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:
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!



What Does a 529 College Savings Plan Cover?


529 college savings plans are only eligible for spending on certain expenses

Jjar of money labeled collegeThe cost of attendance at American universities is skyrocketing year after year, with a college education now costing up to six figures. 529 college savings plans offer a tax-free way to save money for your education. However, there are a few conditions since the money is tax-free, including what you can spend that money on. Here are a few of the qualified expenses included in the plan.

Tuition and education fees
Of course, the most obvious college expense is tuition. Any of your 529 savings money can be applied toward basic tuition. Many colleges charge mandatory fees such as application fees and additional course fees, and your savings plan can be used on those as well.

Keep in mind that your savings plan can only contribute to mandatory fees. Writer for Washington’s Top News, Nina Mitchell, warns against the use of 529 savings funds for fraternity and sorority membership dues or club and activity fees. “These are considered extracurricular and are not eligible,” says Mitchell.

Textbooks, computers and school supplies
Alongside the rise of tuition prices, textbook prices are also increasing each year. According to Brian Boswell, contributor at, your savings plan can be applied toward textbook rentals and purchases each year. You can also put your savings money toward school supplies, including items like pencils, pens, backpacks and notebooks.

Modern-day education often requires students to have their own personal computers or laptops. With advancing technology, laptops are more expensive than ever. Laptops and desktop computers can be purchased through your 529 savings plan, says Boswell, easing the burden of buying new, up-to-date technology. Printers are also covered under the plan.

Room and board
Your housing costs as a student are covered under your 529 savings plan as well. Whether you live in a campus dorm and are paying for student housing, or if you pay rent off-campus, your savings money can be used for your rent and utilities. While you’re a student, your savings money can also be applied to your dining plan and grocery costs.

However, Boswell explains there is a catch to off-campus living, “To be considered qualified, [off-campus living] costs must be less than or equal to the room and board allowance from the college’s cost of attendance figures. If the total cost living off-campus exceeds the school’s allowance, the student would have to pay the difference using funds from another source.”

If your university charges a fee for internet usage, or if you live off campus and have to purchase an internet package yourself, you can pay those expenses out of your 529 savings plan. Additional software deemed necessary for your education is also covered.

Disability equipment
If you have a disability that requires medical or mobility equipment, you can purchase those items with the money in your 529 savings plan, says Boswell. These items include wheelchairs, prosthetics and transportation costs.

Saving and paying for college tuition alone can be stressful enough, but having to worry about additional school-related expenses just adds to the frustration. Luckily, these expenses are all covered under your 529 savings plan. Consult your tax advisor regarding your personal situation and the possible impacts and benefits of this type of program.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

How to Find the Best Loan for Your Next Car

Here are the best tips on how to get the best loan for your new carYoung man and young woman  applying for an auto loan
Purchasing a vehicle is one of the largest and most important financial investments that any individual will ever make during their lifetime, excluding the purchase of a home. But the process of acquiring loans for a vehicle can often be confusing. There are many questions to ask leading up to the purchase of a new vehicle and customers need to determine whether they want to buy new or used, whether they want to buy outright or lease and which type of vehicle that they wish to purchase.

However, before any of these decisions can be made, customers need to determine how they will pay for the vehicle. While paying in cash is an option for a select group of new car buyers, most people will have to rely on an auto loan. Determining from where this money will come from can be the trickiest part of the process. Fortunately, there are ways to make the search for the best loan a little bit easier.

Loan pros and cons
While automotive loans can carry several benefits, they are not without their drawbacks. The most obvious benefit is that by using a loan, customers don’t have to pay for their new vehicle in its entirety, all at once. Another benefit is that automotive loans can help build credit. While you need good credit to qualify for most loans, paying for those loans will only improve your credit score. Auto loans, of course, do add another monthly payment to your pile of bills. Keeping up with those payments will be a necessity for many months ahead.

Who provides loans?
Automotive loans are offered to customers through a number of financial institutions. According to Consumer Reports, banks and credit unions are often the most common sources. If you have a good credit standing, then you will be able to attain some of the best loan rates from these institutions. But if your credit score is less than desirable, you may not qualify. Another very common source for auto loans is the dealerships themselves.

