2020 Tax Filing Resources for International Students
March 18, 2021
IMPORTANT UPDATE: it was recently announced that the tax filing deadline for federal, Pennsylvania state and Pittsburgh local tax returns has been extended to May 17, 2021.
March 5, 2021
All students in F-1 or J-1 status and their dependents in F-2 or J-2 status who are nonresidents for US tax purposes are required to file at least one tax form every year they are in the US. Tax forms for 2020 are due April 15, 2021.
The following topics are covered herein:
- Federal Tax: Who Must File?
- Forms Required for Filing Tax Returns (if applicable)
- Federal Forms/Obligations: Resident or Nonresident?
- State Tax Information
- Local (Pittsburgh) Tax Information
- GLACIER Tax Prep (free tax preparation software)
- Sprintax for state tax returns (tax preparation software for a fee)
- CMU information session
- Other Important Information:
- Tax treaties
- W-2 forms from employers and 1042-S forms from CMU
- Social security and FICA withholding
- Where to file
- Visa Number for Federal Form 8843
- Hiring a Tax Preparer/Accountant
- Completing Form 8843
- Stimulus checks received in error
- International Persons Who Are "Residents for Tax Purposes"
1. Federal Tax: Who Must File?
All students and their dependents (in F-1/F-2 or J-1/J-2 status) who are nonresidents for tax purposes are required to file at least one form they are present in the US regardless of whether or not they earned any money. If you earned money or have US-source income, you must file additional forms. This does not necessarily mean you have to pay taxes; however, you do need to complete and submit the forms. Nonresident tax forms and instructions for 2019 may be downloaded from the federal, state and local websites. (See Sections 3, 4 and 5 for information about specific forms.)
For federal tax form preparation, use the software mentioned below (GLACIER Tax Prep in Section 6).
If you first arrived in the US in 2021, you do not need to do anything for the 2020 tax year.
2. Forms Required for Filing Tax Returns
In January and February, employers and financial institutions send out important tax forms in the mail. You will use these forms when you complete your tax forms. Common forms include:
- W-2 from your employer (if any), which summarizes your earnings in 2020 and taxes that were withheld from your pay
- 1099-INT form from your bank outlines earned interest (if any)
- 1099-DIV outlines dividend interest on investments (if any)
- 1099-MISC reports miscellaneous income, such as income as an independent contractor
- 1042-S shows stipends or earnings that were excluded under a tax treaty benefit
3. Federal Forms/Obligations: Resident or Nonresident for Tax Purposes?
- To know which federal tax forms to use, you must first determine whether you are a resident or nonresident for tax purposes. The information below can guide you, but also read the 1040NR instruction booklet and IRS Publication 519. (The tax definitions of "resident" and "nonresident" are not the same as the immigration definitions of these terms.)
- If, in 2020 you were present in the US for no more than five calendar years (i.e., you entered the US on or after 1/1/2016), you are probably a "nonresident for tax purposes,” in which case you must file at least the Form 8843 to document your stay in the US, plus additional forms if you have US source income (see below).
- If 2020 was the 6th calendar year (or 7th, 8th…) that you were present in the US (i.e., you are a student and you entered the US on or before 12/31/2015), you are probably a "resident for tax purposes" and will need to complete a 1040 or 1040EZ resident tax form if you have US source income. If you are a resident for tax purposes, you may be eligible for using the Hope or Lifetime Learning Credit, for which you will need a 1098–T Tuition Statement for calendar year 2019. You can find out more information about the 1098-T here. Students who are nonresidents for tax purposes are not eligible for these credits and should not request a 1098-T.
- If you are a "nonresident for tax purposes," complete forms:
- 8843 (every nonresident for tax purposes completes this form, including dependents.)
- Students who did not earn any US source income or those whose “income” was bank interest on a checking or savings account only need to file form 8843. All F-2 and J-2 dependents must also file this form
- 1040NR-EZ or 1040NR (for nonresident students with US income). Nonresidents cannot use the regular 1040 or 1040EZ form that residents use and cannot use tax software such as Turbotax, which only assists with resident tax returns.
- Please see the "Resources" section for information on the Glacier Tax Prep for filing the 1040NR.
- 8843 (every nonresident for tax purposes completes this form, including dependents.)
