Tax day: Students face another kind of deadline

by Jennifer Niemela

Hours away from the midnight Tuesday deadline for filing federal and state taxes, University students prepared for the annual accounting.
Dan Onchuck, a College of Liberal Arts freshman, said his parents helped him with his taxes a couple months ago so he’s in the clear.
“But my roommate’s doing his taxes right now,” Onchuck said at 4:30 p.m. on Monday.
Students often have several jobs in one year, live far from their parents and have little experience filing their own taxes. Some students, however, said they didn’t have much trouble making the deadline.
“My employers seemed really on top of things this year,” said Institute of Technology junior Anna Boenig. “I didn’t have many problems.”
Internal Revenue Service Spokesman Eric Smith said students tend to take advantage of new technology that makes filing easier. Students use the IRS homepage on the World Wide Web, which taxpayers can use to download any tax form.
“Students tend to be more computer-literate and well-positioned to take advantage of new ways to get information,” Smith said.
Students who want face-to-face advice on campus might find that hard to come by. University Legal Services, which has been receiving four or five tax-related phone calls a day for the past month, doesn’t give out tax advice. Instead they direct students to the Minnesota Accounting Aid Service, a volunteer service that offers free tax assistance.
“We help citizens as well as students, and we especially had a lot of international students that needed help,” said Jill Schwimmer, aid service executive director. “Our phone has been ringing off the hook today.”
Schwimmer said that many students have questions about scholarship and grant money.
“We usually tell them to ask the organization they got the grant from,” she said. “Normally, research grants are taxable, but tuition scholarships are not taxable.”
Smith said that while tuition grants and loans are not taxable, work-study income is. Tip income is also taxed like wages, but it is up to employees to report that income.
As usual, those who file taxes must deal with the forms. But whether last-minute filers can find tax worksheets can mean the difference between making the deadline and filing late returns.
University libraries don’t carry the paper forms like public libraries do. Instead, reproducible forms are on CD-ROM and students have to print them out with a copy card.
Smith said people who need to obtain forms in the last hours can either use the Web site or use the IRS tax-fax system. Filers simply use the handset of a fax machine to dial 703-487-4160 and order tax information.
Smith also said many of the people who qualify to file with the 1040EZ short form are also able to file over the phone. The short form is for taxpayers with lower incomes and no children or property, so many students can use the form. The phone-in tax service is called TeleFile, and eliminates the need for any paper worksheets.
“We’ve had about 77,000 Minnesotans file this year by TeleFile, and a good many of them are students,” said Smith.
As the midnight deadline approaches, streams of cars will line up to drop off forms at major post offices. Smith said that this year, the IRS will also accept returns sent through private mail carriers. The qualified services are DHL, Airborne Express, Fedex and UPS. The change was mandated by Congress last year.
The IRS will also accept returns at its offices in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Bloomington.
— Staff Reporters Lynne Kozarek and Scott Rogers contributed to this report.