So maybe this isn’t the actual quote, but I think it applies. Benjamin Franklin may not have known about the FAFSA, but if he did, I bet he would have written it my way.
Well while you may not be able to avoid taxes, you can certainly find a free way to file them. Filing a tax return for most of us can be a (relatively) simple, cost-free, and pain free process and as I explained in my last post, it is an important part of your application for financial aid.
If you are required to file a tax return, and your file is selected in a process called “verification”, you will be required to either link your FAFSA to your tax information or provide a copy of your tax return to the Financial Aid Office. Unfortunately, the excuse of “I didn’t know I had to file” won’t work!
So if you do have to file, what are your options? Like many tasks these days, you can do this in a paper format or online (and the online form is easier).
First, the paper version. For those of you who want to see the actual form in paper (with the appropriate instructions), you can visit the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) form page. Keep in mind that before 2018, there were several versions of the tax form (1040, 1040 A, 1040 EZ). Starting with 2018, there is only one tax form (1040) but lots of schedules which you may need to complete depending on your personal circumstances.
You could print out the paper forms, read the 108 page instruction booklet, and do all the math yourself, but I know a much faster and easier way to do it. There are several online services which will allow you to safely and securely complete your 1040, and for most of you the cost will be $0.
You can find a list of these companies and services on the IRS webpage. Most of these products will provide you a free service with optional add-on packages for more complicated situations (like those with self-employment or with complicated capital gains). Also some of these companies will prepare your state tax return for free as well (remember that Florida doesn’t require an individual tax return). There are income limits for the free services but most students will qualify.
What is especially helpful about these services is that they will ask you a series of questions designed to make sure that you have thought of all of your possible exemptions and deductions. This way they make sure that you have maximized your possible refund (or reduced what you may owe).
Of course there is also a third option: use an accountant. If you have a complicated situation or think you might need someone with professional experience to help you complete your forms, you can hire a CPA to assist you. In Orlando, there is even a free service (sponsored by the United Way) called VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) where volunteer professionals can assist in preparation of your return. Check with the United Way in your area to see if they have a similar service.
Now, when do you have to have the return filed? The deadline for filing your taxes is April 15th for the calendar year just past. You can get an automatic six-month extension for filing your tax return, but you will need to pay what you owe by April 15th in any event. Of course, if you are expecting a refund you will want to file as soon as possible so that you can have your money in hand as soon as possible.
Keep in mind companies have until January 31 to send out W-2 forms to you which report your income to you for filing purposes, and some companies send other forms into mid-February. You want to make sure you have all of your forms before you file your return; otherwise you may need to file an amendment which can take more time.
So in summary, look for your forms from your employers, school, and other sources, find your free online partner, and get ready to file. Let me know if you have any questions.
And remember, Benjamin Franklin had it right. No one can escape taxes (and the FAFSA)!