Millennials face a different tax situation than most filers. They are at a challenging point in their lives:
- In college or just graduated
- Just starting out at a first job
- Just starting to save or invest for retirement
- Most rent, but some are looking to buy their first homes
- Many are side hustling to make ends meet
All of these traits of millennials make for interesting taxes right now. And with less than a month to go until taxes are due, I thought I’d ask as many experts as I could find what their top tax tips would be for millennials doing their taxes for the first time.
Here’s Our Best Millennial Tax Tips
Tax Deductions and Tax Credits for Students and Recent Grads
A lot of millennials are students and recent grads, and you potentially qualify for a bunch of different tax deductions and tax credits, based on your individual situation. Here are some tax deductions for students that you should pay attention to.
Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation
Since I went to law school, I know a thing or two about paying down student debt. My first tip is to look into, and write off, every college tuition deduction you can. As a student, you can take advantage of the IRS’s tuition and fees deduction, which could mean a benefit of up to $4,000. You should also get into the habit of saving documents related to possible deductions – receipts for clothing donations, for example – so you can be sure you get your maximum refund. Finally, when the IRS does send you that check, please use a good chunk of it to help pay down your student loans; anytime you come into money, you should use it to lower that debt.
Meisa Bonelli, Managing Partner of Millennial Tax
Nearly 20 million students attend college each year and close to 60% of students (approx. 12 million) borrow money to pay for school. School loan debt, especially for post bachelors and doctoral education is something students have to pay for long after they’ve attained they’re degrees, sometimes 30 years later. The best way to get into the habit of the responsibility of paying this down is to get a head start while in school. Paying this while in school can offset tax liability which may be good if you’re working full-time while in school, especially for individuals that qualify for the American Opportunity Tax and Lifetime Learning credits. Millennials need to understand that paying even the smallest amount consistently over a four year degree can dramatically lessen the burden of student loan debt later in life. If a student is required to file taxes and receives a refund, I would advise using 10 – 25% of refund monies to pay student loan interest at the very least.
Bill Hendricks, Co-founder of Common Form
Don’t over pay to file your simple federal tax return, use free tax software (but make sure it’s really free). Most young adults have relatively simple taxes and many can file Form 1040EZ. Many tax software providers offer free filing of simple federal returns, but most will try to up-sell you along the way. The 1040EZ is perfect for many young adults. They’d be over served and over charged by using TurboTax or a tax store. My partners and are ex-Intuit employees who founded Common Form in part due to our distaste for TurboTax’s practice of starting a customer in a free product then upgrading and adding a bunch of stuff they don’t need, resulting in a very high price when all is said and done.
Also, use your state’s free web site to file your state income taxes. Most states that have an income tax offer a state run, free website for filing. A quick Google search will reveal if your state has one. Beware of commercial software packages that charge up to $40 per state for something you can easily do yourself for free. As an example, California’s site is located at https://www.ftb.ca.gov/index.
Jayson Mullin, Co-Owner of Top Tax Defenders
To deduct student loan interest, you can simply write the total of your interest paid (subject to the $2,500 annual limit) on the Student Loan Interest deduction line, which appears on the front page of Form 1040 or Form 1040A. After adding your total on the form, you can subtract it from your total earnings as an adjustment to income and proceed with your return.
David Ruzzo, Owner of Precision Tax Income Tax Service
Remember that Lifetime Learning credits or the Tuition and Fees Deduction are available for college courses you take even after graduation. These can be a tax saving way of increasing your value as an employee or potential employee. Also, if you have to move at least 50 miles to take a new job, your moving expenses may be tax deductible. And finally, if you end up taking a job that requires you to work from home, you may be able to take the home office deduction for a home office that you use regularly and exclusively for business.
Understanding the Taxes of Saving for Retirement
Many millennials will start to think about saving for retirement in the next few years. They’ll either discover they 401k at their company, or look to save in a Individual Retirement Account. Either way, it’s important that they understand the tax implications of each decision.
Vincenzo Villamena, Managing Partner of Online Tax Man
People just leaving college (and presumably lower income) should start investing in a Roth IRA because it is more advantageous. There is an income threshold ($110k) to invest and the investment grows tax free over the lifetime of the investment. Given that most college graduate will eclipse that 110k mark, its important to contribute before this happens and start savings towards a tax free retirement! Its also important to note that one can pull out their money from a Roth IRA (the original principal, not the gain) before their retirement without getting hit with a penalty, which would happen under a traditional IRA.
