Taxes are a confusing topic for everyone, but they’re especially perplexing when you’re a young adult who is just starting out in the real world. Until now, your parents have likely claimed you as a dependent on their tax return. But now that you’re in school (and possibly earning a little income on the side), it’s up to you to file your own tax return.
If you recently received a Form 1098-T from your college or university, you’re probably wondering what you’re supposed to do with it. Don’t worry – we’ve got you covered.
What is a 1098-T Form?
Every school year, tuition-paying students who are enrolled at an eligible college, university, or other post-secondary institution should receive a copy of IRS Form 1098-T directly from the school.
While the form may appear complex, it’s actually fairly straightforward. It essentially provides information about any educational expenses that may qualify you – the student – for educational-related tax credits and deductions.
Qualifying institutions are required to issue a Form 1098-T no later than January 31 of the year following the tax year in which expenses were paid. So for educational expenses paid in tax year 2019, Form 1098-T was required to be in the student’s possession by January 31, 2020.
The IRS doesn’t require its copy to be submitted until February 28 (if filed by mail) or March 31 (if filed electronically). This gives students time to contact the college or school if there are errors that need to be corrected.
Will You Get a 1098-T?
So, you’re a student at a college, university, vocational school, or other qualifying educational institution. Should you expect to receive a 1098-T? If you paid any qualifying educational expenses – such as tuition, course materials, or fees – you most likely will. There are, however, a few notable exceptions. Your school is not required to send you a 1098-T if:
- Your tuition and expenses were completely covered by scholarships
- Your school waived your tuition and expenses
- You took a course, but it didn’t offer academic credit
- A government agency or employer covered all of your tuition and expenses
Your 1098-T should be mailed to the official address that you have on record with the university. If you don’t receive your form in a timely manner, verify which address is on file. It’s possible that it was mailed to a parent’s house or your student living address. In many cases, you can log on to your university portal and find printable tax forms, including Form 1098-T. If all else fails, call the school’s accounting department to track down the information.
How Do You Read a 1098-T?
If you’ve never received a 1098-T – or never taken the time to scrutinize the form – it might look like a jumbled mess of boxes and numbers. However, it’s actually a fairly straightforward form. Here’s what each of the sections tell you:
- Filer Information.
- In the very upper-left side of the tuition statement form, there’s a section for filer information. This is where the school includes its name, street address, city, state, country, zip code, telephone number, etc.
- Student Information.
- Directly below the filer information box, there’s a section where the student’s – that’s you – contact information is provided.
- Box 1:
- This is arguably the most important box. It shows the total amount of payments the school received for qualified tuition and expenses during the tax year – minus refunds and reimbursements.
- Boxes 2-3:
- In previous years, these boxes gave schools a couple of options. They could either report how much the school billed or how much the student paid. Tax changes no longer allow for these choices. On the 2019 form, you’ll notice that they’re both blank.
- Box 4:
- This box gets completed if the school needs to report an adjustment from the prior year. This is the place where refunds from prior tax years are inserted and calculated.
- Boxes 5-6:
- Any scholarships or grants that the school processed during the year show up in Box 5. Adjustments made to scholarships and grants from a previous year populate Box 6.
- Box 7:
- If some of the tuition paid in the tax year is applied to an academic quarter that starts in the first quarter of the following calendar year, you’ll see a check mark in Box 7.
- Box 8:
- Your school will check this box if you’re enrolled at least half-time during any academic period on that calendar year.
- Box 9:
- This box gets checked if you’re a graduate student.
- Box 10:
- This box will most likely be blank. It’s only used by insurers who issue refunds or reimbursements for qualified educational expenses.
The good news is that you don’t have to fill out all of this information. Your Form 1098-T comes already populated with the required information. You simply need to verify that it’s accurate and add it to your folder of tax return documents.
What Do You Do With Your 1098-T?
Okay, so you’ve received a 1098-T form in the mail – now what?
The first step is to file it away in a safe place. If you have a folder that you’re using to organize tax documents and files, go ahead and put in there.
Once you’re ready to file your tax return, you’ll want to have your Form 1098-T on hand. It allows you to calculate a couple of potentially valuable credits:
- The American Opportunity Tax Credit
- . The AOTC reduces the amount of taxes you owe. It repays you 100 percent of the first $2,000 of qualifying expenses and 25 percent of the next $2,000. This could potentially reduce your tax bill by $2,500. However, you’ll have to verify whether you qualify for the credit.
- Lifetime Learning Credit
- . The LLC tax credit is the second big tax break – though you have to choose which one you want to take. (You can’t claim both the AOTC and LLC for the same student.) The maximum allowable credit is $2,000 and eligibility is determined based on the academic courses you’re paying for, as well as income limits.
- On a related note, make sure you file away any and all documentation, receipts, invoices, or bills that verify the information included on your 1098-T. Should the university or IRS ever have any questions, this will make the process of proving expenses much smoother.
Other Important 1098-T Information
If you haven’t received a Form 1098-T and believe that you’re eligible to receive one, there are a few possible explanations:
- Your school or university didn’t have a valid social security number on file.
- Your school or university determined that there were no qualifying expenses to account for.
- Your school has an incorrect mailing address on file.
- Your form slipped through the cracks and/or was lost by the USPS.
The best thing to do is to visit the university’s bursar’s office or make a phone call to the appropriate individual within the department. They can usually clear up the issue for you quickly.
Find a CPA With Taxfyle
Taxes are confusing – especially if this is one of the first years where you’re required to file your own return. But don’t let the silly commercials for DIY tax software dupe you into doing your own taxes. It’s much easier, less stressful, and more cost-effective to use an experienced CPA.
Not sure where to find a CPA? Taxfyle can help. We have a network of U.S. based CPAs who are waiting to assist you in completing your return. Find out how you can get started today!