MSU offers free tax advice for low-income taxpayers
Michigan weather might slowly be taking a turn for the better, but many dread the approach of the change in seasons: Tax season has arrived.
Filing deadlines for 2011 federal and state tax returns are quickly approaching on April 17, about one month after students return from spring break.
Rich Smith, owner of Spartan Tax Relief, 2875 Northwind Drive, said the process of filing taxes can seem frightening for some students.
“Most of the students don’t want to learn how to do it, they just want someone to take care of it for them,” Smith said.
Communication senior Clay Cornwell said he’s more confident when he files his tax returns since he’s had some practice, but he will always have some anxiety.
Tips on taxes
1. Visit www.irs.gov and read through Publication 17, which includes information on all aspects of tax returns.
2. Double check everything, including math and any numbers, whether filing online or in paper.
3. Sign and date the tax return, otherwise it is not valid.
4. File on time by April 17 or apply for an automatic six-month extension. The extension applies to the filing deadline, not the actual tax payment.
Source: local tax experts
“When I was filling it out myself the first few times, it was nerve-racking,” Cornwell said. “We have anxiety for a reason. … You don’t want to get audited.”
Smith said developing an understanding of taxes while in college can make life easier for students in the long run.
“If (students) get a good start in college, then they will be even more on track … when they’re out of school to complete their taxes properly,” Smith said.
Smith said most of his clients are not students, but those students he does advise have usually filed before.
Spartan Tax Relief offers a flat rate of $60 for full-time college students to prepare an e-file for federal and local tax returns. The MSU Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic offers free advice for low-income taxpayers who have discrepancies filing their taxes with the IRS.
MSU Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic Director Michele LaForest Halloran said in an email about 15 percent of their caseload is students. She also said the clinic helps about 1,000 international students prepare taxes each spring through seminars.
“Most of the students we assist either have a difficulty they have encountered with tax returns they previously filed or may have complex issues relating to interpretation of an income tax treaty,” she said.
LaForest Halloran said there are ways students filing taxes for the first time can make sure they do so properly.
Cornwell has been using online tax service TurboTax for years and said the format is easy to use.
LaForest Halloran said students can use programs such as TurboTax, but if they are filing on their own, they should look into IRS Publication 17, which includes information on all aspects of tax returns.
Many deductions are possible for students, such as deductions through the American Opportunity Tax Credit, a credit of up to $2,500 for students not considered dependants for income tax purposes.
Visit law.msu.edu/clinics/tax/ for more information and to schedule tax help with the MSU Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic.
Staff writer Kelsie Thompson contributed to this article.