- Students with US source income (stipends, fellowships, salary, investments) must have W-2 or 1042-S forms from Carnegie Mellon, or a 1099-DIV or 1099-INT from the investment company before you can complete the tax forms.
- The following federal tax forms may be viewed and downloaded from www.irs.gov:
- Form 8843
- Form 1040NR - US Nonresidenet Alien Income Tax Return
- Instructions for form 1040NR
- Publication 901 - US Tax Treaties
- Publication 519 - US Tax Guide for Aliens
4. State Tax Information
To assist with state tax filing, GLACIER Tax Prep provides the option of using Sprintax, another tax preparation software which can help guide you through the state tax filing process. Sprintax is an easy-to-use, step-by-step tool that helps international students prepare taxes online. (Note: Sprintax is not a free service. You will be responsible for any charges associated with using the Sprintax software for state tax filing.)
If you do not wish to use Sprintax for your state tax filing, and you lived in PA, you can visit the PA Department of Revenue website to file your PA tax forms: www.revenue.state.pa.us. Click on “Forms and Publications”, then “Forms for Individuals”, then “Personal Income Tax."
- PA-40 – 2020 Pennsylvania Income Tax Return (pdf)
- PA-40 – 2020 Pennsylvania Income Tax Return Instructions (pdf)
For more information, read PA publications, such as REV-611 "Determining Residency for PA Personal Income Tax Purposes."
If you have earned income, you may have to file local and/or state income tax returns for the location(s) where you resided/worked. If you use GLACIER Tax Prep, you can use the link to Sprintax to help you fill out forms for other states. Alternatively, you can find links to other states’ Department of Revenue to determine filing requirements/forms at: www.taxadmin.org/state-tax-forms. For local tax requirements, check the municipality where you lived/worked.
5. Local (Pittsburgh) Tax Information
If you lived or worked in Pittsburgh (or elsewhere in Pennsylvania) and have earned income in 2020, you must complete and submit the local tax form, 2020 Taxpayer Annual Local Earned Income Tax (EIT) Return.
For local returns, go to www.jordantax.com/Act32/EmployerForms.html and use the form for Allegheny County Central (70) if you live in the city. Include a copy of your visa documents with the return and mail to the address at the top of the form. The PSD for nonresidents is 880000 and the nonresident tax rate is 1%. Note: If you have applied for permanent residence, you are considered a resident for tax purposes.
Questions about the city/local form should be directed to Jordan Tax Services or the City Department of Finance.
Generally, those with no US income do not need to file this form. If city (local) tax was withheld from your pay, you will file this form. If you have earned income (other than a stipend), you will probably need to file both local (city) and state tax forms. If you worked in another city in 2019, you may have to file a tax return for that city, as well. Check with the municipality where you worked.
- Use GLACIER Tax Prep to prepare your federal tax forms. For federal tax forms, use GLACIER Tax Prep.
Carnegie Mellon University is providing this web-based tax preparation service to you for free, on a first-come, first-served basis. This is the easiest way to complete these forms. (Remember, “nonresident” as defined by the IRS is different than the immigration definition of nonresident.) To use this service, visit the website below and use a CMU-specific password. Do not share the password as access is limited to current CMU students and scholars and the number of licenses is limited. To learn the password, read the OIE email sent to all students and scholars in late February, or email OIE at email@example.com.
Expect to spend at least 30 minutes, and have your information ready when you begin to use the software: current and prior US visit dates, entry and exit dates, I-20 forms (for F-1 students) or DS-2019 forms (for J-1 students), I-94 record (white card stapled into your passport or printed from www.cbp.gov/i94), Passport, All pay documents (1042-S, W-2, 1099, etc.)
- For state taxes, consider using the online tax preparation software tool Sprintax, which you can access via GLACIER Tax Prep, to guide you through the state tax filing process and avoid late filing and/or late payment penalties and fines.
- Contact the IRS Taxpayer assistance number with specific questions at 215-516-2000 or 800-829-1040. Let the representative know that you are a "nonresident for tax purposes.” Or visit their website at www.irs.gov, References for Foreign Students and Scholars or Help with Tax Questions--International Taxpayers.
