FAQ for Tax Filing
The following guide has been prepared to help international students and scholars understand their tax responsibilities in the United States. If you were present in the U.S. in any immigration status other than tourist in 2019, there is at least one tax form (IRS Form 8843) that you and any of your dependent family members must file. To assist with your tax filing, the HIO will provide you with an access code to Sprintax tax preparation software. For more information about your tax obligations, using Sprintax, and finding additional resources, please see the FAQ below.
Do I Have to File Taxes? What is Considered Income?
Do I have to file a tax return?
There is at least one tax form (IRS Form 8843) you and any of your dependent family members must file if you held any U.S. immigration status other than tourist status in 2019. You do not need to file any U.S. tax documents at this time if you were not present in the U.S. during 2019 or only visited the U.S. with a tourist status.
What is IRS Form 8843?
The IRS Form 8843 notifies the IRS that you are a Tax Non-Resident. All Tax Non-Residents must file IRS Form 8843 regardless of whether they had U.S. source income or must also file a 1040-NR.
Do I need to file IRS Form 8843 for my U.S. citizen child?
What is considered income for tax purposes?
Income generally refers to any money you have received from a U.S. source. This includes fellowships, stipends, salary, hourly pay, etc.
Since I already had taxes withheld from my paychecks, do I need to file a tax return?
Yes. You must file taxes to determine if you paid too much tax and are due a refund or if you will have to pay additional taxes if the amount withheld is insufficient to meet your tax liability.
My U.S. income is not taxed due to a tax treaty with my country. Do I still have to file a tax form?
Can I e-file my tax return?
Non-Resident tax forms cannot be e-filed. The Sprintax software generates completed tax forms that you will print, sign, and mail as per their instructions. Be sure to keep copies of all your tax documents.
Do I have to file a Massachusetts State tax return?
Sprintax will determine if you need to file a Massachusetts tax return, or one for other states.
Can I file my taxes from abroad?
Am I a Resident or Non-Resident for Tax Purposes?
What’s the difference between Tax Non-Residents and Tax Residents?
Tax Non-Resident - May take advantage of any applicable tax treaty benefits and exemption from U.S. Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid taxes. Tax Non-Residents generally only pay tax on U.S. source income. You can complete your tax forms using the Sprintax preparation software.
Tax Resident - Cannot take advantage of any tax treaty benefits or other possible tax exemptions available for Tax Non-Residents. Sprintax is not able to process returns for Tax Residents. Tax Residents generally follow the same tax rules as U.S. citizens and pay taxes on worldwide income.
How do I know if I am considered a Tax Non-Resident or Tax Resident?
Most incoming F and J visa holders are considered non-residents (F and J students for the first five calendar years in the U.S. and J-1 scholars for the first two calendar years in the U.S.).
The Sprintax software will help you determine your tax residency status. If it determines you are a Tax Non-Resident you will be able to proceed and complete your tax forms using Sprintax. Additional information on tax residency status is available at Harvard Office of the Controller's website.
Can I keep my Tax Non-Resident status permanently?
Certain internationals in the U.S. may request to remain Tax Non-Residents beyond the standard time limits (generally five years for F & J students and two years for J scholars). Please note, Sprintax does not have the functionality to help you claim a closer connection. Specific information on this is available at:
- Conditions for a Closer Connection to a Foreign Country
- The Closer Connection Exception to the Substantial Presence Test for Foreign Students
Can I use the software to complete my tax return if I am a Tax Resident?
No. You can consider purchasing an individual license for tax software such as TurboTax, TaxAct, etc.
How Do I Start with Sprintax?
What documents should I have ready?
- Your passport
- Your visa document (Form I-20, DS-2019, I-797, etc.)
- SSN or ITIN (if you have one) – see section below on SSN/ITINs
- Tax reporting documents (see section below) for U.S. source income received in 2019
Can I use Sprintax for my dependents?
Please follow Sprintax’s on-screen prompts or use the “Meet Stacy” feature.
My immigration status is sponsored by the Department of State/Fulbright/IIE. Can I still use Sprintax?