Garrett M. Prom, Founder of Prominent Financial Planning
First, take advantage of a health savings account (HSA). Contribute as much as you can to it. It can be invested, carried over to future years, and if used for health expenses at any point–never taxed. Too many do not understand it and therefore do not take full advantage of it.
Second, your earnings as you are just starting out will most likely be less than your future self with 20 years of experience. For that reason, try to invest as much as you can in Roth accounts whether that is in a Roth 401(k) or a Roth IRA.
Christopher McCauley, President of Whizkins
As a young adult, earning a first paycheck for a salaried job can be an exciting time period. While this time period says splurge, it is at this point, young adults should also consider developing a habit in contributing to his or her company’s 401(k), or other retirement savings, account. Not only will this practice help to lower your overall taxable income for the current tax year but it also allows you to start deferring tax on income until a much later period.
Jonathan K. Duong, Founder of Wealth Engineers
If you have earned income, contribute to a Roth IRA . Under IRS rules, anyone with earned income can contribute to an individual retirement account (IRA). If you are a college student or recently graduated from college, you are likely in a low income tax bracket and would be eligible to contribute to either a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA. A contribution to a Roth IRA would likely be most advantageous since the contributions that you would make would be after-tax dollars taxed at the 10% or 15% tax rate which would then grow tax-free. You could then make withdrawals during retirement without paying any further taxes.
Second, claim the Savers Credit on contributions to an IRA . In addition to the benefits of a Roth IRA described above, you might be eligible to claim the Savers Credit on your tax return on up to $2,000 of your IRA contribution. This credit applies for individual taxpayers over age 18 with incomes up to $29,500 for 2013. However, the credit doesn’t apply if you were a full-time student during the year or were claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return.
Austin G. Netzley, Founder of YoPro Wealth
When you leave a job, do not take money out of your 401k; roll it over to an IRA… it is not cash! So many people make this mistake.
Matt Becker, Founder of Mom and Dad Money
Don’t underestimate the value of the tax deduction from a contribution to a Traditional 401(k) or IRA. A lot of experts like to preach the virtues of a Roth IRA, and yes a Roth can be a great tool in the right situations. But even for young adults in a relatively low tax bracket, going the Traditional route can prove to be the better option over time. Just make sure you put the savings you get from the deduction to productive use.
Tips for Millennials That are Side Hustling
A lot of millennials are side hustling, working odd jobs online, or selling stuff on eBay or Amazon. All of these are important to pay attention to at tax time, and here’s some specific advice for these millennials.
Jody L. Padar, Principal of NewVision CPA Group and Xero Partner Accountant
Filing taxes is an often confusing map to navigate and all the new tax policies being enacted don’t help matters at all. A lot of college students these days are also using sites like Ebay and Etsy to make extra money thus becoming “Solopreneurs” and probably are not aware of the things that can trigger an audit. If you run a small business out of your home (and I mean SMALL business), you may be eligible for the New Office Home Deduction, which allows you to write off $1,500, no itemization required. This is best for itty bitty businesses (side businesses and the like), but is not recommended if you are a consultant or freelancer working out of the home.
Alex Parker, President of Brand Strategix
Taxation on young adults is definitely much different than that of taxation on older adults. One of the biggest methods of reducing taxation is to change your status from employee to entrepreneur. If you are working a position that could be turned into a consulting business, begin working independent as a contractor and establish a contractor-client relationship with your employer via an s-corporation, being that you can then increase your income through also taking on other clients if you wish to increase your income and can also experience the benefits of a corporation through not only reporting income, but also taking a percentage of the corporation’s profits as dividend distributions. With that, you will be able to pay little to no taxes on those dividend distributions (depending on your tax bracket, they will be tax exempt or taxed at a rate of 15%). You can also elect those dividends to be retained in the corporation and reinvested in the company to grow your income and business valuation further. With this route, you not only make an income from the corporation, but also can obviously sell it at a later date, allowing for a great ROI on time and monetary investments.
This is not a viable situation for everyone, however, for those who were in a situation like myself, it has saved me thousands of dollars per year.
Now it’s your turn – what tax tips do you have for millennials and other young adults? Have you used any of these top tax tips?
Robert Farrington is America’s Millennial Money Expert® and America’s Student Loan Debt Expert™, and the founder of The College Investor, a personal finance site dedicated to helping millennials escape student loan debt to start investing and building wealth for the future. You can learn more about him here and here.
He regularly writes about investing, student loan debt, and general personal finance topics geared towards anyone wanting to earn more, get out of debt, and start building wealth for the future.
He has been quoted in major publications including the New York Times, Washington Post, Fox, ABC, NBC, and more. He is also a regular contributor to Forbes.