FAQ for Tax Filing


U.S. Taxation

Tax Terminology

  • eFile - The electronic filing of tax returns.
  • IRS - The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is the revenue collection agency of the United States federal government.
  • ITIN - An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) is a U.S. tax processing number issued by the IRS to those individuals ineligible for social security numbers.
  • Mass DOR – The Massachusetts Department of Revenue is the revenue collection agency of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
  • Social Security Number – The Social Security Number (SSN) is a U.S. Government number issued to an individual to track individuals for social security and income tax purposes.
  • OTC – The Harvard University Office of the Controller oversees payroll and tax issues for Harvard University students, employees, and visitors. They issue W-2 and 1042-S forms for those receiving income from the University. They are located at 1033 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge. Email nratax_ufs@harvard.edu.

Overview of U.S. taxation 

The Windstar software has a very useful description of how the U.S. tax system functions regarding tax withholding. After you have logged into the software, you can access this information by doing a search for “What You Need to Know About How Income Is Taxed in the United States.”

The Sprintax software offers a very useful FAQ.

What is income? 

Income generally refers to any money you have received from a U.S. source. This includes fellowships, stipends, salary, hourly pay, etc.

IRS resources for international students and scholars 

These publications contain very useful information on a variety of issues affecting foreign nationals and their U.S. tax status.

Beware of Tax Scams and Identity Theft

This is the time of year when scammers attempt to extort money from people or steal identities by pretending to be IRS officials. The IRS provides information to assist people with identifying scams.  The IRS NEVER calls individuals regarding their taxes, so if someone calls you claiming to be from the IRS, hang up!  It is definitely a scam.  Also, NEVER email your social security number and never give it to someone you do not know over the phone.

Do I have to file taxes?

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 complete if you held any U.S. immigration status other than a tourist status in 2018. You do not need to file any U.S. tax documents at this time if you were not present in the U.S. during 2018 or only visited the U.S. with a tourist status.

Since I already had taxes withheld from my paychecks, do I need to file a tax return?

Yes. You must file a federal income tax return to determine if you paid too much tax and are due a refund. It is also possible that you will have to pay additional taxes if the amount previously 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?


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?


Why can’t anyone give me a direct answer to the question “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.

Can I e-file my tax return?

No. Non-Resident tax forms cannot be e-filed.  The software will create and complete tax forms that you will print, sign, and mail as per the instructions provided by the software. Be sure to keep copies of all of your tax documents.

Do I have to file a Massachusetts State tax return?

The software will determine if you need to file a Massachusetts tax return, or one for other states.

Tax Preparation Software

If you arrived in the U.S. in 2018 and are filing taxes for the first time at Harvard, and/or you have been employed in another state at any point during 2018, you will use Sprintax:

Sprintax is a web-based tax return preparation software that provides tax solutions that includes all fifty U.S. states.  Federal filings fees are covered by the Harvard license.  Please note that there is a fee for filing a state tax return with Sprintax (including Massachusetts state returns). Before March 31, the fee is $24.95. After April 1, the fee is $29.95. Click here to view a Sprintax instructional video.

If neither of the above statements applies to you, you will use Windstar:

Windstar is a web-based tax return preparation software that includes a comprehensive content library.  The library contains information on Federal tax returns for residents and non-residents.  It also includes content for Massachusetts State returns.  Windstar will complete both your Federal tax return and your Massachusetts state tax return under the Harvard license.  Windstar does not prepare state taxes for any other states.

Once you have logged into Windstar, you can access the tax information resources using the tab beneath those for the 2017 and 2018 tax preparation.

When using Windstar, only use a Windows PC with Internet Explorer. Using Macs, Safari, Chrome, Firefox, etc. may prevent you from properly viewing and printing any forms prepared by the software.

Can I use these products for my dependents?

You can prepare tax forms (including IRS Form 8843) for your family from your Windstar account only if you and your family’s entry and departure dates during the tax year are exactly the same as yours. Otherwise, you will need to create separate Windstar accounts for your dependents using the same access code that was provided to you.

For Sprintax, please follow the on-screen prompts or use the “Meet Stacy” feature.

My immigration status is sponsored by the Department of State/Fulbright/IIE. Can I use these products?

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 Windstar or Sprintax?

Once the software goes live, the HIO will send an email in mid-February and again in early April containing the access codes. Additionally, access codes will also be available from the HIO beginning in mid to late February. You must have an active Harvard Key to gain access to these programs.

Can I use these products if my Harvard Key expired last year?

Yes, but you will need to submit a request for the code to 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, Cambridge, MA 02138.

To whom should I refer questions about these products?

You can email Windstar directly using the “Contact Us” feature at the bottom of each page in the program. Please be as specific as possible in your message

You can contact Sprintax through the “Meet Stacy” virtual tax expert available from within the program.

Tax Residency Status

What is 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.
  • Tax Resident - Cannot take advantage of tax treaty benefits or other possible tax exemptions available for Tax Non-Residents. The software does not process returns for Tax Residents. Tax residents generally pay tax on worldwide income.

The software will determine your tax residency status. Additional information is available at Harvard's Financial Administration's website.

How do I know if I am considered a Tax Non-Resident or Tax Resident?

The software will help you determine your tax residency status. If you are determined to be a Tax Non-Resident you will be able to use the software to complete your federal Tax Non-Resident tax forms.

Can I use the software to complete my tax return if I am a Tax Resident?

