Tag Archives: work

Five Tips for Filing Your Taxes

By Colette Au

Since taxes aren’t due until April 15th, 2018, filing your 2017 fiscal year taxes might seem a long way away, but I’ve already started preparing for it. I’m in charge of USC Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), a student-run club that is part of a nation-wide IRS volunteering program. We provide free tax preparation services to low- and middle-income individuals and families, including international students and residents living in the neighborhood around USC. If you’re like most students, you probably haven’t needed to file your own tax return (or perhaps your parents did it for you). Although I’m not allowed to give tax advice because most advice is very situational, here are a few tips for students doing taxes for the first time:

  1. If you’re working an on-campus job this year, look out for a W-2

Form W-2 is a slip of paper that employers give you that lists your wages and any taxes withheld for the year. You’ll need this information to input on your tax return, so make sure you save it when it comes in the mail (usually in January or February). For students working on campus, you can elect to download a copy from Workday. If you work multiple jobs, you will have multiple W-2s. Note: if you’re self-employed (for example, doing some freelance work on the side), you’re still supposed to report income, even if the transactions are in cash.

  1. Keep track of your educational expenses

Did you know that it’s possible to lower your tax bill by deducting the cost of required textbooks? Make sure you save your receipts from the Bookstore, because you might be able to shave a couple hundred dollars off of your taxes if you owe anything. However, the tuition and fees deduction isn’t available for people that the IRS calls “non-resident aliens” (most international students). There are also education credits for people who are paying tuition out-of-pocket, and USC will send you a form called Form 1098-T so you can report that information on your tax return.

  1. There are different returns for residents and non-residents

If you’re an international student, don’t make the mistake of not checking if you’re a resident or not. Most international students are considered “non-resident aliens” because they are “exempt individuals” (IRS jargon) and have a different set of tax forms. The IRS uses a residency test to determine if you’re a resident for tax purposes, which you can read more about here.

  1. You might not have to file! But you need to check if you do

Generally, if you’re working an on-campus job, you are only required to file if you make more than a few thousand dollars. Even if you don’t need to file, you should consider filing a return in order to get a tax refund. The IRS has an article called Publication 501 about filing requirements here. If your employer deducts more taxes from your paychecks than you owe at the end of the year, you can get your money back!  

  1. Take advantage of USC resources

If you don’t want to put in the time and effort to learn how to do your taxes on your own, save yourself the hassle. If you meet the income limits, you can get your taxes done by free by students! Most students working in the VITA program are accounting majors like me, and some of us actually enjoy learning about the American tax system.

In summary, filing your taxes in the U.S. can be very complicated. There are exceptions to almost every rule so you have to be careful and assess the facts of your own financial situation before you can correctly file your taxes. If you’re feeling lost in the tax system, it’s okay to ask for help. In fact, it’s better that you do because that last thing you want is the IRS coming after you for filing your taxes incorrectly.

Featured image by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Originally from Portland, Oregon, Colette is a junior in the Leventhal School of Accounting and Marshall School of Business. Born to immigrant parents from mainland China and Hong Kong, she is no stranger to bridging lingual and cultural gaps. As her high school offered an international boarding program, she made friends with classmates from all over the world. At USC, Colette participates in several service-oriented clubs on campus, including as president of Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and an e-board member of Project 32 Tutoring. Singing, playing piano and guitar, and eating all kinds of foods (especially dessert) are some of her favorite hobbies. In summer 2018, she will be interning in San Jose at Deloitte, a public accounting firm.

Summer at Home

By Harrison Poe

Hot, dry, and sunny – the seasons in Los Angeles have little difference, but the summer in my hometown of Houston, Texas is its own unique spectacle. Summer storms create steamy days with both the temperature and humidity cranked up to one hundred percent. The climate serves as a perfect breeding ground for the mosquitoes who come out to feed during the cool evenings. However, despite the oppressive climate and having to bring two shirts with me everywhere I go, the heat allowed me to forge great memories during my summers in Houston.

I can remember when I was little, walking to my neighbors’ house to pick the figs off of their backyard tree in early June. Years of growth and care had caused the tree to expand across the back corner of our neighbor’s backyard, and this yearly ritual provided my sister and I with enough fruit to last us until the next summer. We were always greeted with a warm smile and a hug as we scurried, buckets in hand, towards our fruity symbol of summer. Throughout the rest of the summer the figs would make their way into salads, preservatives, desserts, and ultimately, our stomachs, and over time summer simply wasn’t summer without the ripe fruit on the dinner table.

As I grew older, the summer brought with it music festivals, exciting vacations, and road trips with friends but, with age, came hard work. The summer after my junior year of high school my dad insisted I spend some time working at the family business. Since my great-grandfather opened Carl Poe Company, my family has been repairing gas meters and selling their parts for over fifty-five years. So, instead of having a nice office job or internship like some of my friends, I labored in the oven-like workshop disassembling gas meters for repair. It wasn’t lazy days spent by the pool or the thrilling vacation I’d desired, but it was a much needed lesson, even if I didn’t realize it at the time. Those sweaty hours of swinging a hammer and dismantling meters with my pneumatic screwdriver taught me the importance of preparing for the future. Though I arrived begrudgingly everyday at eight o’clock at the forceful request of my father, the job provided me with experience I’d need when applying to future jobs, not to mention a little extra cash.

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The Commuter Life: Riding Metrolink

By Pleres Choi

Believe it or not, Los Angeles does have a train system. Within LA, there is the light rail (mostly) underground metro system, and, for those who must commute from outside LA, there is Metrolink. If you ever need to use Metrolink, I would suggest packing a whole lot of patience and your smartphone (with your social media apps in tow); because, the truth is, your time will always be at the mercy of this public transportation option.

Photo by Pedro Szekely on Flickr

This summer was the first time I’ve had to commute daily to work using Metrolink, “Southern California’s premier regional passenger rail system.” My daily starting point always began at the Buena Park station and my final stop at Union Station in L.A., giving me approximately thirty minutes inside the train. But, when the train would arrive at Buena Park and, consequently, when I would arrive at Union Station was an entirely different matter, and unfortunately completely out of my hands.

According to my summer experience, I learned that you have to be incredibly forgiving and flexible with your time. My train frequently arrived late at Buena Park, anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour late. We commuters had no idea when such a delay would occur, although many of us soon learned to usually expect at least some delay. And yet, a daily commuter cannot ever risk the chance of herself/himself arriving even a minute late to the station, since Metrolink does warn that the train could arrive “up to five minutes ahead of schedule” (though obviously not too frequently).

It doesn’t end here. When I use the Metrolink to commute from L.A. to home, it happens to be incredibly precise with its schedule, leaving Union Station exactly on time, unforgiving of a few extra minutes. Of course, this is Metrolink simply doing its job right. But there have been more than a few times when I sprinted to the train as fast as my legs would allow, only to have its doors shut in my face for having arrived fifteen seconds too late. During these times, I think to myself, “if only you were so punctual when coming to pick me up!!!”

So…why then do I still choose to commute to L.A. with Metrolink, you may ask.

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