Don’t Panic: Filing Taxes As A College Student

forms, pen and calculator on deskImagine skipping a day of class, then coming into the next session and seeing a test. You open the packet and see what appears to be gibberish staring back at you. Everyone else around you seems to have a perfect grasp of what’s going on, but you’re just stumbling in the dark.

That can be what the process of preparing your taxes can feel like the first time you do them. You’re given a big pile of paper and expected to sort it out yourself. It’s easy to get overwhelmed.

Before you start to panic, though, take a deep breath. There are a few questions that might make your life much easier. Grab that big stack of paper and ask yourself …

1.) Do I even have to file?
There’s an easy way to short circuit this whole process. If you didn’t make much money last year, you don’t have to file taxes. If your earned income (wages and tips) is less than $6,300 and your unearned income (interest and dividends) is less than $1,050, you probably don’t have to file taxes.

Of course, you might still want to do so. If you had a summer job, your employer took taxes out of your paycheck as though you’d been working all year. You might be able to get a little bit of a refund for your effort.

2.) How hard does this have to be?
If your tax situation is relatively simple, you may be eligible to use a form called the 1040-EZ (as in easy). It’s a much more straightforward document. You just enter your wages, your filing status (married or single) and the taxes you’ve already paid. It’s all laid out on your W-2, the form you got in the mail or online from your employer.

The 1040-EZ lives up to its name. It’s one page long. Once you put your name, address and Social Security number on it, you’re about halfway done. You don’t get to claim any tax credits, but there aren’t a lot of tax credits available for college students in any case.

3.) Where can I get help?
You don’t have to go it alone. If you’re feeling antisocial, you can (and should) use an e-filing service. The IRS has a tool to help you pick the best one. It’s available here: https://apps.irs.gov/app/freeFile/jsp/wizard.jsp?ck.
There may also be tax help available. A program called the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) is available on many college campuses. Business students looking to bolster their resumes will frequently volunteer to help with taxes for free. This is especially important if your tax situation is more complicated, like if you’re paying for college on your own or have self-employment income from a side hustle.

Your Turn:
Are you stressed about taxes? Tell us about it in the comments, or pop down and help your fellow students out!

Sources:
https://www.irs.gov/individuals/free-tax-return-preparation-for-you-by-volunteers
http://blog.taxact.com/1040-tax-forms/
http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/when-does-your-child-have-file-tax-return.html

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The Best Deals On Wheels For College Students

group of multi-ethnic, multi-gender college-agedteens in front of white SUVYou’ve shopped for weeks and you’ve packed for hours. Now, you’re finally ready to load your trunk and pull out of the family driveway toward your next stage in life.

Which set of wheels will accompany you on your rite of passage into the grown-up world?

Yes–you’ve chosen your college, your major, and perhaps your roommate. Now it’s time to choose your car.

There are loads of factors at play when making this decision, though.

First, you’ll need to determine if it makes more sense for you to lease or to purchase a car.

Leasing offers flexibility. It’s the perfect choice for those who aren’t ready to commit to a car for long-term usage. It’s also more practical if you can’t afford to be solely responsible for a car’s maintenance and repairs. Monthly lease payments – even with repair warranties and liability waivers – also tend to be cheaper than payments on a purchased vehicle.

Of course, a lease won’t net you anything of value in the long run. When your lease is up, you’ll be out the thousands of dollars you spent “renting” the car, and have nothing to show for it. Also, if you max out the annual mileage limit, you may end up paying a small fortune in fees.

Purchasing a car, on the other hand, is a commitment that pays off in the long run. If you can afford the down payment, monthly fee, and can foot the bill for any repairs (talk to your credit union about affordable coverage for mechanical breakdowns), it may be the choice for you. Remember, though, that cars depreciate as soon as you take them for their first spin. It’s also hard to predict which vehicle will serve you best a few years down the line.

If you do decide to purchase a vehicle, first determine exactly what you can afford. Don’t take on a monthly payment that’s going to squeeze your budget. Building and maintaining a good credit history is crucial – at every stage in life.

Be sure to do extensive research before signing on a car. As a cash-strapped college student, you need to make the most cost-effective decision possible – but that doesn’t mean buying the cheapest car you can find. Your vehicle should serve its purpose without draining your wallet on fuel costs and repairs.

Carefully screen every car you’re considering for fuel efficiency, safety, warranty inclusion and coverage, and cargo capacity.