No, you cannot. You can purchase an individual license for tax software such as TurboTax, TaxAct, etc.

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). Specific information on this is available at:

The Windstar software can assist you with claiming a closer connection to your home country. You will see the closer connection link in Windstar just below the message that says that you are a Tax Resident.

Due Dates for Tax Forms

How soon should I file my taxes?

You should file your tax forms as soon as you have gathered all the necessary materials. Please note that your tax forms must be postmarked on or before the dates listed below. Do not wait until the last minute to file your taxes!

  • Form 1040-NR/1040-NREZ with Form 8843 – April 17, 2019 (June 15, 2019 if you did not receive wages)
  • Form NR/PYR – April 17, 2019
  • Form 8843 only – June 15, 2019

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 pay any estimated tax liability by the standard filing deadline or you will incur significant penalties and interest. The software sites are available year-round.

What happens if I didn’t file taxes last year?

You cannot include last year’s income information on this year's forms. You must prepare a separate tax filing. Windstar provides access to 2018 and 2017 tax forms. Sprintax provides access to 2018, 2017 and 2016 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 instructions for the preparation of that year's Forms 1040NR or 1040-NREZ as the tax rates and exemption amounts are different for each tax year.

Filing Tax Returns

What documents do I need to complete my tax forms?

  • 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/ITIN)
  • Tax reporting documents for U.S. source income received in 2018

I completed my tax return and already mailed it in. Now I have 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. The software cannot assist you with amended returns.

What happens if I fail to 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.

Can I file my taxes from abroad?


What do I need if I had multiple jobs and employers?

You must wait to file until you have received all your tax reporting documents for your various employment experiences.


Do I need an SSN or ITIN to complete my tax return?

  • If you had no U.S. source income, you will file IRS Form 8843 which does not require either number.
  • 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 will prompt you to apply for an ITIN application if necessary.  DO NOT follow the software ITIN instructions. Use the HIO 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 assigned to you unless you apply for one. Once a number has been assigned 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 the ITIN application instructions for more information.

ITINs, Software, and tax filing

If you don’t have an SSN or ITIN, Windstar will prompt you to apply for an ITIN if you must file an actual tax return. DO NOT follow the Windstar ITIN instructions. Use the HIO instructions.

What happens to my tax Return 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.

Tax number for state taxes

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.

Tax Reporting Documents

Should I receive any tax reporting documents?

If you had no U.S. source income, 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. You will not receive any tax reporting documents if the only funding you received from Harvard was a tuition fellowship that was applied directly to your term bill.

I received funding from a U.S. source. What tax reporting document(s) should I receive?

The HIO does not issue tax reporting documents. University Financial Services 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, 2019.

IRS Form 1042-S

All employees who claimed a tax treaty exemption; should be mailed to you by March 15, 2019.


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, 2019.

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 received all of your applicable tax documents. You must have all the documents needed for you to accurately prepare your tax return. You should contact the payer if forms are not received within the timeframes noted above.  It is important to wait to file your tax return until you have everything that you need for a complete filing, as the software does not provide assistance with amended tax returns.

When does Harvard Issue Tax Reporting Documents?

Review Harvard's tax reporting document information.

The W-2 or 1042-S that I received lists incorrect information. How can I obtain corrected documents?

Contact your employer to request a corrected W-2 or 1042-S. Please contact the Controllers Office to correct W-2 or 1042-S forms issued by Harvard. You may also call them at  617-495-8500 (option 5).

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. The software will assist in determining your filing status.

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. The software 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. The software will determine if you can use the form for your federal tax filing.

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 OTC 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.

Wages or Salary as an Employee

You will receive Form 1042-S if you received wages or salary on which you claimed a tax treaty exemption.

Scholarship or Fellowship (no services performed)

You will receive Form 1042-S 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

You will receive Form 1042-S if you received 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.

The University Financial Services Office on the 9th 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.


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 haven’t received the payment yet.

Go to the “Where's My Refund?” online tool to track your refund. “Where's My Refund?” 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).

Troubleshooting Sprintax

The best option is to use the “Meet Stacy” functionality in the software. Click here to view a variety of Sprintax-supplied videos.

Troubleshooting Windstar

Using Windstar

How do I activate the Massachusetts functionality?

  • Go to the “Get Forms Page” and click on Massachusetts in the box and then click "go." Answer the questions to determine if you need to file a Massachusetts state tax return.

 How do I create a new account for my dependents since they have different travel dates?

  • Click here and then select “Resources for Tax Season”, then click on “Windstar Foreign National Tax Resource”.
  • You must use a different username and  password than was used for your account.

I get an error message saying that due to the combination of my immigration history and nationality the software can’t prepare a trustworthy result.

  • First go back in to the  "Nonimmigration Status History" to make sure that you have entered the information correctly.

  • If you are a J-1 researcher with a W-2, go back to the W-2 in Windstar and be sure to select income code 19. Teaching and research are generally treated the same.

My forms are blank when I open them.

Please refer to the "Note" at the top of the "Get Forms Page" that addresses this issue.


Address and helpline for Federal Tax Assistance

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program - 1-800-829-1040
General Federal Tax Questions - 1-800-829-1040
Boston IRS Office:
JFK Federal Building
15 New Sudbury Street
Boston, MA 02203
(617) 316-2850

Address and helpline for Massachusetts Tax Assistance

Massachusetts Department of Revenue
19 Staniford Street
Boston, MA 02115
1-800-392-6089 or
(617) 887-MDOR

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.