Determining which loan is best
Once you determine where you want to apply for a loan, the next step is looking for the best rates across the board. It’s important to pay careful attention, as some loans may look good on the surface, but could spell financial trouble in the future. As vehicle prices increase with each passing year, longer loans become available. However, Herb Weisbaum at CNBC suggests that drivers choose the shortest loan that they can afford. Not only will longer loans cost drivers more in the long run, but paying off a loan sooner removes one more payment each month.

If you happen to find the loan that works best for you before you are ready to purchase your vehicle, then this can be used to your advantage. The DMV says that getting pre-approved for a loan can carry several benefits. If you are pre-approved, this removes a lot of uncertainty during the entire financing process when it comes time to pick up your next set of wheels.

There is no such thing as a perfect automotive loan, as each driver has specific wants and needs. Still, there are processes and guidelines set in place to help you find the right loan for you.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

Tips for Saving for Your New Car

Hands holdinga jar of moneyIdeas for affording that hot ride you have always wanted
It’s a common situation: your current car is on its last leg and you have your heart set on a new model that will last longer, look better and have more features. Unfortunately, your bank account isn’t on your side and is limiting your options. Instead of disregarding your financial limitations, find ways to overcome them by saving money and shopping wisely so you can eventually afford that dream vehicle.

Determining your financial goal
Before you establish a plan of action, it is vital to fully evaluate your current financial situation and what your goal is; a clear understanding will help you effectively plan how to reach your goal.

Once you identify which vehicle you want, you can estimate how much a down payment would cost. Ronald Montoya of Edmunds suggests that 20% of the total cost of the vehicle should be your down payment (resulting in a lower monthly cost), but that if you cannot comfortably afford that amount, a 10% down payment with GAP insurance mitigates risk while keeping money in your pocket.

Jamie Page Deaton of U.S. News & World Report emphasizes the importance of considering the ongoing price of monthly vehicle costs, such as repayments, insurance and maintenance. Depending on your cost of living and pre-existing debt, these expenses should not exceed 15-36% of your monthly take-home pay. Ensure you have a secure income to afford these monthly costs after you drive the car off the dealership lot.

Saving money on daily expenses
Now that you’ve established a target amount of money to save for both the down payment and monthly fees, you can analyze your current spending habits and find ways to trim your daily expenditures and divert the difference into a savings fund.

Trent Hamm of The Simple Dollar outlines dozens of methods for cutting expenses. For instance, consider using public transportation or carpooling to work. Cancel your unnecessary memberships, subscriptions or paid services. Buy bulk, generic, non-perishable items from the grocery store and make your own meals instead of eating out. Other ideas include shopping at thrift stores, selling unused items, consolidating your loans, lowering home thermostats, unplugging electronics and pausing your travel plans.

Getting the best deal on the car
Saving money isn’t just about having enough cash in your bank account; it’s equally imperative to ensure you’re getting a deal on the vehicle you are purchasing. There are methods for knocking some numbers off the sticker price to ensure you are paying the lowest possible amount rather than simply handing over your hard-earned money at the first price presented.

Kerry Hannon of Forbes offers nearly a dozen ways women can save on a new car; all of the methods can be used by men, too. Time your purchase so that you can take advantage of a seasonal sale, a reduced price on last year’s model or a rebate program. Do your research and have a clear idea of what the car’s value is and what competing dealerships in the neighborhood are offering for the same model. Don’t be afraid to negotiate; hold firm on the target price and don’t get drawn into add-ons or upgrades.

Another way to get a better deal on your car is by improving your credit score and thus receiving a better deal on financing. Investigate all your financing options and find the best loan offer that is best for you, whether that’s through your bank, a local credit union or the dealership.

With a solid plan and frugal spending habits, you will eventually be able to afford that new car without putting your finances at risk.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

Food Shopping: The Blindspot in our Spending Plan

Woman pushing a shopping cart down a supermarket isleYour relationship with food is probably pretty complex. In addition to sustenance, you may use food for comfort, gathering with others, distraction or pleasure. When you really commit to tracking your food expenses as part of putting together a spending and savings plan, you realize food can be a complicated part of your financial life too. While meals are of course a necessity, take a look at your food-buying habits. Odds are that there’s room to save.

Eliminating “extra” expenses like dining out or buying pricey steaks is a good place to start. But also keep in mind that a successful food-purchasing plan isn’t just about cutting things out. It’s also about understanding your habits.