To make your search a little easier, we’ve compiled a list of the top six cars for the budget-wise college student. Each one is fuel-efficient, offers excellent cargo capacity, and is well-priced. (Cargo capacity listed is with the rear seats folded.)

1.) 2016 Kia Soul
Starting price: $15,900
Cargo capacity: 24.2/61.3 cubic feet
Fuel economy: 27 mpg combined

2.) 2017 Honda Fit
Starting price: $15,990
Cargo capacity: 16.6/52.7 cubic feet
Fuel economy: Up to 36 mpg combined

3.) 2017 Chevrolet Sonic Hatchback
Starting price: $18,455
Cargo capacity: 19/47.7 cubic feet
Fuel economy: 32 mpg combined

4.) 2016 Mazda 3 Hatchback
Starting price: $18,545
Cargo capacity: 20.2/47.1 cubic feet
Fuel economy: 33 mpg combined

5.) 2016 Hyundai Elantra GT
Starting price: $18,800
Cargo capacity: 23/51 cubic feet
Fuel economy: 27 mpg combined

6.) 2017 Volkswagen Golf Hatchback
Starting price: $19,895
Cargo capacity: 22.8/52.7 cubic feet
Fuel economy: 29 mpg combined

Before heading to the dealer’s shop, it’s best to get pre-approved. This way, you’ll know exactly what you can afford, and you’ll be taken more seriously by the dealer. Be sure to drop by [credit union] for your pre-approval and auto loan! [Our credit union offers low rates on pre-owned vehicles, so call 888-888-8888 or apply online at http://www.abcfcu.org!]

Your Turn: Are you a college student with a new set of wheels? We’d love to hear all about your car! Share your pick with us in the comments.

SOURCES:
https://www.google.com/amp/www.foxbusiness.com/features/2013/04/29/should-college-students-lease-or-buy-car.amp.html
http://www.moneycrashers.com/best-affordable-cars-college-students/
https://cars.usnews.com/cars-trucks/the-best-cars-for-college-studentshttp:
http://www.collegexpress.com/articles-and-advice/student-life/blog/best-value-cars-college-students-2016-2017/

What The Data Breaches At Uber And PayPal Tell Us

Uber Logo and PayPal logo on white backgroundQ: I’ve been hearing about security or data breaches at some large companies I do business with. I’m worried that something like this might result in harm to my credit. What exactly is a data breach and what can I do to protect myself?

A: As our digital world expands, so does cyber crime. Two companies that recently experienced major data breaches are Uber and PayPal. Chances are, you’ve done business with one or both of these companies. To protect yourself against these and future breaches, arm yourself with knowledge and good habits.

Just what is a data breach?
When a criminal gains access to data sources and sensitive information such as credit card numbers, passwords and license numbers, this constitutes a data breach. Such access can be physical, like when someone has access to your phone or computer. The information in your device can be copied (or ported) to another device. More often, and more nefarious, is virtual thievery accomplished by a number of means, such as bypassing the security measures put in place by you or a company that stores your info in some way. Cyber criminals at Uber and PayPal used this method to steal data.

What happened?
As more people are connected to the Internet and use online services, data breaches are increasingly more common. Uber’s breach exposed the personal information of 57 million customers and Uber workers in 2016. It included names, phone numbers, email addresses, and license numbers. While sensitive information like birth dates and credit card numbers were not exposed, many of these can be attained and paired to the exposed information. PayPal also had a large data breach that potentially impacted 1.6 million customers.

This stolen information can be then used in many ways, including setting up accounts to establish a new identity. It can also be used to use to steal a person’s identity.

How can you protect yourself?
No one who uses the Internet to transact business is completely secure from threats of breaches like these. However, experts in cyber security have some suggestions to lessen your vulnerability.

Do not log into accounts using Facebook. When you log in this way, you are allowing Facebook to access more information about you and you don’t have control over how this data is used.

Don’t give out too much information. The University of Western Australia’s Centre for Software Practices suggests not giving your age and birth date when filling out profiles. You can make up a birth date and even choose your opposite gender. When using social networks, limit the information you make available. Identity thieves can make quick use of your birth date and hometown. Don’t post these in your profile.

Use more than one email account. For social media, using more than one email account can help to keep your data from being accumulated in one place. If you have a large amount of data in one place, losing it all at one time can potentially do greater damage.
Be password smart. A surprising number of people use the same password for many sites. This is a problem because if one of your sites is compromised, hackers can try that password on other sites. While it may not be convenient, it is smart to use a different password for each site you use. Every password should be strong with a unique combination of letters, numbers, and symbols.

