Income Taxes for Students on an F-1 Visa

How Income Taxes in the U.S. Work

You earn money. The government takes a share of it. That’s the simple version of how income taxes work in the United States. The slightly more complex version begins with: what constitutes “income?” Who taxes that income? When, and how much? For most students, the two main sources of income are:
  • Earnings (wages/salary) from employment
  • Financial aid

Who taxes your income? The federal government and the state government – these are separate entities. A student living in a dorm at Principia College and working on the Principia College campus will be paying taxes to the federal government and to the government of Illinois. How do you pay taxes? By filling out forms. Lots of them.Well, among other steps. Not to worry, though – we’re here to help you through it. During your first week at Principia, you will fill out tax withholding forms that authorize your employer (Principia) to withhold part of your income on behalf of the government.

During the tax year (Jan 1 to Dec 31), a portion of your income is withheld from your earnings on behalf of the government. At the end of the tax year, you will have earned a certain total amount in income and paid a certain total amount in taxes. The amount of taxes you are supposed to pay is based on your annual income. Therefore, early the following year, you are required to reconcile your taxes (otherwise known as filing taxes). When reconciling you may find that you underpaid taxes. In this case, you would need to pay what you owe in taxes. You may also find that more of your income was withheld than needed to be; in other words, you overpaid taxes and now the government owes you, and refunds you!

Tax Residency Status: the Alien Elephant in the Room

For tax purposes, students on an F-1 visa fall under one of these two categories:
  • Non-resident alien
  • Resident alien
Typically, students on an F-1 visa become resident aliens after 5 years in the United States. Each of the two tax residency categories is taxed differently and also files/reconciles taxes differently. Taxation and tax filing for resident aliens is similar to that of U.S. citizens. They can use any tool that a citizen would use to file taxes, such as Turbotax. Non-resident aliens, on the other hand, are limited in terms of softwares they can use to file taxes. At Principia, we use the Glacier system for non-resident alien tax compliance. We also use Glacier Tax Prep for federal tax filings.

Filling Taxes

After determining your tax residency, the three main steps to follow when filing taxes are:
  1. Gathering income and other relevant documents
  2. Preparing/filling out tax filing forms
  3. Filing taxes, actually: non-resident aliens file by mail

Gather Your Tax Filing documents

For most students on a non-resident alien status, the most common income documents include:
  1. W-2: this is sent to you by your employer and it shows your wage/salary income for the whole tax year, as well as total tax withholdings. If you worked for multiple employers, you should expect multiple W-2s, one from each employer. (independent contractors usually receive a 1099 instead of a W-2.) Principia employees can find their W-2s in their ADP portal (Myself → Pay → Pay & Tax Statements)
  2. 1042-S: students on a non-resident alien tax status at Principia receive a form 1042-S showing taxable income received in the form of financial aid/scholarships. Form 1042-S can be retrieved from your Glacier portal.
  3. 1099-G: most commonly, this applies to students who received a tax refund from the state government. Even if you may not have received this particular document, we recommend including your state refund as a “1099-G.” To do this, you may need to refer to the copy of previous year state tax filings.
  4. Other types of incomes: interest on savings or other forms of income may also constitute annual income that should be declared when filing taxes. The respective source of income may have sent you tax documents, or may have them available online.

File your tax returns

Once you have your documents ready, now it’s time to fill out your tax filing forms. Your tax filings are federal as well for each state in which you worked during the particular tax year, each filed separately. (For states with tax reciprocity agreements, you may not need to file for each state separately.)

Glacier tax prep software is available to Principia students on a non-resident alien status to prepare federal tax filing documents. We recommend accessing the software through the Glacier portal after updating your information (or verifying that your information is up-to-date. Follow the prompts to complete your federal tax returns and print the forms generated at the end of the process. Verify that all the information is accurate and sign as appropriate.

Illinois 1040 (used to file individual tax returns) can be found and prepared here. Please note that, if you were an Illinois resident during the tax year for which you are filing taxes and worked in another state, you will need to declare your out-of-state earnings when you file your Illinois taxes.
Other than income statements, other documents we recommend having ready before filing your taxes include:
  1. I-94/travel history: needed to update your Glacier information for calculation of substantial presence in order to determine your tax residency status. You can retrieve your I-94/travel history here. When asked for “document number,” this is typically your passport number, the passport you most recently used to enter the U.S.
  2. Bank information: routing number and account number. If you qualify for a refund, you may request a paper cheque or direct deposit. We recommend choosing direct deposit since it is processed faster. To request direct deposit, you will need your bank’s routing number and your account number.

Mail your tax filing forms

Your taxes are not filed until they have been sent to the correct office. If you owe any taxes, remember to include a check or money order along with your tax forms. Below are the mailing addresses for federal and Illinois tax returns.

Federal Filings

Refund or Without Payment

Department of the Treasury
Internal Revenue Service
Austin, TX 73301-0215

With Payment

Internal Revenue Service
P.O. Box 1303
Charlotte, NC 28201-1303

Illinois Filings

Refund or Without Payment

P.O BOX 19041
SPRINGFIELD, IL 62794-9041

With Payment

P.O BOX 19027
SPRINGFIELD, IL 62794-9027