Tax Tools for Students

Easter weekend means a three-day?and for some a four-day?break. This first long weekend of spring means many things to many people. For some, the Easter weekend pivots around religious observances. For many, Easter means a family gathering, a tasty meal, and lots of chocolate. If nothing else, for most Easter at least means a long weekend.

The extra day(s) off work can provide opportunities. A bit of spring cleaning, perhaps, or even yardwork if the weather allows. There’s ample time for a long weekend getaway, or just to enjoy not feeling rushed. For some, however, the extra time this weekend means something less enjoyable: taxes.

Tax season is in full swing. The filing deadline of April 30 is looming and the loathsome task of completing your annual tax return must be done. Whether you complete your own return, have a family member do it, or take it to a professional preparer, it’s advisable to know as much as you can about the process. Even if you use tax filing software, you are ultimately responsible for the information submitted on your return.

Tax 101. If you’re new to the tax return process, start with the basics. Forms and guides for most basic tax situations are available at all Canada Post offices. Additionally, all forms and guides are available online from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) website. The General Income and Benefit Guide takes you through the tax return line by line. CRA has an online tutorial, Learning About Taxes, which includes basic information about income tax and how to file a simple tax return. You can find books at the library, such as Jacks on Tax, by Evelyn Jacks, that will explain the process in broader detail. CRA also maintains a list of community volunteers who can provide free help completing your return, if you qualify.

Students are special. Students can find tax information in the CRA publication P105 Students and Income Tax. Additionally, CRA has a special webpage devoted to students, at http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/students/. Here you’ll find student-specific information such as common income types including scholarships, bursaries, and research grants, and common deductions and credits including tuition, child care expenses, and student loan interest. The CRA student page has a link to information about the Lifelong Learning Plan, under which you can borrow funds from your RRSP to finance your education. And there is a page devoted to information for international students studying in Canada. For students seeking guidance to complete their returns, CRA has a series of videos that cover various aspects of the return from a student perspective.

Software for students.
With tax-filing software, you can print your completed return or upload it directly to CRA’s NETFILE service. Tax-filing software is available from many retailers, including electronics stores, office-supply depots and bookstores. Before you buy, check out some of the free tax software available. TurboTax, for example, offers a free tax software download for anyone (excluding Quebec residents) with a simple tax return. And UFile provides free online filing for students regardless of income. See CRA’s website for a full list of free, NETFILE-compatible software for 2015 taxes.

Like any task, it’s important to have the right tools for the job. For taxes, tools include information as well as receipts and forms, calculators and computers. And you’ll need lots and lots of time.

Whether you spend this weekend working on taxes or not, you only have five weeks until the filing deadline. Gather your tax tools, learn how to use them, and get started.

Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer, photographer, and AU student. She lives on a windswept rural road in Eastern Ontario. Follow Barbara on twitter @ThereGoesBarb.

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