Archive for January, 2018

  • Here’s everything you need to know about the W-2 tax form

    Your questions answered!

    The tax filing deadline is on the horizon and quickly approaching! And most employees are now on the lookout for their W-2 tax form. But why is this little form so important?

    Here’s everything you need to know.

     

    What is a W-2 Form and why do I need it?

    The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires every employer that is engaged in a trade or business, and that pays remuneration for services performed by an employee, to file a Form W-2 for each employee.

    You will find the W-2 Form to be very useful when you are filing your end of year tax return. The form includes  important details regarding your total gross earnings including wages, tips and taxable fringe benefits, Social Security earnings, Medicare earnings, and the Federal and State tax that is withheld.

     

    How do I read a W-2?

    The information is divided into different sections on the form.

    For example, in Box 1 you will find information about your annual wage and salary payments, together with the amount of federal tax withheld from it in Box 2. Other boxes on the W-2 form such as 3, 4, 5 and 6 include your wages subject to Medicare tax, Social Security tax and the amount of these taxes withheld from your income. Boxes 15 to 20 provide information about each state you worked in, state income subject to tax in this state, and the amounts of state and local taxes withheld, if applicable.

    Important elements like your name, surname, address and SSN or ITIN (social security number or individual taxpayer identification number) as well as your employer’s EIN (employer’s identification number) are also included on the form.

    Note: While you read your W-2, always double check that the information is correct. If you find any errors, inform your employer immediately about the mistakes so they can amend them before you start your yearly tax return.

     

    When is the deadline?

    Your employer must provide you with your W-2 form by 31 January after the end of the tax year to which it relates (for example, you must receive your W-2 form by 31 January 2018 for the year ending on 31 December 2017).

     

    What if I still haven’t received my W-2?

    If this deadline has passed and you still have not received your W-2 form from your employer, you should contact them immediately to confirm that it was sent and that it was dispatched to the right address. Your employer may also provide your copy via a secure link online.

    Alternatively, you can contact the IRS or use Sprintax offline services provided by our team of tax professionals.

     

    Got all your income documents?

    Good for you!

    If you have received your W-2 Form, as well as any other required income documents (such as 1042-S or 1099’s) you can use Sprintax to prepare your tax returns online. Last year Sprintax assisted approximately 100,000 international students, scholars and non-resident professionals with their tax returns. What’s more, 90% of those that had a Federal filing requirement were also due a refund!

    Get started with Sprintax today and our live chat team will guide you through your tax return!

     

     

  • GOP Tax Reform and its effects on the taxation of foreign students and other non-resident aliens

    We examine how the bill effects the tax obligations of US non-residents

    In November 2017, President Donald Trump introduced a GOP tax reform bill that will have wide ranging consequences for all US tax payers.

    There has been much confusion surrounding the new bill and tax payers have been keen to work out what the changes will mean for their pockets.

    Below we take a look at how the bill will affect the future tax obligations of US non-residents. Most of the changes have taken effect from January, 2018 and will change methods of withholding and the way non-residents will be taxed throughout 2018.

    It’s important to note that these amendments do not affect the 2017 tax return filing season.

    Changes to the current tax law:

    1) Personal exemption will be waived in full

    Permanent amendment

    Effective date: 31 December 2017

    This change means that the personal exemption available for all non-residents to decrease taxable income is reduced from $4,050 in 2017 to $0 in 2018 for all individuals (residents and non-residents).

    In other words, overall taxable income has increased for all non-residents

    2) Standard deductions increase from $6,350 to $12,000

    Permanent amendment

    Effective date: 31 December 2017

    This change will only effect students and trainees from India who are covered by an income tax treaty between the US and India. From the 2018 tax year onwards, they will be able to claim higher standard deductions on their non-resident form.

    All other non-residents are not entitled to avail of standard deductions.

    3) Tuition waivers for tuition and books under Section 529(c) for university students (education next to secondary) will be taxable in full

    Permanent amendment

    Effective date: 31 December 2017

    In previous tax years, tuition waivers under 529(c) were considered non-taxable and non-reportable. They were treated in a similar fashion as scholarships under Section 117.

