Advice for students preparing to file taxes

Hannah Hunsinger | The Collegian Students that find filing taxes to be a trying experience can find help at Powercat Financial or VITA (or something like that)

When it comes to filing federal and state income taxes, some students may realize they do not know much about the process. Maybe this is because students don’t work, or because their parents list then as dependents. However, cluelessness when it comes to filing taxes can put students at a disadvantage and may force them to rely on others to handle their money.

When students must file income taxes on their own for the first time, it can be confusing. Brandon Elliott, junior in history, filed him income taxes for the
first time this year. It easiest to e-file, or file them on the Internet, Elliott said.

He did call on the help of his parents to help him understand the different filing statuses.

“It was my first time doing my taxes this year, so it was very confusing,” Elliott said.

Jodi Kaus, director of Powercat Finacial Counseling, said because the program’s volunteers are not licensed certified public accountants, they can’t give students specific tax advice. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t a great source for students seeking tax information, she said.

“We can’t give students specific tax advice, but to complete their taxes, we refer them to the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, VITA program, which is ran by our local Riley County Extension Office down at the Manhattan Public Library,” Kaus said. “They will assist any student in preparing tax returns for free, they just need to make an appointment and we have fliers in our office that we give to students that are needing that assistance.”

Depending on employment history and filing status, there may be some number-crunching involved in filing taxes. Kaus recommended that students file online at or

“We can show them how to link and get to those places,” Kaus said.

Although going through the income tax filing process can be an experience, especially when students end up owing the state or federal government money, filing taxes on your own, instead of using a professional service, can save students money.

Sometimes, professional filing can be done for free, depending on the student’s income, Kaus said.

“Most students would qualify based on their lower income with what’s called a ‘free-file,’ ” Kaus said.

Kaus said the program is on the IRS website and is similar in style to the tax program TurboTax, which is a paid program. The ‘free-file’ service is free to students.

Jennifer Wilson, director of VITA, said that the easiest way to file depends on the student’s situation. If they aren’t very familiar with the tax system, she said she recommends they ask for help.

At VITA, volunteers complete tax payers’ returns and file them electronically through their site. Wilson said she recommends that students check with their parents to make sure their tax documents haven’t been sent home, as well as to make sure their parents aren’t claiming them as dependent on their own taxes.

“I know that students move around a lot,” Wilson said. “They change addresses and so W-2’s often go different places, and you want to make sure you have all of those so you don’t have to go back and amend the taxes.”

Having the necessary paperwork in important, Wilson said.

“When they come, they’re required to have photo ID, social security card or a copy of their social security card and then any tax documents they have received for 2013,” Wilson said. “Whether that be W-2’s, 1099-T forms or 1098 forms.”

Intimidating process
First-time filing can sometimes be an intimidating process, Wilson said. People are afraid of the process because they want to make sure that what they’re doing it right, Wilson said.

“I think it’s important for anyone to understand the U.S. tax system,” Wilson said. “Probably the biggest misconception that I see from a lot of people is that they’re going to see a huge refund.”

A refund depends on a combination of circumstances: the filer’s personal situation, how much they’ve worked, how much they’ve earned and how much in taxes was withheld from their paychecks.

For more information or to make an appointment with VITA, call 785-565-6426.