Tax Filing Overview
Update: The IRS has extended the federal tax filing deadline for 2020 tax filings to May 17, 2021. The deadline to file Form 8843 only remains to be June 15, 2021. Massachusetts also extended the MA state filing deadline to May 17, 2021. If you need to file taxes in another state, you must check that state's tax filing deadline.
As an international student, researcher, or faculty member at Harvard, it is important that you are aware of your U.S. income tax obligations. U.S. tax laws distinguish between residents and non-residents for U.S. tax purposes. Non-residents only pay taxes on U.S. source income, while residents follow the same tax rules as U.S. citizens and pay taxes on their worldwide income. Please refer to our Tax FAQ page for help determining if you are resident or non-resident for tax purposes.
The U.S. tax system is organized according to the calendar year and is a pay-as-you-go system, which means that taxes may be deducted from salaries, stipends, and scholarships if these funds are from U.S. sources. In most cases, taxes are automatically withheld from your pay (or charged to your term bill if you receive a Harvard scholarship). Your available income after taxes, therefore, may be less than anticipated as you may be subject to federal, state and/or Social Security taxes that can range from 14% to 30% of your total income. The amount of taxes you will pay will depend on the type of income you receive and your tax status in the United States.
Terminology to Know
- Income – Generally refers to any money you have received from a U.S. source. This includes fellowships, stipends, salary, hourly pay, etc.
- Internal Revenue Service (IRS) - The revenue collection agency of the United States federal government.
- Massachusetts Department of Revenue (Mass DOR) - The revenue collection agency of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
- eFile – Refers to electronic filing of tax returns.
- ITIN or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number - A U.S. tax processing number issued by the IRS to those individuals not eligible for social security numbers.
- Social Security Number (SSN) – A U.S. Government number issued to an individual for social security tracking and income tax purposes.
- Harvard University Office of the Controller (OTC) - Oversees payroll and tax issues for students, employees, and visitors of Harvard. Issues W-2 and 1042-S forms for those receiving income from Harvard. They are located at 1033 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge. Email email@example.com.
- Sprintax is a web-based tax return preparation software providing tax solutions for all 50 U.S. states. Federal filings fees are covered by the Harvard license. There is a fee of $29.95 for filing a state tax return with Sprintax (e.g., MA state tax filings). Click here to view a Sprintax instructional video.
There are many tax treaties between the United States and other countries. Such treaties may exempt earnings, scholarships, and stipends from taxes. The Office of the Controller (OTC) will determine your tax status using a system called Glacier. Please note: In order to claim a tax treaty benefit you must have either a Social Security Number (SSN) or an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN).
Harvard Office of the Controller
The Office of the Controller is located at 1033 Massachusetts Avenue, 2nd floor in Cambridge. You may contact them by phone at 617-495-8500 or e-mail them. The Tax Service part of the office (NRA) helps international students and scholars determine their tax residency status and apply for tax treaty benefits.
Determining tax residency is important because it affects:
- Tax treaty eligibility
- Amount of tax withheld from payments made by the University
- Type of U.S. tax reporting documents to be received and filed
Filing Tax Returns
Tax forms must be completed (even if a tax treaty exempts you from paying any U.S. taxes) if you were in the United States on any visa other than a tourist visa. Federal and state income tax forms are completed annually in the United States and submitted to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
If you are employed in the United States, your employer will send you a statement of earnings, called a Form W-2, by the end of January that details your income and any taxes withheld during the previous year. If you receive benefits of a tax treaty for employment, scholarship or fellowship income, you will receive a Form 1042-S by mid-March that details your income and treaty benefits. You will need these documents to complete your tax forms. Be sure to keep copies of all your tax documents. When you are leaving Harvard, be sure that the Harvard Office of the Controller has your correct mailing address so that you will receive the necessary tax documents if you received funding from Harvard.
2020 Tax Filing Season
In the United States, you must reconcile your 2020 calendar year tax withholding and liability by filing federal and state tax returns. If your income does not meet the reporting threshold, it is possible that you may only need to file a tax statement instead of a full tax return. Please carefully review the HIO Tax FAQ, as the answers to your basic tax questions will likely be included.
If you were present in the United States during any part of 2020 on a visa other than a B visa or WT/WB, there is at least one tax form you must complete. Federal tax forms are due to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by May 17, 2021. Massachusetts state tax forms (if necessary) are due to the Department of Revenue by May 17, 2021. Please note that if you had no U.S. based income you have until June 15, 2021 to file your forms. If you were not in the United States at all during 2020 you do not need to complete any tax forms at this time.
Resources for Tax Season
- An excellent starting point for anyone with tax questions including answers to many common tax questions.
Sprintax Tax Preparation Program
Sprintax is a web-based tax return preparation software that provides tax solutions that includes all fifty U.S. states. Federal filings are covered by the Harvard license. State filings can be done for an additional fee, listed below.
Discount access for the software is available for all active international students and scholars under Harvard's visa sponsorship by selecting the link above and logging in through the Harvard Key system. By logging in through your Harvard Key, the discount will automatically be applied to your account.
If you were under Harvard's visa sponsorship in 2020 and have since changed visa status, graduated, or departed the U.S. and no longer have access to your Harvard Key, you must email the HIO (firstname.lastname@example.org) to request a unique discount code to be sent to you.
For questions about how to access Sprintax please refer to our Tax FAQ page.
Sprintax Fee Structure
|Sprintax Service||Fee||Covered by HIO Discount?|
|Federal Tax Preparation (Form 1040NR)||$35.95||Yes|
|State Tax Preparation (per state)||$29.95||Not covered by HIO|
|ITIN Application (Form W-7)||$15.95||Use HIO Instructions instead; do not apply using Sprintax|
|FICA Refund (Form 843)||$15.95||Not Covered by HIO|
|Post Filing Service (handling all additional communication with the tax offices on behalf of the taxpayer)||$14.95||Not Covered by HIO|
Please do not share the discount code with others since the HIO has paid for a limited number of users to be authorized to use the software. Sharing of this discount code will jeopardize our ability to offer this service to you as we must remain in compliance with the license agreement we have signed. By using this tax assistance program, you acknowledge that Harvard University is not liable for any errors and incidental or consequential damages in connection with furnishing, performance or use of these on-line systems, on-line HELP and/or examples contained therein.
Free Sprintax Nonresident Tax Webinars
This season, Sprintax will be hosting a series of free open tax webinars to provide helpful information around nonresident tax filing obligations. You can find the details and registration links below. Each webinar will cover the same topics listed below:
- Tuesday, May 4, 2021; 09:30-10:30AM EST - Register here
- Thursday, May 6, 2021; 5:00-6:00PM EST - Register here
The informational webinars will cover:
- An overview of tax for nonresident students and scholars
- Who must file a 2020 US tax return
- What income forms students/scholars may receive
- Forms that need to be completed and sent to the IRS
- Terms like FICA, ITIN and Form 1098-T
- What happens if students don’t file, or misfile
- State tax returns
- IRS stimulus payments
- Sprintax overview
Beware of Tax Scams and Identity Theft
Tax season 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. Please refer to the links below and note that 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 or give it to someone you do not know over the phone.
- Tax Scams/Consumer Alerts
- Identity Protection: Prevention, Detection and Victim Assistance
- For more information about how to avoid identity theft please review the HUPD website
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.