualify for. It will help you find options to file your state and federal taxes at no cost. Then use the info you gathered from above to fill out the forms.

Okay, I think I can file. But I don’t really understand what it all means.

Check out part two of our tax basics series to help you understand what taxes are, what to do with the forms you get in the mail and what all those acronyms mean.

Each person’s tax situation depends upon individual circumstances. Therefore, the information in this article is intended to serve as introductory tax information. Tax professionals should be consulted for personalized tax advice.

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