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Tax Basics: College Students

Do I have to file a tax return?

If your employer withheld wages during the year (Jan 1–Dec 31), you may be entitled to a tax refund. If not, you may still have to file a New York State income tax return if:

  • you have to file a federal return;
  • you have federal adjusted gross income plus New York additions of more than $4,000, ($3,100 if you are single and can be claimed as a dependent on another taxpayer’s federal tax return); or
  • you want to claim a refundable or carryover credit.

Keeping good tax records

It’s important to maintain records of the income you earned during the tax year. In addition, you should maintain records for any expenses you plan to deduct. If you worked multiple jobs during the year, be sure to collect the necessary tax documents from each. Examples include:

Documents that show your income

  • Form W-2 (shows wages from an employer for each job worked during the year);
  • pay stubs (keep the last one for the year or the last one for particular job)
  • Form 1099-MISC (reflects non-wage miscellaneous income for each job worked during the year—some jobs don’t treat you as an employee, so you may get a 1099 instead of a W-2)
  • Form 1099-INT (reflects interest income, i.e. from a bank account)
  • Form 1099 (additional versions of Form 1099 are issued for other types of income, such as capital gains and government grants);
  • any records showing additional income.

Documents that show expenses

  • Form 1098 (versions of this form are available for mortgage and student loan interest, tuition, and other potentially deductible expenses);
  • receipts for business and education expenses paid.

Other documents you may need

  • Form 1095 (proof of health coverage under the Affordable Care Act);
  • previous-year tax returns;
  • driver license or non-driver I.D.

Filing status

Your filing status is used to determine your filing requirements, standard deduction, eligibility for certain credits, and your correct amount of tax due. The five filing statuses are:

  • single;
  • married filing jointly;
  • married filing separately;
  • head of household (unmarried with qualifying individuals); and
  • qualifying widow(er).

It’s important to know if someone else will be claiming you as a dependent on their tax return. Be sure to ask your parent or person who pays more than 50% of the cost of keeping up your home if they’re claiming you as a dependent.

Electronic filing

The best way to file your return is electronically. Why? Electronic filing is:

  • easier—file from your phone, tablet, or computer;
  • safer—submit your return through a highly secure, encrypted system;
  • faster—receive your refund twice as fast as paper filers;
  • more accurate—the software will do the math for you, so your return is 20 times less likely to have an error than if you filed on paper.

Plus, if your income is $69,000 or less and you use the options on our website, you can file electronically for free! For more information, see Free File your income tax return. When efiling, have your bank account and routing numbers handy to take advantage of Direct Deposit and receive your refund up to two weeks sooner.

New York State money saving programs

New York State offers several money-saving programs, credits, and tax benefits specifically for college students like you, including:

  • College tuition credit or itemized deduction: If you’re an undergraduate student, paying your tuition out of pocket—and not being claimed as a dependent on someone else’s return—you could receive up to $400 in credit when you claim the college tuition credit. See Form IT-272Claim for College Tuition Credit or Itemized Deduction for New York State Residents for more information.

  • Purchase your textbooks tax free: Your college textbooks are exempt from sales and use tax. You can claim the exemption whether you purchase your books at a store, by mail order (including email), online*, or by any other means. Just provide your valid student identification or other evidence of your college enrollment at the time of purchase. See Tax Bulletin College Textbooks (TB-ST-125), available on our website, to learn more. (*use Form AU-11 if you are charged sales tax)

  • New York State 529 College Savings Plan: The New York State 529 college savings plan allows you to save for your higher education costs and grow your money with all federal taxes deferred. The money saved can be used to pay for things like tuition, books, supplies, certain computer equipment, and certain room and board fees. Contributions to these accounts are deductible on your New York State tax return up to:

    • $5,000 for account owners who file as Single; and
    • $10,000 for account owners filing as Married filing joint return.

If you’re receiving a New York State tax refund, you can invest some or all of it in a New York State 529 College Savings plan account by filing Form IT-195, Allocation of Refund with your tax return.

To split your refund, you’ll need a 529 account number with routing number and a plan code. To save time, sign up for an account in advance online at or by calling 1 877 697-2837. There is no minimum deposit into the College Savings Program Direct Plan. The minimum deposit into the Advisor Guided College Savings Program is $25.

Where do your tax dollars go?

Your tax dollars support programs and services that make New York State a great place to advance your education and enjoy your time outside the classroom. Here are a few ways that New York’s tax revenue is put to work.

Reducing education costs

$6.4 billion is budgeted annually to fund SUNY and CUNY programs, while another $1.3 billion is dedicated annually to provide students with financial assistance at independent colleges.

Ensuring access to health care

2.7 million New Yorkers receive coverage under the state-funded New York State of Health marketplace insurance program.

Protecting the environment

A record $300 million is budgeted annually to fund the initiatives of the Environmental Protection Fund.

Supporting job creation

Since 2011, New York has created 1.1 million new jobs, making New York State now home to 8.1 million private sector jobs in total—the most in the state’s history.

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Tax Basics: College Students