    However, this will no longer be the case. The Tuition waiver is now taxable as of the 2018 tax year. Scholarships under section 117 will remain non-taxable and non-reportable.

    4) SALT (State and Local Taxes) will be retained for the tax years 2018 to 2025 (inclusive), but they are capped at $10,000 ($5,000 for married people who file separately)

    Temporary amendment for tax years 2018 to 2025 (inclusive)

    Effective date: 31 December 2016

    Most non-residents (including students and other exchange visitors) can only use SALT as an itemized deduction on their Schedule A, 1040NR form or line 11, 1040NR-EZ form. The State and Local Taxes (SALT) deduction decreases taxable income by the amount paid to state and local tax government during the tax year.

    This change sets a cap on SALT deductions to $10,000 which may not affect the deduction most of the students and scholars are eligible for. However, some non-residents paying larger state and local taxes may be unable to use all of them as a deduction.

    5) State taxes paid for previous tax years during the current tax year are no longer allowed

    Permanent amendment

    Effective date: 31 December 2016

    Under the former terms of SALT, individuals could claim state taxes for previous years that they were paying for in the current tax year. In other words, if a student paid their 2015 and 2016 state taxes during the 2017 tax year, they could claim that this added to SALT.

    However, this will no longer be allowed from the 2018 tax year.

    6) Miscellaneous itemized deductions are not allowed

    Temporary amendment for tax years 2018 to 2025 (inclusive)

    Effective date: 31 December 2017

    Expenses under section – Job Expenses and Certain Miscellaneous Deductions, at Schedule A include:

    • Unreimbursed employee expenses (2106 form)
    • Tax preparation fees
    • Other expenses (investment expenses, deposit box and etc)

    Most students are not allowed to use itemized deductions (except for tax preparation fees and SALT). Additionally, some teachers, researchers and other cultural exchange visitors are eligible in some cases to use business expenses and expenses for professional equipment.

    But from 2018 onwards, all of these expenses – tax preparation and business expenses – are not allowed for all resident and non-resident individuals.

    7) Moving expenses are not allowed, except if a taxpayer is an employee of the US Armed Forces

    Temporary amendment for tax years 2018 to 2025 (inclusive)

    Effective date: 31 December 2017

    Moving expenses (which are not covered by the employer) for starting a new job in the US, used to be allowed as a deduction. Usually, this deduction could not be granted to a student, however many teachers and researchers were entitled to avail of it.

    But from the 2018 tax year, this deduction is suspended.

    8) Expenses for personal casualty loss and theft are not allowed, except if they are under disaster area rules

    Temporary amendment for tax years 2018 to 2025 (inclusive)

    Effective date: 31 December 2017

    While expenses for personal casualty loss and theft are very rare among students and exchange visitors, this cohort had been entitled to them. This will no longer be the case from the 2018 tax year onwards.

    9) Change of the treatment of effectively connected income for non-residents: “effectively connected with the conduct of a trade or business within the United States (within the meaning of section 864(c), determined by substituting ‘qualified trade or business (within the meaning of section 199A)’ for ‘non-resident alien individual”

    Permanent amendment

    Effective date: 31 December 2017

    From the 2018 tax year onwards, ‘qualified trade or business’ will not include ‘trade or business of performing services as a non-resident employee’.

    This change is likely to have a noticeable effect on most non-residents income in regards to the option to treat FDAP (Fixed, Determinable, Annual or Periodic) income as affectively connected. This change will mainly affect Procedure 88-24, however it may also effect the tax rates for employment income.

    The IRS will be supplying further details on this change in the near future.

    10) Withholding on employee income by the employer

    Permanent amendment

    Effective date: 31 December 2017

    While the certificate of allowance (currently W-4) will remain the same for 2018, the calculation of the amount to be withheld was changed from 1 January 2018.

    The changes surrounds ‘Notice 1036’. The main change detailed (so far) is that standard deductions allowable will be the only eligible deduction considered before the monthly (periodical) tax withholding is calculated.

