Tax Overview for International Students
The information provided here is intended to give you a general sense of taxpaying requirements. All international students are required to file tax forms with the United States tax department (Internal Revenue Service) and possibly with the New York State tax department if they were present in the US during the previous calendar year. For example, if you were in the United States as an international student from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2012, you need to file tax forms in spring or fall 2013. If you came to the US in 2013, you will file forms in spring or fall next year for calendar year 2014.
If you were present in the US during 2012, tax forms must be filed by April 15, 2013 whether or not you earned income in the United States during the 2012 calendar year. You must have a Social Security number or a Tax ID number to file tax forms in the US.
US tax law is extremely complex and each student's situation varies. Staff at the International Student Programs office are not qualified to answer individual questions from students regarding their specific tax liabilities, but can refer you to resources to help you with taxes in the US. It is the responsibility of each international student to understand his or her own tax situation.
FEDERAL INCOME TAXES
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is the United States government agency responsible for the collection of federal income taxes. All non-immigrants in F or J status (both the principal and all dependents) are required to file an individual income tax form-even if they have no US source income of any kind-if they were in the US during the tax year. The tax year begins January 1st and ends Dec. 31. As the penalties for failure to file are severe, you should read this section carefully.
If you or your dependents hold F or J (student category) immigration status, usually you are considered a nonresident for tax purposes for a period of five "tax years". If you enter the United States at any time during the tax year - in August, for example - the entire year is counted toward the five years during which you must file as a nonresident for tax purposes.
If you were in the US during the 2012 tax year, but did not earn any money, you need to file form 8843 no later than April 15, 2013. If you were in the US during the 2012 tax year and you earned money, you need to file form 8843 and 1040NREZ or 1040NR no later than April 17, 2012. Download the tax resources information sheet for more information.
You can download the federal tax forms from the following website: www.irs.gov
NEW YORK STATE INCOME TAXES
If you worked in New York State in 2012, you might also have to file New York State income tax forms.
Do I have to file New York state income tax forms?
If you filed form 8843, you do NOT have to file New York state income tax forms.
If you earned more than $7,500 (or $15,000 for Married joint filing) in income and /or you want a refund of the taxes you paid to New York state, file form IT-203 by April 15, 2013.
You can download New York state tax forms from the following website: www.tax.ny.gov
Withholding is the term used to describe a portion of your check amount that an employer is required to pay directly to federal, state, and city taxation authorities. The check you receive, therefore, is for less than you earned during the pay period. The amounts withheld are credited toward your tax bill so that most taxpayers will have to pay relatively little additional money at annual tax filing time and many will qualify for a refund of money over-withheld.
If you will be on the SUNY New Paltz payroll, you should receive and complete a W-4 form before receiving the first paycheck. The W-4 is an extremely important form. Completing it incorrectly could mean that you will owe taxes when filing tax returns in April.
Currently the US has tax treaties or agreements with roughly 40 countries and territories under which their citizens may be tax exempt from all or part of US income tax. To see if your country is among these and how a treaty may affect your tax status, check IRS publication #901 US Tax Treaties.
Definitions for Federal Tax Purposes
Alien - A term used by the Internal Revenue Service for an individual who is not a US citizen.
Exempt Individual - A person not subject to the Substantial Presence test (see below) which determines whether someone files as a resident or nonresident. Many students incorrectly believe this means they are not required to file a tax return and/or pay taxes.
Substantial Presence Test (SPT) - A formula devised by the Internal Revenue Service to determine whether a nonimmigrant is a resident or nonresident for tax purposes.
Internal Revenue Service - Also known as the IRS, this is the federal agency responsible for collecting taxes and enforcing tax reporting and collection laws. It is a division of the Treasury Department.
Nonimmigrant - An individual with a permanent residence abroad who is in the United States for a primary purpose that is temporary, such as those in J-1 or F-1 immigration status.
Nonresident - An individual who is in the United States for a temporary purpose of a relatively short nature (usually less than five years). Although required to file a tax return annually, only income from US sources is taxed.
Resident - An individual who is a US citizen, a US permanent resident or a nonimmigrant who has been in the United States sufficient time to qualify to file as a resident. Residency is determined by the Substantial Presence Test.
Social Security - A term used to describe an agency, a card and two types of tax. The Social Security Administration (SSA) is a government agency housed in the Department of Health and Human Services. The card contains a unique nine-digit identification number issued to qualified individuals primarily to determine eligibility for social benefits through various forms of employment. The number on the card is also used for tax record keeping. The taxes, known as FICA (Federal Insurance Contribution Act) and Medicare, are withheld from employment income to later provide for retirement. The actual amount withheld from a paycheck for FICA is 7.65% of total earnings to a certain salary level. Students with F-1 and J-1 Status are not required to pay these taxes.
Tax Treaty - An agreement between the United States and another country to determine how the country's residents will be taxed when temporarily in the United States. (In this case, resident refers to tax residency.) A treaty can give certain tax benefits. Please note: tax treaties are lengthy, complicated and very specific. Just because someone is a resident of a tax treaty country does not mean that the person will automatically qualify for tax benefits.
Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) - An individual may not be eligible for a social security number, which is routinely issued only to US citizens, US permanent residents and non-immigrants with legal work permission. In that case, the nonimmigrant must apply to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) which assigns a unique nine-digit code for tax-related purposes. This generally applies to F-2 dependents.
Withholding - Withholding is the term used to describe a portion of your check amount that an employer is required to pay directly to federal, state, and city taxation authorities The check you receive, therefore, is for less than you earned during the pay period. The amounts withheld are credited toward your tax bill so that most taxpayers will have to pay relatively little additional money at annual tax filing time and many will qualify for a refund of money over-withheld.
April 15, 2013 - The last day to file tax forms with the US government if you are a resident or a nonresident who earned money in the US in 2012 AND the last day to file tax forms for a resident or nonresident who did not earn any money in the US in 2012.
FICA - A separate tax issue is Social Security tax, also known as FICA. A 1984 tax law determined that F-1 and J-1 students are responsible for FICA taxes in some situations, dependent on the length of time that a student has been in the United States. However, students enrolled in and employed by an academic institution are exempt from Social Security taxes for that employment. In general, students who are in F-1 or J-1 immigration status are exempt for FICA taxes on other types of authorized employment during the first five years in the US, during which time they are classified as "nonresident aliens" for tax purposes. [26 USC 3121(b)(19)].
If FICA has been withheld in error, the employer must provide a refund. The employer applies for reimbursement by filing a claim on form 941C with IRS. However, if you are unable to obtain a refund in this way, file a claim on form 843 with the Internal Revenue Office to which your employer pays Social Security taxes.
If Social Security tax was withheld in error and your employer is a state or local government organization, including educational institutions, you can request a refund from the local government employer or school administrator.
Social Security Numbers - International Students may apply for a Social Security number if they receive an offer of employment on campus or if they are on authorized Curricular Practical Training, Optional Practical Training or Academic Training. You must submit your application in person at a Social Security Administration office. If you are not on authorized Practical Training or Academic Training, you will need to get a letter from the International Student Programs office, Van den Berg Hall 201, to facilitate your application.
Social Security Administration
332 Main St., Suite 1
Poughkeepsie, NY 12601
The Social Security card issued to nonresident students may specify that it is "valid only with employment authorization." Students may use this card number if employment has been properly authorized by USCIS or the International Student Advisor.