You can only use these products if your Fulbright fellowship is NOT administered by IIE. IIE administered students can obtain tax assistance information here.
How do I access Sprintax?
Once the software goes live, the HIO will send an email in mid-February and again in early April containing the access code. The access code will also be available upon request from the HIO from mid to late February. You must have an active Harvard Key to access Sprintax.
What if my Harvard Key expired last year?
You can access Sprintax but you will need to request an access code from your HIO advisor via e-mail. Please review the HIO staff list at the Talk To An Advisor page.
The software asks for the name of my program director. Whom should l list?
List your academic advisor or P.I., or you can list the contact information for the Harvard International Office:
1350 Massachusetts Avenue, Suite 864
Cambridge, MA 02138
What if I have questions about/issues with Sprintax?
You can contact Sprintax support services through the “Meet Stacy” virtual tax expert available from within the program.
If you're having issues with Sprintax the best way to reach their support services is through the “Meet Stacy” functionality in the software. Click here to view a variety of Sprintax-supplied informational videos.
Do I Need an SSN or ITIN to File Taxes?
- If you had no U.S. source income, you will file IRS Form 8843 which does not require either SSN or ITIN.
- If you received scholarship/stipend/fellowship income, you will likely only need an ITIN.
- If you worked (were compensated for rendered services) you must have an SSN.
The software may prompt you to apply for an ITIN application if necessary. DO NOT follow Sprintax's ITIN instructions. Use the HIO's ITIN instructions.
For an SSN you must apply directly to the U.S. Social Security Administration. Visit our Social Security section for SSN application instructions.
What is a "placeholder" number?
Tax reporting documents, such as the W-2 and 1042-S, cannot be issued without an identifying number. In the absence of an ITIN or SSN, Harvard may assign a "placeholder”, which will be listed in the field for a SSN or ITIN on your W-2 or 1042-S. DO NOT use this number in lieu of an ITIN or SSN when completing your tax filing. If you did not personally apply for an SSN or ITIN, you DO NOT have one. A number is not issued to you unless you apply for one. Once a number has been issued to you, you must report the number to the Office of the Controller. NEVER email your SSN or ITIN.
Can I obtain ITINs for my dependents?
Your dependents can only apply for an ITIN if they are part of a federal tax return. The IRS has no provision for granting ITINs for other uses, including state or local tax purposes.
Can I apply for an ITIN when I am not in the U.S.?
Applying from outside of the U.S. will be difficult but is possible. Please refer to our ITIN application instructions for more information.
Will Sprintax Determine if I Need an SSN or ITIN?
If you don’t have an SSN or ITIN, Sprintax will prompt you to apply for an ITIN if you must file an actual tax return. DO NOT follow their instructions. Use the HIO instructions.
What happens if I file without an ITIN or SSN?
If you owe money to the IRS, they will process your return. If you are due a refund, the IRS will not process your return. They will notify you that they will hold on to it until you have an ITIN or SSN.
Do I also need an SSN/ITIN to file a state tax return?
You must have an SSN or ITIN to file a federal tax return. You do not need an SSN or ITIN if you only submit IRS Form 8843. If you do not qualify for an SSN, you can apply for the ITIN with your federal tax return. State tax returns also require an SSN or ITIN. You can file the state return without the number and then provide it to them when it is requested. However, Massachusetts will not issue refunds until you have provided an SSN or ITIN.
Do I Also Need to File a Massachusetts State Tax Return or other State Tax Return?
You may be required to file a Massachusetts state return if you had taxable income at the federal level. There is no need to file any MA state tax forms if the only federal tax form you had to complete was Form 8843. The Sprintax software will determine your MA tax obligation if you use it to prepare your federal tax return, and will prepare the forms (if any) that you will need to file for a fee.
Please refer to our Additional Tax Resources page for links to MA state tax forms and further information.
What if I moved to/from a different U.S state during the last calendar year?
If you lived or worked in more than one state during the preceding calendar year, you may be required to file a separate state tax return for each state you resided in. Sprintax can assist with state filings for all 50 U.S. states.