    As non-resident aliens do not have the right to avail of standard deductions, they will now be taxed on their whole income.

    The changes must be implemented by employers before 15 February 2018.

    11) Tax rates are changed into 4 brackets

    Permanent amendment

    Effective date: 31 December 2017

    New tax brackets for a single individual:

    Not over $9,525                        –                              10% of taxable income.

    Over $9,525 but not over $38,700         –           $952.50, plus 12% of the excess over $9,525.

    Over $38,700 but not over $82,500            –      $4,453.50, plus 22% of the excess over $38,700.

    Over $82,500 but not over $157,500      –         $14,089.50, plus 24% of the excess over $82,500.

    Over $157,500 but not over $200,000    –         $32,089.50, plus 32% of the excess over $157,500.

    Tax tables for resident and non-residents currently in use will be waived.

    Procedure 88-24

    As a result of the changes in points 3, 4, 7 and 8, it is not yet clear whether Procedure 88-24 (for the treatment of scholarship as wages on W-2 form) will be waived or simply be non-beneficial anymore (except for India students and trainees who can use standard deductions under their tax treaty agreement).

    Procedure 88-24 is an alternative procedure for the calculation of withholding amounts on scholarships that enable the use of personal allowances (and itemized or standard deductions) as a tax deduction, leading to a decrease in the taxable scholarship. As all of these items will no longer be available, the Procedure 88-24 will not be applicable next year.

    It might also be waived by the change of the treatment of the term “trade and business” in relation to non-residents. This treatment may cause the scholarship to be ineligible and treated as effectively connected income (wages) in future.

    Confused about your tax obligations?

    Sprintax can prepare your Federal and State tax returns for you. And we guarantee to maximize your tax refund too. Last year, 9 out of 10 Sprintax users with a Federal filing requirement were due a tax refund. What’s more, the average Federal refund was over $1,000.

    So what are you waiting for? Get started today!

  • 5 ways to maintain a valid F-1 visa status

    Can I leave and return to the US on an F-1 visa?

    Am I entitled to work during the semester?

    How long can I stay in the country after my program is finished?

    All your F-1 visa questions answered!

     

    Dreaming of American college life?

    Getting your hands on an all-important F-1 visa is a big step towards turning that dream into a reality. But getting an F-1 visa is one thing, maintaining it is another.

    As a student, there are a number of important rules and regulations that you must follow in order to maintain your F-1 visa status. If you don’t do so, you will not be allowed to re-enter the US if you leave, and you won’t be eligible for practical training (OPT or CPT) or on-campus employment.

    So, with this in mind, here are our top 5 tips for maintaining a valid F-1 visa status

     

    (1) Arriving in the US

    Once you receive your F-1 status, you’ll without a doubt be eager to hit the ground running with your studies.

    But don’t be too eager!

    One of the requirements of the F-1 visa is that you don’t arrive in the US more than 30 days before the first day of classes.

    You’ll also need to link in with your institution’s international office within 30 days of your arrival. Be sure to provide them with your local address in order to keep your SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) record up-to-date. And if you change your local address at any time while in the US, you will need to notify them of this.

    Once you have completed your program, you will have 60 days to leave the US.

    But what if you want to stay extend your American college dream?! To stay in the US you will need to pursue one of the following options:

    • Re-enrol in a higher program
    • Transfer to another school to receive a new Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant Student Status)
    • Apply to change your visa status

     

    (2) Attendance and grades

    All F-1 visa holders are required to be enrolled full time, go to class and maintain passing grades.

    Students who are having difficulty in classes, should notify their international advisor. And if it’s not possible to complete your program by the date stated on your Form I-20, your international advisor can help you request an extension.

    Full-time enrolment can differ depending on your student status. For example, undergraduate programs require students to enrol in at least 12 credit hours each semester during the academic year.

    Meanwhile, each graduate program defines their own unique combination of credit hours and research time to be considered ‘full-time enrolment’. To uphold your F-1 visa status, it’s best to confirm the enrolment requirements with your college.

