Tax FAQs and Additional Resources
What is a Tax Return?
In the US, federal and state income taxes are prepaid by each employer based on the “estimate” of tax liability indicated at the start of employment by the employee on the Form W-4. Since the withholding is only an estimate, employees are given an annual opportunity to reconcile the amount of tax withheld with how much was owed. The name of the form on which the reconciliation is made is called the “tax return”. The federal tax return must be submitted to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the state tax return must be submitted to the Massachusetts Department of Revenue and/or the state agency in any other US state where you have received income in a given year. In some cases, the tax return results in a refund because the tax withholding was higher than necessary. In other cases, a taxpayer did not have enough tax withheld throughout the year and may need to send a payment with the tax return. Occasionally, the total taxes withheld match the amount due, so no money is due by either the taxpayer or the IRS.
Who Must File a Tax Return?
All F-1 and J-1 students and scholars (and their F-2 and J-2 dependents) are required to complete and submit at least one tax form. In addition, anyone who has earned income while in the US must file a tax return. Taxpayers are divided into three general categories for tax purposes, regardless of income: residents, nonresidents, and dual status aliens.
When Must I Complete and Submit my 2020 Tax Return?
Generally, if you have earned income in a given year, all federal and state tax forms must generally be postmarked by April 15th of the following year. However, due to COVID, IRS has granted an extended deadline for individuals who have earned income and all 2020 federal and state tax forms must be postmarked by May 15, 2021.
If you have not earned income in a given year or you are filing from outside the US, your forms must be postmarked by June 15 of the following year. For example, if you did not earn income in 2020 or you are filing from outside the US, your forms must be postmarked by June 15, 2021.
Must I File a Federal Tax Return and a State Tax Return?
The federal government imposes income tax obligations on all individuals who earn income in the US. In addition, most state governments impose income tax obligations on individuals who reside and/or work in their states. Therefore, in most cases, individuals must submit a federal tax form to the US Internal Revenue Service plus a second tax form to the tax office of the state in which they reside. If you worked in a state other than the state in which you reside, you may be required to submit tax returns in both states.
Must I complete the Form 8843?
All individuals in F-1 and J-1 immigration status (including F-2 and J-2 dependents) filing as nonresidents for tax purposes are required to file a Form 8843–Statement for Exempt Individuals. Filing this form does not mean you are exempt from taxes, but rather that you are exempt from counting days of physical presence in the U.S. to determine if you are to be taxed as a resident or a nonresident. This form requires information about immigration status and tax treaty claims. Keep in mind that even if you have not earned any income, you are still required to complete and submit the Form 8843.
What if I Don’t Have a Social Security Number?
Students who have worked in the US should have a Social Security Number for tax filing purposes. You can also learn more about applying for a Social Security Number.
Otherwise, you must use an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) for tax filing purposes. If you have filed US tax forms before and you were assigned an ITIN, you should use that same ITIN to file again if you still do not qualify for a Social Security Number. If this is the first time you are submitting tax returns, Sprintax will assist you in preparing the W-7 form in addition to all of your other tax forms so that you can apply for the ITIN and file your tax return at the same time.
BU ISSO has purchased licenses for Sprintax, a web-based tax return preparation system designed to help international students and scholars determine “tax residence” status for tax purposes. If you qualify to file your tax forms as a nonresident, it is very likely that Sprintax will be able to help you prepare your tax forms. The ISSO will distribute a unique code for the 2020 tax season via email that will enable you to create a login for Sprintax.
Once you have created your new login, you will be able to enter all of your a. If you are a non-resident for tax purposes, you can use Sprintax to prepare the 8843 and your federal tax returns at no charge. If you have earned income in other US states, you also will be offered an option to use Sprintax to complete state nonresident tax forms for a fee for $39.
Follow the Sprintax Step-by-Step guide for specific instructions. Please contact the ISSO if you have not received the 2020 Sprintax BU discount code via email.
Tax Service Providers
Many tax service providers market to individuals who need help completing their tax forms. If you decide to use a tax provider to help complete your forms, make sure to ask if they have foreign national tax expertise. If they don’t, you should find another provider. Also ask providers whether they will give you a discount as a Boston University student or scholar.
H&R Block, a tax service specialist, will offer new clients a $25 discount on their initial completion of their state and federal tax returns through H&R Block. Nonresident tax specialists are available to assist you at the location listed below.
247 Harvard Street
Brookline, MA 02446
Tax Consultants and Tax Attorneys
You also have the option of hiring a lawyer to assist you in reporting your taxes and to file your forms. A listing can be found in a phone directory or at www.superpages.com under a category such as “tax returns, consultants, and representatives.” If you choose to hire a private agency or lawyer, we strongly recommend that you make certain they specialize in tax issues unique to foreign nationals.
The Gary P. Engler & Company offers a website with resource information as well as low fee, CPA signed and professionally prepared US & all states income tax preparation services for foreign nationals.
Obtaining Forms Directly from IRS
You can also prepare tax forms on your own. Forms are available at the following links:
Learn More about Taxes and the IRS
- Foreign Students & Scholars information: This site is a clearinghouse of various topics related to foreign student and scholar tax issues.
- Link & Learn: This is a good training tool and includes case studies and quizzes (takes approximately 2–4 hours to read thoroughly).
- International Taxpayer: This provides links to other resources on the IRS website.
- Nonresident Alien Toolkit: This publication includes a PDF slideshow and FAQs.
Contacting the IRS
For federal tax returns, you can visit the Boston office of the IRS from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, at the John F. Kennedy Federal Building (in Government Center) on the 7th Floor. This office can be reached at 617-316-2850 or online.
For Massachusetts state forms, you can contact the Boston office of the Massachusetts Department of Revenue at 617-887-6367 from 10 a.m.–1 p.m. or 1:30 p.m.–4 p.m.
The following publications may be helpful:
- US Tax Guide for Aliens
- US Tax Treaty Tables and Descriptions
- Withholding of Tax on Nonresident Aliens and Foreign Corporations
Information presented on this webpage is for general information and is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal tax advice. While the ISSO has arranged for the services of Sprintax, international students and scholars can choose how they wish to complete and submit tax forms as it is the individual’s sole responsibility to meet all tax filing obligations. International students and scholars are encouraged to follow Sprintax instructions to prepare federal forms online and/or consult the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS), local and state tax agencies, and tax professionals for advice and guidance regarding their individual tax situations.