When Should I File and When Are the Deadlines?
You should file your tax forms as soon as you have all the necessary materials. Please note that your forms must be postmarked on or before the dates listed below. Don’t wait until the last minute to file your taxes!
- Form 1040-NR/1040-NREZ with Form 8843 – April 15, 2020 (June 15, 2020 if you did not receive wages)
- Form NR/PYR – April 15, 2020
- Form 8843 only – June 15, 2020
I am not able to file taxes now. Can I get an extension?
It is possible to file a Form 4868 to request a six month extension from the IRS for filing your tax return. You may still file for an extension if you owe tax, but you must still pay any estimated tax liability by the standard filing deadline or you will incur significant penalties and interest. Sprintax software access is available year-round.
What if I didn’t file taxes last year?
You must prepare a separate tax filing for each tax year. This means you cannot include last year’s income information on the current year’s tax forms. Sprintax provides access to 2019, 2018, and 2017 tax forms. For earlier years, go to the IRS Prior Year Forms and Publications and print a Form 1040-NR or Form 1040-NREZ for the tax year you need to file. Be sure to also get the preparation instructions for that year's Forms 1040NR or 1040-NREZ as the tax rates and exemption amounts are different for each tax year.
What happens if I don’t file my taxes?
If you owe money, you will incur fees and penalties assessed by the IRS and state governments. If you are due a refund, you will not be assessed fees and penalties. However, you must claim your refund within three years or you will forfeit the refund to the U.S. Government.
Will I receive any tax reporting documents?
If you had no U.S. source income in 2019, you will not receive any tax reporting documents. It is possible to receive more than one type of tax reporting document, if you received more than one type of income from a U.S. source (wages plus a stipend, for example). The type of document you might get depends on the type of funding you received (refer to the chart below). You will not receive any of these documents if the only funding you received from Harvard was a tuition fellowship that was applied directly to your term bill.
I did receive funding from a U.S. source. What tax reporting document(s) should I expect?
The HIO does not issue tax reporting documents. The Harvard Office of the Controller issues W-2 and 1042-S forms for Harvard University.
Please review the Office of the Controller's website for additional information.
|IRS Form W-2||
Issued to those who had U.S-based employment (including OPT/CPT employment); should have been mailed to you by January 31, 2020.
|IRS Form 1042-S||
All employees who claimed a tax treaty exemption; should be mailed to you by March 15, 2020.
All nonresident students/scholars who received a non-service scholarship/fellowship in excess of tuition/required fees/books and supplies- regardless of whether or not tax was withheld; should be mailed to you by March 15, 2020.
1095- (A, B, or C)
|Form 1095-B is used to report certain health insurance information to the IRS and to taxpayers.|
|MASS DOR Form 1099-HC||Serves as proof of health insurance coverage and would be used to complete the Schedule HC form on a Massachusetts State tax return. Note that not all international students and scholars need to complete a state tax return.|
You might also receive a 1099-INT or 1099-MISC if you earned interest income from a U.S. account. Do not prepare your tax return until you have all your applicable tax documents. It’s important to wait until you have everything you need for a complete and accurate filing. You should contact the relevant employer/payer if forms are not received within the timeframes noted above.
What if I had multiple jobs/employers?
You must wait to file until you have received all your tax reporting documents for your various employment experiences.
When does Harvard Issue Tax Reporting Documents?
Please review Harvard's tax reporting document information.
Common Tax Form/Tax Document Questions
Why can’t anyone give me a direct answer when I ask “what should I put in this box on my tax return?”
Anyone who tells you how to complete your tax return faces severe legal liability should they provide inaccurate information. Only authorized tax preparers are covered from possible liability if a tax form is not completed properly on behalf of an individual. HIO advisors cannot directly assist you with preparing your tax return because they are not trained tax professionals.
The W-2 or 1042-S that I received lists incorrect information. How can I obtain corrected documents?
If the form was issued by Harvard, please contact the Controllers Office to correct your W-2 or 1042-S. You may also call them at 617-495-8500 (option 5). If you worked elsewhere, contact your employer to request a corrected W-2 or 1042-S.
