220 East 50th Street
New York, NY 10022

 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn YouTube  

Learning to File Taxes in High School

Authored By: 
Linli Chin, math teacher

April 15th*. Tax Day. Just the mention of this date evokes the same feeling in most adults; stress, fear, anger, and frustration. According to research conducted by The Pew Research Center in 2013, the majority of adults (56%) feel either hate or dislike doing their taxes.

*April 18th this year because of Good Friday/Passover

For those in that group (31%), the main reason for hating or disliking it was that it was “complicated or involved too much paperwork,” while 24% find it inconvenient and time-consuming. As Benjamin Franklin wrote to French scientist Jean-Baptiste Leroy in 1789, “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

In 2019, over 250 million people filed federal taxes. Seeing as how almost every working adult is required to file their personal income taxes, high schools should teach students to complete their taxes as part of the curriculum before graduation or if it is not part of the required curriculum, parents should put in the time and effort into prepping their high-school-aged teenagers with the tools and skills to be able to file their own taxes in the future. .

To understand the reasons why most freak out when it comes to taxes, GoodTherapy.com offers 3 main reasons and how to overcome it:

• Our unconscious relationship with money

• Our unconscious relationship with the IRS

• Our reflexive tendency to unconsciously regress under stress

To overcome this, we need to “[b]e aware that each of these reasons for stress during tax season and on Tax Day is rooted in your childhood. The truth is, most of the time we are not able to handle the overwhelming combination of our 'here and now' feelings and our long ago feelings from childhood by simply trying to 'manage' them or pretend they don’t exist. And if we are able to handle them that way for a time, managing and pretending about feelings are not sustainable solutions. We need to heal them… fully and to the root.” 

My take on this as an educator is to educate high school aged children and take this feeling of helplessness, frustration, and anger out of the equation. By doing so we should be able to overcome and thrive as adults when it comes to understanding and successfully filing our taxes. 

So, how can we empower our students or children to be able to confidently tackle the elusive Form 1040? At The Beekman School, our Economics teacher, Ian Rusten, covers a section where students get the opportunity to see how a Form W2 looks like and using that, students complete a sample 1040 form where they get to figure out their tax bracket, tax credits, types of deductions, tax due, adjusted gross income, and hopefully a refund! 

Since the IRS strongly encourages all taxpayers to E-file rather than file paper returns, Intuit, the makers of Turbotax, have collaborated with EverFi to create a tax preparation simulation that is available for free and available here  (https://turbotax.everfi.com/) to all! I have adopted this as a unit in my Financial Literacy class, and although students are not the most enthused when it is first introduced, they do see the value of learning how to properly fill up their 1040 and feel some sense of accomplishment when they can successfully complete one on their own, quoting one former student, “I enjoyed learning about how to file our taxes. This was also in the fall of my Junior year and I felt this was a really important lesson to learn sooner, rather than later.”

If you feel that this is something you would like to adopt for your classroom, or spend time working on with your teenager, some online resources can be found here:

Directly from the IRS : https://apps.irs.gov/app/understandingTaxes/index.jsp

From Intuit/EverFi: https://turbotax.everfi.com

From Next Generation Personal Finance, a student activity Google doc where students learn to identify common misconceptions about taxes and state the correct facts, identify what types of income are taxed, analyze a number of scenarios to determine who can be claimed as a dependent and if they need to file a tax return: https://tinyurl.com/39z2f288

And to lighten the blow for those who will end up owing the IRS, here’s something to lighten up your tax day! Happy Filing!