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Even summer jobs have tax obligations

BY TERRY SAVAGE Published: June 18, 2012

Q. My son has a job for the summer — a real job with a real paycheck. So will he owe taxes on this money, and will he have to file a tax return?

A. Welcome to real life — where money earned is shared with the government. It may be a rude awakening for your son. The first thing he will be asked to do is fill out IRS form W-4, "Employee's Withholding Allowance Certificate." That's how the employer will figure out how much to withhold from his paycheck for federal income taxes.

That will be the first shock, because the amount withheld will be based on the pay level as if he were a full-time worker. But since he will work only for a few months, he probably won't reach the income level necessary to pay taxes — $5,950. So next April, he can file for a tax refund. And yes, in the meantime, the government gets the use of his money.

He will also notice a deduction for FICA — the "payroll tax" — or as it is commonly known, the Social Security Tax. The threshold for paying FICA is $400, and this is money he won't get back until retirement, maybe. Tell him that FICA stands for Federal Insurance Contributions Act — so he's really making a "contribution" (not voluntary) to his future retirement in the event that Social Security is still around. Actually, he's making a contribution to your retirement!

Then he can spend — or save — whatever is left after all those deductions. It's likely that he will qualify for a federal tax refund next year. If he is in college and under age 24, as a full-time student, he can be claimed as a dependent on your return, giving you a deduction.

Even so, next April he must file his own return to claim the tax refund. He won't be able to claim his personal exemption if he is a dependent on your return, but he will get the standard deduction of $5,950 for 2012. Thus, if he earned less than that amount, he will get back all the withholding taxes he paid in because he has zero tax liability.

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