Another option is to use a password manager to generate passwords and store them in an encrypted database locally or remotely. An un-crackable password goes a long way to protect your data.

Limit your use of credit cards online. Ironically, given the subject of this article, using PayPal is safer than using credit cards when online. PayPal limits the information you are providing. In fact, no customers were harmed in the PayPal data breach.
Change identifying information. Pick a new birth year or change your gender on social media profiles. This helps to keep information about you from being linked with information from other sites.

Practice good data management. Check all of your account statements regularly. Look for suspicious items and set alerts to notify you when a large purchase is made.

Check to see if the apps you use are storing information. Some apps actually collect and sell information. Install updates for your apps because the updates typically include more advanced security, or close existing gaps that were recently discovered and exploited.

Your Turn:
Unfortunately, almost everyone has a nightmare story about a personal data breach situation. What is yours? How did you handle it?

SOURCES:
https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/nov/21/uber-data-hack-cyber-attack
http://www.zdnet.com/article/paypals-tio-networks-reveals-data-breach-impacted-1-6-million-users/
http://www.abc.net.au/triplej/programs/hack/how-to-protect-yourself-from-an-uber-hack/9181672

5 Study Apps To Help You Ace Every Exam

MaleStudent studying at desk, with head in handYou already have your phone attached to your hip, so you might as well let it work for you. Use these incredible study apps to ace every exam and turn in every paper on time – without frantic, last-minute cramming and exhausting all-nighters.

1. Quizlet
This awesome, free app makes studying simple. It includes text-based study materials along with visual aids to help you commit information to memory. You can custom-make your own audio and graphic flash cards, ask to be quizzed by the app and even play a fun game in which you advance only by giving correct answers. In the Quizlet Learn feature, you’ll find a mix of true and false, multiple choice and other kinds of questions that will increase in difficulty based on your performance. To amp up the fun, you can link games and tests with your friends to see who can outdo the other. Bring on the competition and fun … and let the studying begin!

2. IStudiez
A favored study app among college students everywhere, iStudiez tracks your academic progress throughout the semester and sends you helpful homework notifications so you never forget an assignment. It’s like having your mom with you in college – minus the laundry and home-cooked meals, that is.

IStudiez lets you rate the priority of your homework assignments, input your professors’ names and contact info and track your GPA. It’ll help you manage your time more efficiently and can be synced across all your devices.

The app offers a free trial for one semester, and then costs $1.99 a month for unlimited use.

3. Exam Countdown
Isn’t it funny how report deadlines seem like ages away when they’re assigned, and then it’s like they’re due tomorrow? Actually, it isn’t all that funny when you’re the one stuck taming the procrastination beast.

Exam Countdown offers a free, easy-to-use tool so you’ll never forget a deadline date again. Input every paper, report, essay and test as soon as they’re assigned. Then, color-code each kind of assignment and create your own countdown timers. You’ll be able to see how much time is left until your bio exam or until your next paper is due with just one quick glance.

It’s time to say adios to last-minute cramming!

4. Cold Turkey
Your phone and laptop may be super-useful study tools, but they can also be super-distracting. Don’t tell us you’ve never spent an afternoon on Pinterest or checking out the latest YouTube hits when you were supposed to be studying. We’ve all been there.

Don’t let it happen again! With this free app, you can block selected sites for a chosen amount of time, spanning just 15 minutes to 24 hours. Cold Turkey also allows you to create a whitelist of sites you’ll need for your work and will then refuse you access to anything else.

Let crunch time go back to being the nail-biting, hard-working, brain-exploding time it needs to be!

5. Memrise
You know those annoying people who can never forget a fact and don’t have to spend a minute studying to ace an exam? Yeah, we love to hate them, too.

But one of those people actually wants to share their secrets with you. Memrise is a free app that was co-founded by a top World Memory Championship competitor to help you remember everything you’re studying. It allows you to create visual mnemonics for everything and anything you might be learning, from foreign language vocabulary to the periodic table. Try it; it really works!

And who knows? You may just become one of those annoying know-it-alls yourself!

Your Turn:
Which study apps do you rely on for making the grade? Share your secret weapon with us in the comments!

SOURCES:
https://www.unigo.com/get-to-college/college-prep/the-6-best-study-apps
http://www.lifehack.org/articles/technology/25-apps-college-students-shouldnt-live-without.html
https://www.commonsensemedia.org/website-reviews/quizlet