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Tax FAQs & Common Scenarios

Do I really need to file taxes?

YES! ALL international students and scholars who were in the U.S. for any period of time during any calendar year must file a federal tax return. And some international students and scholars will need to file an Illinois state tax return.

What is the basic background of U.S. taxes? I just don't understand it.

When students get a paycheck from a campus job, or Graduate Assistantship (or get a scholarship or tuition waiver in exchange for performing services for a college or earn interest on an account at a local bank), you may owe income tax to the US government and to one or more states.

For example, if a student is supposed to make $300 in a month, his or her paycheck is always a little bit less than the actual wages (like maybe $250) because an estimated amount of tax has been “withheld” from it.  Students need to fill out and mail in tax forms to the IRS (or file the forms electronically) for any year in which they received taxable income by April 15 of the following year.

If more tax was withheld than the student owes, he or she will receive a refund. If more tax is owed, it must be paid when the return is due. When filling out tax forms, students will include information on how much money they made, how much money was already taken out in “tax withholding” from their paychecks, how long they’ve been in the US, and what country they are from.

After completing the federal tax forms using Sprintax, students can fill state tax forms with Sprintax on their own (for an additional fee).  Note that your Sprintax access code covers the only services for federal tax forms. Not all states have an income tax, and the tax laws for the states that do are considerably different, but the general rule is that any state return you must file is due on the same date as the US return.  Illinois is a state that has a state income tax, so students in Illinois must also file a state income tax form.

When will I receive my Sprintax access code?

The OISS anticipates sending instructions and access codes to F-1/J-1 students and scholars by the end of February. The information and access codes will be sent via email.

I am an international student/scholar, and I did not have job or any other earned income in 2021. Do I still need to file?

Yes, you still have to complete a basic form, the IRS Form 8843.

  • All F-1 and J-1 students (and their F-2/J-2 dependents), are required to file the IRS Form 8843 regardless of whether they have income in the U.S. or not for the first 5 calendar years they are in the U.S.
  • All J-1 non-students and their J-2 dependents, are required to file the IRS Form 8843 regardless of whether they have income in the U.S. or not for the first 2 calendar years they are in the U.S. in a 7-year period. 
  • Utilize Sprintax to generate and complete the Form 8843. Once you create your account with Sprintax (after you receive your access code from OISS), Sprintax will generate a completed Form 8843 for you and each of your dependents (if you have any). 

 

I had income from a campus job last year. Where can I find my W-2 form?

NU typically posts W-2 forms on the HR website by the end of January. A Form W-2 issued to those who earned employment income from Northwestern. Employment income includes any income from an on-campus job, assistantship wages, temporary wages, supplemental payments, teaching and research wages.   This does not include any income exempt from taxes under a tax treaty or non-employment wages such as scholarship/fellowship.

What is a Form 1042-S?

Northwestern issues a Form 1042-S to nonresidents receiving scholarship/fellowship, independent contractor, royalties, prizes and award payments and any payments receiving tax treaty benefits.  Payroll mails them by March 15 of the following year for use in preparing annual tax returns.  Once a student becomes a tax resident, they are no longer issued a 1042-S for these income types unless they are on a tax treaty. 
See NU's Human Resources webpage with Form 1042-S Information for more details.

I am an international student or scholar who worked for Northwestern University in 2021. How can I learn more about what tax forms I will receive?

Please consult the Tax Information for Foreign National on Northwestern's Human Resources website.

What is a ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) and do I need one?

Nonresidents who will receive stipends from a scholarship or fellowship, but will not be employed, such as a graduate assistantship or temporary employment, will not be eligible for a SSN and must instead apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).  Students that receive an ITIN and later become eligible for a Social Security Number, because of employment such as assistantships or temporary employment, must apply for a SSN and cancel their ITIN.

For full information, please consult the Social Security & Tax Identification Numbers section of Northwestern's HR website.

Do I need an ITIN if I have a Social Security Number?

No. An ITIN is issued if you do not have an do not qualify for an SSN. If you have already applied and received your SSN, you do not need to apply for an ITIN. You must use your SSN instead.

I worked for Northwestern (or for another employer) in 2021, and I received a Form W-2 -OR- I received both a Form W-2 and Form 1042-S.

What am I required to to file?

An individual who was employed by a U.S. employer and received a Form W-2 generally is required to file a Federal Income Tax Return and a State Income Tax Return. State Tax Returns may be required for each state in which you were employed. We will cover information specific to Illinois.

The correct tax forms to be filed depend on an individuals residency status for tax purposes. Sprintax Tax Prep will determine your residency for tax purposes and only files tax returns for non-residents. If  SprintaxTax Prep determines you are a resident for tax purposes, you will not be able to use Sprintax Tax Prep, and will need to file using publicly available resources. For more information, visit www.irs.gov/filing.

