Taxes in the U.S.

You are probably beginning to hear discussions about “TAX SEASON.” In January and February every year, employers send out W-2 and 1042-S forms to help people with their tax filing for the previous calendar year.

The deadline for filing most tax forms is April 15.  OISS will be providing a tax software program to help with filing as well as partnering with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program to assist you.

Taxes are often complicated—even for those native to the United States. There are many different kinds of taxes in the United States, and different agencies are responsible for collecting these taxes. These taxes include:

  • Personal Property Tax (supports local roads and schools and is primarily a tax on ownership of a car and/or house). This yearly local tax that will vary, depending on the purchase price of the house, car or cars owned.
  • Social Security and Medicare taxes (together called FICA). These taxes support U.S. retirees and the disabled.
  • City/Local Income Tax – Generally required in larger metropolitan areas and may require that a tax return be filed for that locality. Both St. Louis City and County have this tax.
  • State Income Tax – Individuals must file a state income tax return if they receive any U.S. income while living in that state.
  • Federal Income Tax (supports projects on a national level) – Individuals must file a federal income tax return if they receive any U.S. income.
  • Sales Tax – levy on the sale of goods or services, generally calculated as a percentage of the selling price.


How do taxes work in the U.S.?

In the United States, an estimate of federal and state income taxes are withheld by the employer(s) based on the information provided by the employee on the Form W-4 (usually completed by the employee at the time of hire). Since the withholding is only an estimate, employees are given a yearly opportunity to reconcile the amount taken out with how much was owed.  If too much was withheld, you will receive a refund.  If not enough was withheld, you will need to pay the government the additional amount. Occasionally, the amount taken out matches the amount due, so no money is due by either you or the government.

What is a Tax Return?

The name of the form on which the reconciliation is made is called the “tax return.” The tax return is filed with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), an agency of the U.S. government.  Your state tax return is filed with the Missouri Department of Revenue, and your city tax return is filed with the Collector of Revenue (if you are a resident of the City of St. Louis).  The deadline for filing most tax returns is normally April 15 of every year.  The tax year you are reporting on is for the previous calendar year (January 1 to December 31).  We encourage you to file early.  Do not wait until the last minute, just in case you run into problems.

Who Must File a Tax Return?

All individuals in the United States who have income must file a U.S. tax return. Tax residents usually complete Forms 1040 or 1040-EZ.  Nonresidents for tax purposes must complete either Forms 1040NR-EZ or the longer 1040-NR.  Under State Tax law you are also required to file a Form MO1040 or MO1040A.  If you live in the City of St. Louis, you will also be required to complete a Form E-1 if you have any income other than W-2 wages.  Your St. Louis City earnings tax will have been withheld from your W-2 wages.

A tax return must be filed even if no taxes are withheld from the income because of a tax treaty exemption between the United States and the country of tax residence for the international visitor. Nonresidents who are married and both work must each file a U.S. tax return.  Non-resident aliens are not exempt from filing state and city income tax returns.  The State of Missouri follows the Federal Government in requiring a return to be filed by all individuals who received income from within the State of Missouri.

In addition to the tax return, all individuals in F, J, M, and Q immigration status who are “exempt individuals” (including spouse and young children) are required to file a Form 8843 – Statement for Exempt Individuals. Filing this form does not mean the person is exempt from taxes, but rather that he or she is exempt from counting days of presence in the United States to determine if he or she is to be taxed as a resident or a nonresident. This form asks for certain information about immigration status and tax treaty claims. Therefore, if a nonresident alien has no income in the United States but is still within the “exempt individual” period, he or she must file the Form 8843.

What is a “Non-Resident” Alien?

Two primary U.S. government agencies use the terms “Non-resident” and “Resident Alien,” but define them differently, which can be a source of confusion to international visitors.

  • The U.S. Immigration Service (USCIS) defines a nonresident alien as someone in the United States who is not a U.S. citizen or U.S. permanent resident, who has a residence abroad he or she does not intend to abandon (i.e., he or she has not been provided authorization to live in the United States permanently).
  • The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) divides everyone into two categories for tax purposes—resident and nonresident:

Residents: all U.S. citizens, Lawful Permanent Residents (i.e., “green card” holders), and nonresident aliens for immigration purposes who have met the Substantial Presence Test (described below).

Nonresident aliens: all others, regardless of immigration status.

The Substantial Presence Test (SPT) is the way the IRS determines when nonresident aliens for immigration purposes have been in the United States long enough to be considered residents for tax purposes. To pass the SPT, one must be present in the United States for a total of 183 days, counted over a period of three calendar years.  There are special rules for F-1 students and J-1 exchange visitors about days of presence in the U.S.

Where can I find help?

For assistance with tax filing, and answers to frequently asked questions about taxes:  please view information on the OISS Website.


The staff of the Office for International Students and Scholars CANNOT give tax advice or assist with the filing of your forms and does not endorse any of these services.

Written By: Kaaren Quezada, Senior International Student & Scholar Advisor

OISS Newsletter Date: 01-31-2020