Going out to lunch at work
You may grab “a quick bite” at work because it’s easy. But it might actually take you less time at home to put together the same meal. Then you get to spend more of your lunch period at work relaxing, going for a walk or reading a book. Or you could just spend the time thinking about the hundreds of dollars you will save this year by brown-bagging.

Convenience store or check-out aisle buys
If you actually look at the prices, you realize that the mark-ups on the quick-grab items near store cash registers are incredibly high. But that’s just the thing. Stores realize you don’t stop to examine and consider prices in those situations. If you find yourself reaching for a pack of gum or some candy as you are about to check out, instead, make a commitment to stock up ahead of time and keep these items in your car or your purse or your desk. By buying them online or at a bulk retailer, you could pocket a bunch of extra dough.

Fast food
The fast burger or taco for $0.99 sounds like the perfect recipe for our modern sensibilities; we want food in a hurry and we don’t want to pay a lot. While the speed of delivery may be enticing, the end price may not be all that great. Consider: how many times have you gone to a fast food restaurant and ordered just one thing? The advertised item may be under a dollar, but when you add on a drink and fries or another side order, the costs add up.

Shopping when you are hungry
It’s silly to think that you are always going to shop on a full stomach. So instead of feeling like you need to plan all your grocery shopping excursions in tandem with meals, just be aware of why you are putting each item into your cart. Are you reaching for that plastic canister of candy rope because it’s a part of your spending plan or because your blood sugar is a little low?

“High end” grocery stores
You may like to go to the more expensive grocery in your area because they have a few specialty items that you can’t find at other stores. That is certainly understandable. But make sure those items aren’t available for a lower price at your regular grocery first. They may be tucked away in a place you hadn’t thought to look. Also, even though you might go to the more expensive grocery store for a few specialty items, doesn’t mean you have to pay a higher price on the regular items; try to just purchase the specialty items there.

Buying prepared items
Any financial coach worth their salt will tell you that cooking your own meals instead of buying prepared meals saves you mounds of cash. But also think about the fruits and vegetables you buy. Fruit medleys or even individual chopped fruit packages can cost much, much more than just buying the fruit in its whole form. Same goes for salad mixes. Is it really worth the extra money to have someone cut up your fruit or mix up some greens for you?

Failing to plan
If you are one of those people who wander around the grocery store until they find some things that look yummy, you are probably paying more than the list makers of the world. In a perfect world you would plan out your meals for a couple weeks and create a shopping list based on that. But at the very least, try to formulate a list of necessities. Allow yourself one impulse buy if that helps you stick to the plan. Remember that “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”.

Meat-centric meals
If you plan your dining experience with meat as the centerpiece, you are not alone. It’s a common tactic. But it doesn’t have to be an all-the-time way of looking at meal construction. By sometimes substituting in tofu, beans or legumes as your protein source, you can save significantly at checkout time.

Brand name insistence
There are certain consumer items for which you can make an argument that brand name goods are a better choice. But that isn’t generally the case with food. Lima beans are lima beans, whether the name on the can is the one you heard on TV or it is completely new to you.

Making money-smart choices about your food purchases doesn’t have to mean denying yourself the things you love. Instead, think of using these tips to get all the food you like, while giving yourself extra money to spend on things you enjoy.

Used with Permission. Published by BALANCE Includes copyrighted material of BALANCE.

Smart Ways to Save on College Textbooks

Don’t overpay for your next semester’s college textbooks
piggy bank next to a stack of textbooksPurchasing textbooks is one of the highest recurring costs of attending college, with prices consistently rising. Consumer Reports contributor Beth Braverman cites a report from the Student Public Interest Research Group published in 2016, which showed a 78 percent increase in the cost of college textbooks over the last 10 years.

However, there are a few good ways to avoid the high expense at the start of each semester.

Avoid the bookstore
The first place that a student would be tempted to go for their books is certainly the university bookstore. But from a financial point of view, consumer expert Clark Howard says that the bookstore is the last place they should go, as even used books are typically sold at a high markup thanks to the store’s convenience.

Clark Howard does, however, point out that there is an exception if the professor requires the use of a custom-printed and -bound companion book for their class, which won’t be available anywhere else.

Shop around
As with many other items, the best way to find the best price on college textbooks is to do research. According to Braverman, most often the best price for a new book can be found online, although there are other options to consider. If a book won’t be needed after the end of the class and isn’t likely to be marked or damaged, then renting the book may be a good option. Alternatively, e-books are often offered at prices similar to paperback copies, though are often limited in the number of devices they can be accessed on.