Federal Tax Return: All nonresident aliens for tax purposes who earned income in the U.S. in 2021 must complete and file the Form 1040NR. Sprintax will prepare these forms and provide instructions to you for submitting your return to the IRS. All nonresident aliens are also required to complete and submit Form 8843 as well.

State Tax Return: All nonresident aliens for tax purposes who earned income in the state of Illinois in 2021 must complete and file Illinois Form 1040. If you worked in another state in 2021, then you will need to file a return for that state. A few reminders when filing Illinois Form 1040:

  • After you finish your federal return, Sprintax will inform you if you need to complete a state tax return. If so, you will have the option to use Sprintax for an additional fee. However, it is your choice to use the software or to prepare and file the state tax return on your own.

  • If you do not have an Illinois Drivers License, you may not e-file the IL-1040, and will need to fill out and submit a paper form.If you do not have a U.S. SSN or ITIN, you should leave that BLANK in Step 1, Part A of the IL-1040 form.
  • State of Illinois Schedule NR is used for individuals who earned income in a state other than Illinois in 2020 (this form does not indicate someone who lived outside of the U.S.)

  • When completing IL-1040, Step 2, Line 1 asks for Adjusted Gross Income from your Federal 1040NR:
    • Adjusted Gross Income can be found on Federal Form 1040NR on line 11.
  • Illinois Income Tax is automatically withheld from wage (W-2) income only. Income report on Form 1042-S will not have Illinois Income Tax withheld and the tax on this income is the individual taxpayer's responsibility, as applicable.
  • You are an Illinois resident if you were domiciled in Illinois for the entire year. Your domicile is the place where you reside and the place where you intend to return after temporary absences.
  • Step 10 of IL-1040 will indicate if you are owed a refund or owe taxes -- please ensure you have calculated your overpayment or underpayment in one of those boxes.
  • Deadline:  Both Federal and State Tax Returns must be filed by April 18, 2022.

Who is considered "Resident" or "Nonresident" for federal tax purposes?

  • Generally, most international students and scholars who are on F and J visas are considered nonresidents for tax purposes. International students on J-1 and F-1 visas are considered nonresident for their first five calendar years in the US.
  • Scholars/Researchers on J-1 visas are considered nonresidents for two out of the last six calendar years in the U.S.
  • The Sprintax software will determine your residency status in step one after you create your account. 
  • If you have been in the U.S. for longer than the five (students) or two (scholars) year periods, the "Substantial Presence Test" will determine your tax residency.

I am a nonresident student who received scholarship/fellowship income and did not receive a W-2 -OR- I have a 1042-S and/or I have scholarship/fellowship income that is exempt from taxes under a tax treaty and do not have a W-2.

What am I required to file?

Payments for scholarship/fellowships as well as wages paid under a tax treaty are reported on Form 1042-S, which are prepared and mailed from the university in late-February. For questions regarding the 1042-S, contact the Office of Payroll. An individual who received a 1042-S for 2021 is required to file a Federal Tax Return and a State Tax Return.

The correct tax forms to be filed depend on an individuals residency status for tax purposes. Sprintax Tax Prep will determine your residency for tax purposes and only files for non-residents. If Sprintax determines you are a resident for tax purposes, you will not be able to use Sprintax, and will need to file using publicly available resources. For more information, visit www.irs.gov/filing.

Federal Tax Return: All nonresident aliens for tax purposes who earned income in the U.S. in 2021 must complete and file the Form 1040NR.  Sprintax will prepare these forms and provide instructions to you for submitting your return to the IRS. All nonresident alien students are also required to complete and submit Form 8843 as well.

State Tax Return: All nonresident aliens for tax purposes who earned income in the state of Illinois in 2021 must complete and file Illinois Form 1040. If you worked in another state in 2021, then you will need to file a return for that state. A few reminders when filing Illinois Form 1040:

  • If you do not have an Illinois Drivers License, you may not e-file the IL-1040, and will need to fill out and submit a paper form.
  • If you do not have a U.S. SSN or ITIN, you should leave that BLANK in Step 1, Part A of the IL-1040 form.
  • State of Illinois Schedule NR is used for individuals who earned income in a state other than Illinois in 2021 (this form does not indicate someone who lived outside of the U.S.)
  • When completing IL-1040, Step 2, Line 1 asks for Adjusted Gross Income from your Federal 1040NR:
    • Adjusted Gross Income can be found on Federal Form 1040NR on line 11.
  • Illinois Income Tax is automatically withheld from wage (W-2) income only. Income reported on Form 1042-S will not have Illinois Income Tax withheld and the tax on this income is the individual taxpayer's responsibility, as applicable.
  • You are an Illinois resident if you were domiciled in Illinois for the entire year. Your domicile is the place where you reside and the place where you intend to return after temporary absences. 
  • Step 10 of IL-1040 will indicate if you are owed a refund or owe taxes -- please ensure you have calculated your overpayment or underpayment in one of those boxes.