Students often complain that school never teaches them about “real-life” stuff, like how to file taxes. So, as the tax season approaches, The Phoenix spoke to a Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) spokesperson, Karine Penniston, to guide students filing taxes for the first time.

If you are wondering whether to file your taxes, Penniston suggests that everyone should, even if they don’t have an income or aren’t qualified for any returns. This is because you may be entitled to receive some benefits, like the goods and services tax (GST) credit, which is something a lot of students may be receiving if they have low or no income and are over 19 years of age. The deadline to file tax returns this year is Tuesday, April 30, 2024. To prepare, you should get all your income slips together. As a student, you need the T2202, which you receive from the school, and the T4 slips if you have employment income. Penniston explained:

“There are different ways to file taxes. You can file online; I find that students are very used to doing work online. There are a lot of certified software available on our CRA website, and some of those software are free of charge. They ask you questions like ‘Are you a student?’ and then show you the deductions you might qualify for. You can also make an account on the CRA website to put in all your information and sign up for a direct deposit. All your T-slips will be available on the account because your employer sends us a copy of those. So after making the account, you can choose the autofill options on one of the software. The software will auto-populate all your T-slips from your account, so instead of entering all your T-4 slips, it does the job for you. So, filing online is really the easiest way. ”

The tuition deduction is the biggest one you can claim. If you don’t need it right now because you have a low income, it carries forward to future years or can even be transferred to a parent. Moving expenses can also be deducted if a student has moved more than 40 kilometres to be closer to their school. Moreover, a childcare deduction can be claimed if you have a child who needs to be taken care of while you attend school. Interest credit is another benefit a student can claim if they are paying interest on their student loan. Sometimes, students have income like scholarships, fellowships, and grants, and those are usually taxable income. Still, if you are a full-time student in a post-secondary school, you could have a full exemption on that, reporting it as income. If you are a part-time student, then that amount is partially exempt. If you are part-time and have a disability tax credit on file, then you are considered a full-time student and will have full exemption. 

“There is something new this year called the First Home Savings Account (FHSA),” Penniston informed. “That can be really useful to students in some way because the FHSA is for people looking to purchase a new home.”

“So you can open an FHSA account now, and even if you are not looking to purchase a house immediately but want to do so at some point in the future, you can put money into your FHSA account, and when it’s time to do your taxes, you can deduct that amount from your income tax returns,” she continued. “$8,000 is the maximum amount you can deduct from your tax return. For the lifetime, it’s a $40,000 limit, but the good thing is when you withdraw the money to purchase the house, you don’t have to claim that as an income. So it’s great because you get the deduction while depositing but don’t have to pay taxes when withdrawing the money. It started in April, so 2023 is the first year that people can claim that amount.”

Lastly, Penniston offered a warning:

“Scams are a huge thing for students to look out for. I personally receive scam text messages and calls on a regular basis, and it is very easy to get caught up in those. If you receive a text with a link saying you are entitled to receive a refund, just know that the CRA would never send a text message asking for personal information for a refund. The only way you will get a refund is by direct deposit through your bank account or by cheque, and that information is available on your CRA account. If you are unsure of any communication you have received, just call our call centre. People are sometimes afraid, but we are here to help, and agents can look into your account and check if someone actually tried contacting you.”

The Students’ Union Okanagan (SUO) runs a tax clinic during March and April. If you are unsure of filing taxes online, you can walk into the clinic for help and guidance. The clinic times will be available on their Instagram page @suo_ubc