Needing some cash? File your taxes

There’s no reason to spend hours agonizing over complicated forms.

Cash could be a few mouse clicks away for thousands of taxpaying Minnesota college students thanks to an assortment of online software companies now accessible through the Minnesota Department of Revenue Web site, www.taxes.state.mn.us.

The best part is that for most college students, preparing and filing your individual income taxes online is free this year. If you (or you and your spouse) are filing an income-tax return and have a federal adjusted gross income of less than $50,000, the software will prepare and file your taxes for free. If your earnings exceeded $50,000 last year, there are online options available for as little as $9.95.

All you have to do is answer simple questions and enter data from your tax documents (W2s, 1099s, etc.). The programs will do all of the calculating for you. If you’re getting a refund having it directly deposited to your bank account, your Minnesota refund will arrive within about five days and your federal return could be in your hands in less than two weeks.

Paper returns take as many as 30 days until April 1. After that, it could be as many as 90 days. If you have a balance due, you even can use the e-filing software to file now and pay automatically on the due date.

E-filing is a great way for college students and others to minimize the stress of filing taxes. Most tax-preparation software asks questions and uses taxpayers’ answers to fill in the returns. It does the preparing and the calculating and finds all credits for which you qualify. It’s that easy. The software ensures that your return is free from mathematical errors. Taxpayers need only to enter the information from their tax documents.

If you want a more hands-on experience or you do want to visit a tax preparer, there are other ways that you can take advantage of e-filing, too. You can e-file by buying tax-preparation software for your computers and then transmit the returns via your Internet service. Or, if you’re using tax preparers, you may ask those individuals to e-file for you. Many tax preparers already are required by the state to e-file the returns they prepare.

The Minnesota Department of Revenue expects about 2.4 million income-tax returns this year and estimates that as many as 70 percent of those could be electronically filed. Last year, the department received about 63 percent of returns electronically. That success made Minnesota a leader for the percentage of population that e-filed. And we’re hoping that those of you who are eligible for free e-filing this year will join this group of taxpayers. There’s no reason for you to spend hours agonizing over complicated forms like you probably remember your parents doing.

So what do you need to do now? Gather your W2s and other tax documents and head to www.taxes.state.mn.us. Click on online filing options and do a little research about which program is right for you based on the complexity of your return. Qualifying taxpayers will be able to complete both their Minnesota and federal income taxes for free by accessing the software through the Minnesota Department of Revenue Web site, but you must access it there. If you go directly to the software provider’s Web site, you may not be eligible for the free filing.

Also, make sure you meet the requirements for filing a Minnesota return. You must file a Minnesota income-tax return if you are a Minnesota resident and you’re required to file a federal income-tax return, or if you are a part-year resident or nonresident of Minnesota with a Minnesota gross income of $8,200 or more.

So even if you’re an out-of-state student, if you’re spending your time away from class earning a living here, chances are you have to file a Minnesota income tax-return. E-filing will make it easy on you.

Jerry McClure is director of the Individual Income Tax Division at the Minnesota Department of Revenue. Please send comments to [email protected]