For many people, tax time is one of the most complicated times of the year. April 15 is a busy time for accountants and tax preparers, but it’s also a stressful time for most people. If you’re a student, you might not know what to do – especially if you have scholarships and grants. Do scholarships and grants affect your taxes?
There’s not an easy answer to that question. If you earned scholarships and grants, you might owe taxes. But how can you be sure?
Read below to see what you need to know about how financial aid can affect you during tax time and how you can be prepared.
What Students Should Know About Scholarships, Grants, And Taxes
There are three basic kinds of college-related aid: merit-based scholarships, grants determined by need and loans.
In general, money used to pay tuition costs directly doesn’t count as income, while other funds do. Student loans and Pell Grants never qualify as income, while other grants used for direct education expenses aren’t reported as income.
“Qualified expenses are specific to tuition, fees, books, and supplies required to matriculate,” said accountant Eric Nisall of Accountlancer. “It doesn’t include room and board, travel costs, anything that isn’t a requirement of enrollment.”
Some students qualify for work-study, which is often need-based. Work-study is considered to be a job, and any proceeds are reported as income. If you have any expenses directly related, you might be able to deduct them on your taxes.
Some schools award grants and scholarships that aren’t allowed to be used for qualified expenses; those must also be reported as income. Students must also be attending an accredited university to avoid having any grants and scholarships count as income.
If you receive more in scholarships than the cost of tuition and other qualified fees, you’ll have to report the difference on your taxes. Don’t worry. You’ll never owe more in taxes than you earn.
The IRS states that any money received “for teaching, research, or any other services required as a condition for receiving the scholarship” must be reported as income. If you worked as a TA for a professor, that income will count, but your department scholarship won’t.
Students worried about owing taxes should collect any related information throughout the year and reference that information when filing.
Still unsure? The IRS has a Q&A tool that will determine if the money you received counts as taxable income.
How Students Can File Their Taxes
Students needing to file their taxes can use the free versions of Turbotax, TaxAct or other tax programs. Filing taxes is simple for most college students, since they only have a couple forms to fill out. Your college might send you a 1098-T form that you’ll use to file your taxes.
You might also get a 1098-E for any student loan interest you paid.
A personal accountant can help, but is likely overkill for a simple return. Services like H&R Block can also handle tax returns, but they might charge too much for what could be a 30-minute process.
Make sure to have all your forms organized before you file your taxes. The deadline to send out tax forms was Jan. 31, but if you moved during the year or have your documents sent to your parent’s house, you might not have gotten everything.
Go over those forms to verify the information. It’s not uncommon to see the wrong social security number or a misplaced comma, so don’t take your tax forms as gospel.
If you’re still confused, contact your college’s financial aid office. Some community centers also offer tax prep if you can’t afford to hire someone.
Zina Kumok is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. She has been featured in Lifehacker, DailyWorth and Time, and she paid off $28,000 worth of student loans in three years. She also works with people one-on-one as a money coach at ConsciousCoins.com.