Filing United States Federal Tax Returns
Generally, you must file a Federal income tax return (Form 1040) if you receive a specified minimum amount of gross income for the calendar year. The minimum amount varies with a number of factors, including your marital status and your status as a dependent. Common filing statuses are listed below; however, you should refer to the Internal Revenue Service website for the full listing of filing statuses. For 2020 you must file if your gross income was at least:
- Single student, who can't be claimed as a dependent, under age 65: $12,400
- Married student, filing jointly with spouse, under age 65: $24,800
- Married student, filing separately from spouse: $5
- Head of Household, under age 65: $18,650
- Qualifying widow(er), under age 65: $24,800
Single student, who can be claimed as a dependent:
- Unearned income was over $1,100 OR
- Earned income, including wages and taxable scholarships, was over $12,400 OR
- Gross income was more than the larger of $1,100 or your earned income (up to $12,050) plus $350
Even if you are not required to file a tax return, it may be to your benefit to file and claim a refund of any Federal income tax that was whitheld.
Federal Work-Study Program
Federal Work-Study earnings are subject to taxes. Harvard will provide a W-2 for all Federal Work-Study Program jobs (on and off-campus jobs). You may be able to obtain an electronic copy of your W-2 by following the instructions found here. If you have not received your W-2, and can’t access it online, please contact Payroll Customer Service after February 10th by sending an email to W2@camail.harvard.edu, or by calling 617.495.8500, option 4. Emailed requests must include your name; either the first 4 digits of your HUID or last 4 digits of your SSN; address the W-2 should be mailed to. Reprint requests will be processed within 5 business days. Please allow extra time for processing and mailing.
Scholarships and Fellowships
The U.S. tax laws divide scholarships and fellowships (meaning amounts paid to support a student’s education or research, whether labeled a scholarship, fellowship, stipend, or grant) to degree candidates into two parts. The amount received to pay for tuition and fees required for enrollment, or for fees, books, supplies, and equipment required for your courses, is not taxable. Any additional amount of the scholarship or fellowship, such as an allowance for room and board or for research or travel expenses, is taxable income.
For U.S. tax residents, the University is not required to, and does not, report scholarship or fellowship amounts on a Form 1099 or other tax reporting document. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the student to keep the necessary records to report the taxable portion of the scholarship/fellowship on the student’s personal income tax return. IRS Publication 970, “Tax Benefits for Education,” explains how these amounts should be reported on your tax return. You should retain any receipts necessary to support your reporting position, such as receipts for books, supplies and equipment required for your courses, although the receipts are not filed with your return.
If any portion of your funding represents payment for teaching, research, or other services, that portion will be taxable, and the University will report the income to you on Form W-2.
Emergency Financial Aid Grants under the CARES Act
Emergency financial aid grants under the CARES Act for unexpected expenses, unmet financial need, or expenses related to the disruption of campus operations on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, are not includible in your gross income. Because the grant is not includible in your gross income, you cannot claim any deduction or credit for expenses paid with the grant including the tuition and fees deduction, the American opportunity credit, or the lifetime learning credit.
Education Credits and Deductions
There are a number of Federal income tax benefits designed to assist individuals in managing the costs of higher education. Of particular relevance to students are the Student Loan Interest Deduction, the Tuition and Fees Deduction, the American Opportunity Credit, and the Lifetime Learning Credit. Individuals may take one of the Tuition and Fees Deduction, the American Opportunity Credit or the Lifetime Learning Credit. You will want to calculate which of these credits and deductions is most beneficial to you. More information can be found in IRS Publication 970, which should be consulted to determine the individual’s eligibility (do not rely on the brief summaries below). Educational tax credits are claimed on IRS Form 8863.
Student Loan Interest Deduction: individuals paying interest on qualified education loans (including federal and certain private loans) may be able to deduct up to $2,500 of interest payments made in 2020, even those who do not itemize deductions. Qualified education loans are loans incurred on behalf of the taxpayer, the taxpayer’s spouse or a dependent to pay qualified higher education expenses, including tuition, fees, room and board, books, supplies, and equipment.
Tuition and Fees Deduction: has been repealed for tax years beginning after 2020. For tax year 2020, this deduction can reduce the amount of income subject to tax by up to $4,000. Individuals who don't qualify for the American Opportunity or Lifetime Learning credits may qualify for the tuition and fee deduction.
American Opportunity Tax Credit: may be claimed for students who are enrolled at least half-time at an eligible institution for at least one academic period during the tax year, and are in the first four years of post-secondary education. The credit may total up to $2,500, and may be partially refundable. It may be claimed for tuition and fees, as well as expenses for books, supplies, equipment and course materials.
Lifetime Learning Credit: may be claimed for tuition and fees, as well as expenses for books, supplies, equipment and course materials, for a course of instruction which is part of a degree program or is taken to acquire or improve job skills. The credit may total up to $2,000. It is nonrefundable.
Paying Estimated Federal Taxes
Generally, you will be required to make Federal estimated tax payments if you expect to owe taxes of $1,000 or more when the tax return is filed. Students should determine their potential estimated tax liabilities on Form 1040-ES.
The inclusion in your gross income of a portion of your scholarship or fellowship, as discussed above, may make you liable for estimated tax payments. If so, you will be required to make four equal installments of the tax you expect to owe for each calendar year. Generally, the installments are due on April 15, June 15 and September 15 of the tax year and January 15 of the following year.
United States Federal Income Tax Filing Deadline
May 17, 2021