7. Other Important Information
- Tax treaties. There are tax treaties between the US and some foreign countries. This may mean that you can earn a certain amount of money without having to pay tax if your country has a treaty with the US. For more information about these treaties, read IRS Publication 901 (www.irs.gov). If you are working for Carnegie Mellon, you can also contact the HR Service Center to complete a Foreign National Information form to help determine treaty eligibility. When you look at Publication 901, be SURE to go to the relevant section for “Students and Apprentices.” You need to complete an 8233 form at the HR Service Center in order to benefit from these treaties in advance (i.e., keep the money from being withheld from your pay), and you must complete a new form each year in order to continue to benefit.
- W-2 forms from employer(s) and 1042-S from CMU. If you earned money in the US each employer must send you a W-2 form (or in the case of scholarships or treaty-exempted income a 1042-S.) When you complete your tax returns/forms, you must attach the correct section of these original documents to your tax forms (for both federal and state tax returns). Maintain a copy for your records. Important: Do not send your tax returns without attaching these original documents.
If you worked for Carnegie Mellon University in 2020 and did not receive your W-2, you can obtain a copy from Workday. If you no longer have access to Workday, submit a request by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Keep a copy of your tax return for future reference. The government can, and sometimes does, audit returns and contact taxpayers a year or more after the return was original filed.
- Social Security and FICA withholding. If you are a foreign student in F-1 or J-1 status and you are a nonresident for tax purposes, you are exempt from social security taxes (including Medicare tax.) If your employer has withheld social security taxes from you (check on your pay stub and the W-2 form), you should ask the employer to refund the taxes to you. If the employer can not, you can apply for a refund from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This process, which is separate from the annual tax filing requirement, can take up to 6 months through the IRS.
- Where to file? You will mail your federal, state and local tax returns to different US addresses. All tax forms (completed returns, W-2s and one or more 1042-S forms) are to be mailed together to the addresses listed in the instruction booklets. The correct address for each filing is listed under the section entitled "Where to File" in the instruction booklets.
- Hiring a tax preparer/accountant. If you want to hire a tax accountant, you can contact one of the commercial tax accounting firms listed in the phone book, or look online. If you are a nonresident for tax purposes, make sure the person is familiar with nonresident tax issues.
8. Completing Form 8843
Nonresidents for tax purposes who have no US-source income only need to file IRS Form 8843. Students complete the biographic information at the top of the form, Parts I and III on page one, and sign and date the form on page 2. Dependents, regardless of age, must also file Form 8843 and should complete the same sections as the student. Detailed instructions for completing the 8843 can be found on the IRS website.
Print and mail the form to:
Department of the Treasury
Internal Revenue Service Center
Austin, TX 73301-0215
9. Stimulus Checks Received in Error
During 2020, the US government sent out economic stimulus checks to tax residents. If you mistankenly received a check, perhaps because you mistankenly filed a prior year's tax return using TurboTax when you were a nonresident for tax purposes, you need to return the stimulus check.
Follow instructions on the IRS website. You also need to amend your prior year's return, if you haven't already, by filing the 1040X form. Additional assistance for filing an amended return may be available from GTP or Sprintax and can be found on the IRS website.
10. International Persons Who Are "Residents for Tax Purposes"
- Use FreeFile on the IRS website or purchase commercial tax preparation software (TurboTax, Tax Act, HR Block).
- Call the IRS Taxpayer assistance number with specific questions: 1-800-829-1040 or 215-516-2000. Or, visit their website at www.irs.gov.
- Seek out VITA volunteers. Help is also available from resident tax volunteers by appointment only at local libraries. Contact your local library for dates and times.
- Hire a tax preparer/accountant. If you want to hire a tax accountant, you can contact one of the commercial tax accounting firms listed in the phone book, or look online.
We would like to remind all students that tax season is a common time when criminals try to take advantage of people through scams.
If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from a government office (either the U.S. government or your own country’s government) who asks you for gift cards, wire transfers, checks, or cash—hang up and report the call to University Police or your local police office if you are not in Pittsburgh. The calls may seem legitimate as scammers can “spoof” telephone numbers. Remember, real U.S. government officials—immigration, tax, police—will NEVER call you and ask you to provide them with gift cards or ask you to wire transfer funds.
Do not provide personal information (Social Security, bank or credit card information, etc.) to anyone you do not know, on the phone or online, particularly if they have contacted you.