Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tax time

Holy hell, would someone please tell me how to file my taxes this year?  For so many years, I had a very simple and predictable mode of filing: list minuscule earnings for the year, take the lifetime learning credit, calculate and send.  Now that I'm not in grad school any longer, and have earned income from several different sources after graduating (some academic, some not), I have no idea how to maximize my refund, or at least minimize my debt.  Can someone who has recently been in the same position give me any tips on which forms I should be filing, and why?  I'm particularly concerned about how to write up my postdoc in a way that makes clear that this is an academic fellowship and not, say, just a wad of money.



  1. Um... I don't know if tax law has changed in the past ~5 years, but post-docs were earned income taxed at the regular rate, fellowship or not. IIRC, if they didn't take taxes out and didn't provide a W2, I put "SCH" (for scholarship) in the appropriate box. But it still counted the same as any income.

  2. ...My wife does my taxes for me? She uses Tax Slayer? That's all I know.

    I know that my stipend is earned income, because I got a W2 for it. This is how I determine those things. This is also why I outsource.

  3. hmm I used turbotax on the web and they promised that they had "audit protection" and would help out if you got audited. So I just assume everything they told me to do was correct.

  4. Hey there. I'm a CPA that does tax prep on the side. If your post-doc income is reported to you on a W-2, then it's generally treated like any other employed job. You don't have much leeway in how to report that. The "wages" go on line 7 of the 1040 in full.

    If you receive amounts such as fellowships or scholarship, these also get reported on Line 7. NicoleandMaggie are right in that you would write SCH on the line to reflect scholarship. HOWEVER, did you pay any required tuition out of pocket in 2010? If so, you can subtract that amount from what you report on Line 7. Your school will give you a Form 1098-T that will tell you how much tuition you paid or were billed during the year.

    If you have questions I can try to help further. I'm a bit sympathetic as I watch my wife Maggie churn through her dissertation with her occasional stipends. I'm at If you need someone to prepare them for you, I'll see what kind of student discount I can create for you....


  5. Listen: I don't know whether this is relevant to you, but Neruda is living abroad all year, and he was informed by his tax accountant guy that if he's out of the US for 365 days consecutively (or at least, 365 days w/ no extended sojourn in the US--he came to visit me for a week, and had to tack on an extra week to his stay in Nerudaland to make up for it), you can write off up to 91K of income. A stipend is definitely income, and I don't know how long your stay in RC will be altogether, but if it's a year or longer you should definitely check this option out.

    By the way, you can use Turbo Tax online for like $50 or $60 for the more complicated "deluxe" version....

  6. Wow, thanks for the tips, all! I think I have a general idea of what I need to do now, although my postdoc's front office could always throw me some sort of curve ball.

    @Ajnabieh: Your response is ambiguous. Are you recommending that I use TaxSlayer? That I consult your wife? Or should I just acquire a wife of my own? Man, taxes are tough to figure out.