I received a 1099-HC. What is it? Does this mean I have to file a state tax return?
This form is used by Massachusetts to determine if you have met the state insurance requirements. You will only use this form if you must file a Massachusetts tax return. Contact your health care provider if you need this form but did not receive it. Sprintax will assist in determining your filing status. Not everyone will need to file a Massachusetts state tax form.
I received a 1098-A,B, or C. What is it? Does this mean I have to file a federal tax return?
This form is used by the IRS to determine if you have met the federal health insurance requirements. You will only use this form if you must file a federal tax return. Contact your health care provider if you need this form but did not receive it. Sprintax will assist in determining your filing status.
I received a 1098-T. What is it? Does this mean I have to file a tax return?
The 1098-T is a tuition payment statement that can be used by those who may be eligible for an educational tax credit. The Student Accounts Office issues the Form 1098-T. Sprintax will determine if you can use the form for your federal tax filing.
I completed my tax return and already mailed it in. Now I received a 1042-S from Harvard. What should I do?
You will have to file an amended tax return using IRS Form 1040X. You can access the 1040X and associated instructions here. Sprintax can assist you with amended returns.
I have not received my W-2 or 1042-S. What should I do?
You will only receive a W-2 or 1042-S if you have U.S. source income. If you did receive income from Harvard, and did not receive a tax reporting document, you can contact the Office of the Controller or request issuance of duplicate forms using the following web sites:
If you are abroad, you can list your foreign address in the U.S. address fields or the comment field. If you should have received a tax reporting document from another U.S. employer, you should contact their payroll office.
Will I receive a 1042-S?
Not everyone receives a 1042-S. It depends on your tax status and your income. The following situations describe when a 1042-S would be issued. Please review the Office of the Controller's website for additional information.
- If you received wages or salary on which you claimed a tax treaty exemption.
- Scholarship or Fellowship (no services performed) - If you received a scholarship or fellowship, regardless of whether tax was deducted or whether you claimed a tax treaty exemption. Please note that if you only received tuition, required fees, or a book allowance applied to your term bill, you will not receive any tax reporting form.
- Prize or Award Payment - Any income from prizes or awards.
I received a tuition scholarship from Harvard. Will I receive a W-2 or 1042-S?
No. If you only received tuition, required fees, or a book allowance applied to your term bill, you will not receive any tax reporting document.
I am Canadian and I need information to complete a TL11A.
Student Financial Services on the 8th floor of the Smith Campus Center at 1350 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge will assist you in completing the TL11A. You can download a TL11A from the Canada Revenue Agency's website.
I'm Eligible for a Tax Refund. What Now?
What is the best method for receiving my tax refund?
You have the option of requesting a paper check or direct deposit into your bank account. Using direct deposit is quicker and eliminates the possibility of your refund check being misdirected if you move or leave the U.S.
Where’s my refund? I filed for a refund of overpaid taxes, but I haven’t received the payment yet.
Go to the IRS “Where's My Refund?” online tool to track your refund. This site will usually have information about your refund three to four weeks after filing your paper return.
When will I receive my refund?
Refunds are generally processed within a few weeks of submitting the tax return.
I overpaid Social Security and Medicare taxes. Am I eligible for a refund of what I overpaid?
Maybe. Please refer to the Figuring Your Taxes section of IRS Publication 519 for general information. If you are eligible, you will need to file IRS Form 843 (Instructions).
What Other Resources are Available?
Refer to our Additional Tax Resources information page.
The tax resources offered by the HIO are provided so that international members of the Harvard community can make informed personal decisions concerning their taxes. HIO advisors are not trained tax specialists and cannot provide individual advice on taxes. By using these tax assistance programs, you acknowledge that Harvard University is not liable for any errors and incidental or consequential damages in connection with the furnishing, performance or use by you of these on-line systems, on-line HELP and/or examples contained therein. You should seek professional tax advice from a qualified accountant or attorney if you have questions or need clarification.