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Students who file taxes as independents can receive last year’s stimulus checks

If you paid for more than half of your living expenses in 2020, you could get that money back.
Image by Shannon Doyle
University of Minnesota alum Elise Eckert poses for a portrait on a balcony in downtown Minneapolis on Tuesday, March 30. Eckert, who graduated in Spring 2020, filed independently on her 2020 taxes for the first time, prompted by the opportunity to receive a stimulus check.

After missing out on the first two stimulus checks, college students may be eligible to receive an $1,800 recovery rebate credit if they file their taxes as independents.

In 2020, college students who filed their 2019 taxes as dependents could not receive the $1,200 and $600 stimulus checks even though many paid several of their own bills.

To be considered an independent, students would have paid for at least half of their living expenses last year and need to make sure they are not claimed as a dependent on someone else’s taxes, said Brianna Kappelman, senior tax research analyst at the Tax Institute at H&R Block.

A student whose parents or guardians claimed them as a dependent will have to wait until next year to file independently.

In certain situations, parents may get more than $1,800 back for claiming their child as an independent, so it is helpful to talk to a tax specialist before filing.

“I was bummed out a year ago when I didn’t qualify for [the stimulus],” said Natalie Pfann, a fourth-year chemistry major at the University of Minnesota. “Having them hit my bank account was really nice to have an extra chunk of income.”

Pfann worked a full-time internship last summer, which paid for the majority of her bills. She would have most likely filed independently even if she did not receive a stimulus rebate, but knowing that she could get the $1,800 prompted her to look into it. When the fall semester started, she was able to pay her expenses through the money she made at a part-time job and her leftover savings from the summer.

Pfann said she is saving her tax refund because she graduates this spring and wants to make sure she is prepared for her life postgraduation.

Elise Eckert, who graduated last spring, said she claimed herself as an independent after graduating and beginning a post-grad job. Like Pfann, she also would have already filed as an independent, but the stimulus rebate is what made her talk to her parents about it.

She felt guilty receiving thousands of dollars from the government when she had a stable income, so she made a point not to save the money.

“I do want to spend [the rebate] and help boost the economy,” Eckert said.

Mitchell Conzemius, who graduated last fall, had a rough time filing as an independent. He has a strained relationship with his parents and has been paying for most of his expenses since he came to college.

Last year, he wanted to file his 2019 taxes as an independent, but his parents claimed him before he could. This year, he made sure to file early to ensure his parents would not claim him.

Conzemius is still waiting to get his refund deposited. When it comes, he is planning on using it to pay the rest of his tuition and his student loans.

“Being a 21-year-old, the majority of the people around me are still filing as dependents,” Conzemius said. ”It’s exciting to be able to own my financial independence.”

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  • CapnRusty
    Apr 1, 2021 at 2:09 pm

    I could see the morality of stimulus payments to people who lost their jobs, or their businesses, due to the lockdowns. But students? Before you answer that, consider: the money behind the stimulus payments didn’t fall out of the sky. It was borrowed from whoever would lend it. The promissory note (long-term bond) was signed by the American taxpayer. It will be paid back in the future, by this generation’s children and grandchildren.