finances, resources

How To File Your Taxes

February 23, 2015

orphan survival guide - social media - how to file your taxes

If you haven’t filed your taxes and FAFSA yet, go do it now!

The longer you wait to file your taxes, the longer it’ll take for them to process!

I have friends who filed in January and got their returns in less than a week. I had to wait for about a dozen tuition statements, 1099s, and W-2s this year, so I filed later than I wanted to and I still don’t have an estimated return date. I filed on the 8th and my return showed up on the 17th.

And the longer you wait to file your FAFSA, the less financial aid you’ll receive!

A lot of financial aid is first come, first serve. Even if you can’t file your taxes yet, at least file an Estimated Income on your FAFSA so you can get your app in before it’s too late.

There are two great resources to file your taxes when you have basic returns: free help from accountants in training, and online services that walk you through everything.

I checked out the free tax assistance this year to see what it was like, but ended up going with the tried-and-true online filing system I’ve used for years, which creepily greets me now.

Orphan Survival Guide - File Your Taxes

Calm down, TurboTax.

Free Tax Assistance

If you’re a broke college student, you (probably) qualify for free tax preparation! No need to worry about knowing how to file your taxes; people will do all the work for you!

In a lot of cities, accounting students and recent grads work with a program that offers free tax preparation. My public library hosts this every year, and even though they offer it two or three times a week for months at a time, there are always hours-long waits because so many take advantage of this. (Be sure to bring all your paperwork, a book, and your lunch. You’ll be waiting a while.)

I went to the VITA people last weekend but after waiting a while they told me I was disqualified from receiving free tax assistance because I work from home.

If you were considering having tax preparers file your forms for free, be sure none of the following applies to you:

  • single with income more than $55k
  • married, filing joint, with a total income of more than $55k
  • self-employed with inventory/expenses greater than $10k or a business loss
  • using your home for business and declaring part of your home as a business expense (i.e., declaring a home office)
  • a farm owner with a farm that generated income
  • in the military and had moving expenses or non-taxable combat pay

I worked from home for about 70% of my income last year and I had to declare self-employment income (which makes you owe so much precious money), so I wanted to capitalize on those home office deductions this year. However, that disqualified me from getting free tax assistance.

You can file your taxes on paper and mail them in yourself, but the calculations get complicated for me so I like to have a little guidance.

After being rejected by VITA, I did what I do every year: I filed online by myself.

Filing Taxes Online

TurboTax charges a lot of weird fees–and they seem to change their fees daily so this post is probably already outdated–so I thought I’d see what the other online tax software offered. Keep in mind, I’m not a tax expert, so I went with the easiest means of filing my taxes–but rest assured, you don’t have to know much about how to file your taxes to do it online.

PCMag has a chart that shows which features each software offers, from which forms you can file on your phone to how you can receive support. The Simple Dollar breaks down each of the sites and gives more background information to help you make decisions based on what you need to do. It also has a chart telling you how much each one costs.


TaxHawk lets you file federal for free and state for $13, and I used it a few years ago when I didn’t feel like paying the TurboTax fees. It’s nowhere near as high-tech as the others–it is almost exactly like filing with paper, but you’re typing in a form instead of hand-writing.

It’s meant for simple returns. I couldn’t file with Tax Hawk because I entered a form number that it just wouldn’t accept and I couldn’t move on.


TaxACT is a cheap option, offering a free federal filing and about a $15 state filing. It’s great if you’re filing a simple return with W-2s and tuition statements. It didn’t fit my needs because I had a lot of self-employment things to enter.

H&R Block

H&R Block has an online filing option, but I didn’t try it out this year because I’d wasted enough time on the first two that I just wanted to get it done and over with. From what I’ve read, it’s got a lot of great features, which is good because they’re one of the pricier options. The feature that stands out the most about the H&R Block option is that you can get in-person assistance at any of their offices.


Ultimately, I went with TurboTax just like I have every other year. It’s really intuitive and walks you through everything. It’s the right fit for me because it covers all the items I need and They also have a lot of features built in to make filing go quicker. When I started my current job, it pulled my statements from ADP and it keeps track of what you’ve filed every year so you don’t have to re-type everything over and over again.

When I say TurboTax walks you through everything, I mean it. Every step has a help guide and each page is in simple language to help you understand why you’re seeing it.

Why You Shouldn’t File Your Taxes On Your Own

By which I mean, don’t just get the paper form and do everything by hand. There are a lot of places I got stuck this year because I had so many forms to enter, and it was really helpful having something (or someone) guide me through what I needed to do with them.

Home Office Deductions

This was what disqualified me from VITA help. Because I work from home, I can claim my workspace–which is great because it gets me a few deductions that help offset all the taxes I owe for self-employment income.

Orphan Survival Guide - File Your Taxes


This is one that may trip up a lot of students: can you count your textbooks? And if so, how much of it can you claim? Since all of my fees are included in my tuition statement, I have nothing left to claim for my education. I can’t claim any of the textbooks I bought for classes, which is yet another reason to spend as little as possible on textbooks. Check out my textbook shopping guide to see how you can save!

Orphan Survival Guide - File Your Taxes

Education Credits

This is my favorite part of being a student. As I went through my taxes, my return started dipping lower and lower until I started owing money. I was ready to quit freelancing because how on earth could I not get a return even though I had extra taxes taken out of my day job?

Orphan Survival Guide - File Your Taxes

(Forgive the poor quality; I couldn’t capture the whole screen so I pasted the text into Word.)

Thankfully, TurboTax listed the education credits I qualified for and helped me pick the one that would boost my return. Only then did I actually see my return pull up out of the negative.

When You’re Done, File Your FAFSA Immediately!

Seriously, the longer you wait, the less money you’ll get. Head over to and apply for financial aid.

Remember,this is the FREE Application for Federal Student Aid. If you’re on a website that’s charging you $80 to file your FREE application, then you’re being scammed.

Next year I’ll have even more 1099 info to fill out, so it may be time for me to move on from TurboTax and start using an actual accountant. What’s the worst part about filing your taxes?

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