Braverman also encourages buyers to consider what may happen once the class ends. If a new edition will be coming next year, then the value of the current version will drop considerably when it comes time to sell it.

Wait to buy
Clark Howard advises students to wait until after the first class to buy a book, stating: “Some college professors are just as fed up with the rising cost of textbooks as their students.” Some professors may only be using certain parts of the text and are willing to offer other, less expensive options.

This may seem to be a risk, but typically first days in class are devoted to syllabi and course expectations, which would give the student information which may be crucial to the textbook shopping problem. For example, it is possible that an older edition of the text could be perfectly sufficient for the class, and available for a much-discounted price.

Check the library
Finally, both Clark Howard and Beth Braverman agree on one other option: checking to see if the required book is available at the library. This does have one caveat, though—this method will probably only work for more common texts. Clark Howard adds that this method favors texts for liberal arts courses, particularly literature classes that use classic novels in their course materials. Beyond that, Braverman suggests that students could make copies of important pages and chapters, and if the book is unavailable, the student could ask the professor to put one on reserve in the library for that purpose.

Using this variety of methods, the steep recurring cost of college textbooks can be greatly reduced and, in some cases, eliminated entirely.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

Cut These Costs TODAY

Man buying groceriesHave you ever unexpectedly found out you’re quickly going to have less income? It’s enough to throw you into a panic. But the best way to get through hard times is to take a few deep breaths and put a plan together. Check out these common targets for quick and effective expense cuts.

You might find it obvious that evenings dining out at fancy restaurants probably aren’t the best idea when experiencing a budget crunch. But think about your groceries too. Consider avoiding the higher-priced stores and stocking up on the basics at the more reasonably priced spots. You might find that cooking at home and taking your lunch to work saves you lots of money and ends up being healthier too.

If you’re like most people, your visual entertainment comes from multiple sources. You may watch movies on cable, in the theater, via rental or online. In crisis situations, it’s best to focus on watching movies at home and using one particular way to do it. In other words, if you have both Netflix and premium movie channels, it’s probably time to go with one or the other.

Phone plans
It’s nice to use a smart phone to be able to look up information on the go, but you could probably make do without the data plan if you had to. Did you know that you could also be on a prepaid smart phone plan? Call your service provider to ask them to perform an analysis on which plan is best for you. You might be paying for more than you actually need. Also consider eliminating your house phone if you have one.

It’s important to get some stress-relieving exercise during this trying time, but there’s no reason why you should have to spend money to do it. Brainstorm ways to be active without having to fork over a big chunk of your paycheck. The main thing is to just get moving!

Shopping as entertainment
One activity that could put you in the trouble zone is shopping for fun or to ease tension. “I won’t buy anything, I’ll just browse” too often can lead you down the path of unnecessary spending. Eliminate leisure shopping or other activities that put you in temptation.

Is it an option to work from home more? Can you carpool or combine your errands into fewer trips? If your family has multiple vehicles, can you sell one and share the remaining?

With the ease of using the Internet to compare rates, the insurance business is much more competitive than it used to be. Shop around for the best deals on any type of insurance you have—auto, home, life, etc. Check into bundling these with one company to save even more. How is your credit score? This might affect the cost of certain insurances. Also be sure to ask about discounts you might apply for, and the option of raising your deductible in exchange for a lower monthly payment.

Think of ways to stay warm or cool more efficiently. Put on more layers in the colder months and spend more time outside during the warmer times. Be conscious of turning everything off and even unplugging electrical items when you leave a room.

Habitual items
When you have a comfortable financial situation, it’s easy to buy coffee, cigarettes, alcohol and convenience store snacks without thinking too much about it. But in these tighter times, think about what you are really getting out of these purchases and if there are expenses that are more important.

If you have more money taken out of each of your paychecks than is necessary in order to get a large income tax refund check in the spring, you are over-paying the government each month. Cut this expense by using the IRS withholding calculator to determine the appropriate amount to have withheld from each paycheck.

None of these cost-cutting measures alone is guaranteed to immediately solve all cash flow issues, but in concert they can potentially save you hundreds of dollars per month.

Used with Permission. Published by BALANCE Includes copyrighted material of BALANCE.