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Tax FAQs

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.

Even if you did not earn any income, if you were physically in the U.S. on F or J status anytime between    January 1st – December 31st, 2023, you are obligated to file a Form 8843 with the IRS (the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. tax authorities).

Meanwhile, if you earned any taxable US source income, you may need to file a federal tax return with the IRS. Depending on your individual circumstances, you may also need to file a state tax return(s).

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 who received taxable income must also file a state income tax form. Learn more about Sprintax.

OISS also sponsors virtual tax workshops led by a local tax expert.  Please attend an OISS Sponsored Tax Workshop for additional guidance.

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 2023. 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).  Read more about Sprintax.

 

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 2023. 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.

Can international students use Turbotax?

No. We are aware that some  F-1 international students have chosen TurboTax to manage their tax returns, but Turbotax is a service for U.S. residents.

While TurboTax – the biggest online tax preparation service in the US – offers a fantastic product that helps millions of U.S. residents prepare their taxes and claim refunds, their offering can only be used by U.S. residents.

If you do use TurboTax to file your US taxes, you will be filing as a U.S. resident. This means your tax return will be inaccurate and you may be subject to fines and penalties.

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 who 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.

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.

Important

 OISS staff are not qualified or allowed to answer any tax-related questions or provide individual tax advice beyond the information provided on our webpage. The information provided is intended as a helpful general resource. Any questions or concerns should be directed to Sprintax, a certified tax preparer or the IRS (Internal Revenue Service).