     

    (3) Working

    It’s common for students to seek full or part-time employment while they study in the US. But be careful, not all types of employment are eligible under the conditions of an F-1 visa.

    For instance, F-1 students who want to work off campus can only do so in roles that are related to their studies (more on this below). Most of the other off campus roles are not authorised under F-1 and you will need permission by a DSO (Designated School Official) in special circumstances to do this work.

    It’s important to note that, if you choose to work without the proper authorization, your visa can be revoked and you may have to leave the US.

    F-1 students are entitled to find employment on campus.

    However, while school is in regular session, a student can’t work for more than 20 hours per week. During extended holidays, breaks and summer sessions, you can work full time (up to 40 hours per week).  If you are confused whether a job is considered on-campus employment, ask the employer before you accept the role.

    Optional Practical Training (OPT)

    F-1 students are permitted to work off-campus in Optional Practical Training (OPT) status both during and after completion of their degree. You can apply for OPT after being enrolled for at least 9 months, but you can’t begin employment until you receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and you have been enrolled at the college for at least a year.

    To qualify as OPT:

    • The employment must be directly related to your major
    • You must apply for OPT before completion of all work towards a degree
    • OPT is permitted for up to 12 months (full-time) in total
    • You can complete 12 months of OPT for each successive level of degree achieved – for instance 12 months of OPT after receiving your undergraduate degree, and a further 12 months after receiving your graduate degree.

    OPT before completing a degree:

    • You must be enrolled in school full-time
    • You can only work 20 hours per week while school is in session
    • But you may work full-time during summer and other breaks (as long as you will return to school after the break)
    • You may work full-time after completion of all coursework, if a thesis or dissertation is still required and student is making normal progress towards the degree

    OPT after completing a degree:

    • After completion of your degree, OPT work must be full time (40 hours/week)
    • All OPT must be completed within 14 months after completion of your degree
    • Applications for post-completion OPT must be submitted before the completion of your degree

    Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

    Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is another off-campus employment option for F-1 students where practical training is an integral part of their curriculum or academic program. CPT employment is defined as ‘alternative work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum that is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school’.

    To be eligible for CPT employment:

    • You must have been enrolled in school full-time for one year on valid F-1 status (except for graduate students where the program requires immediate CPT)
    • The CPT employment must be an integral part of your degree program or requirement for a course for which you receive academic credit
    • You must have received an eligible job offer before you submit your CPT authorization request
    • Your job offer must be in your major or field of study

    Note: All OPT and CPT employment requires prior authorization from your school’s International Student Office. And if you work for 12 months or more of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) you will not be eligible for OPT.

     

    (4) Leaving and re-entering the US

    Thinking of heading home for a holiday during a break in semester?

    As long as your absence from the US is for no less than 5 months, you will have no problem leaving and re-entering the US on an F-1 visa.

    However, you will need to have some important documents in order to ensure your re-entry to the US is successful. These include:

    • a valid Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant Student Status) with a current DSO signature (valid for one year) from the school that you attend in the US
    • a valid F-1 student visa stamp
    • a valid passport or travel document

    To maintain your F-1 visa status you will need a passport that is valid for at least six months into the future. Your country’s consulate or embassy can help you extend your passport if needed.

    Note: If you have completed your program you will not be able to re-enter the US as an F-

    1 student unless you have been admitted to a new program of study and have a new Form I-20, or you are returning to an authorized OPT job.

     

    (5) Don’t forget your taxes!

    To maintain a valid F-1 visa, you are required by law to file a tax return if you were in the US during the previous calendar year. Filing a tax return is probably the last thing you’ll want to do when you’re enjoying an exciting time in the US. Fortunately help is on hand!

    Sprintax can prepare your Federal and State tax returns for you. And we guarantee to maximize your tax refund too! Last year 9 out of 10 Sprintax users with a Federal filing requirement were due a tax refund. What’s more, the average Federal refund was over $1,000.

    So what are you waiting for? Get started today!