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Navigating the Tax Maze:
Credits, Deductions, and Returns, Oh My!

APEF: Solving the Financial Illiteracy Crisis

Soft skills refer to a set of personal attributes, behaviors, and social attitudes that enable individuals to interact effectively with others in a workplace or social environment. These skills are essential for building healthy relationships, communicating effectively, solving problems, and collaborating with others.

Taxes. The word alone can cause eye rolls and groans, even for adults. Before dismissing it as all grown-up mumbo jumbo though, hear me out! Understanding taxes is like learning a secret code; once cracked it becomes empowering, not terrifying!  Understanding taxes is a crucial aspect of financial literacy that can often seem daunting for high school students. As you embark on your journey toward financial independence, learning about taxes will empower you to make informed decisions about your money. This article seeks to demystify this complex world while giving essential tools to navigate its many complexities successfully!

First things first: Why do we pay taxes?
Think about public schools, firefighters, or road repairs: they all benefit our communities equally but who pays for them? That's where taxes come in. They're our small individual contributions, funding things like schools, law enforcement, healthcare, and even that park where you hang out with your friends. Taxes are fees imposed by the government on individuals and businesses to fund these public services and projects. As a responsible citizen, paying taxes is not only an obligation but also a way to contribute to the overall well-being of your community.

Types of Taxes
There are various types of taxes, but the most common ones you'll encounter are income, sales, and property taxes.

  • Income Taxes: These are taxes on the money you earn from sources like employment, self-employment, or investments. Understanding how to calculate your taxable income and knowing the difference between gross and net income are essential components of effective financial planning.

  • Sales Taxes: When you make purchases, you often encounter sales taxes. This is a percentage of the item's price added during checkout. Knowing how to calculate the final cost of an item, including sales tax, is essential for budgeting.

  • Property Taxes: If you own real estate, you’ll more than likely be subject to property taxes which contribute to local services and schools. Understanding the assessment process and knowing how to budget for property taxes is important for homeowners.

I’m in high school, do I have to file taxes?
As a high school student, you may not yet need to file taxes if your part-time income falls within certain parameters; however, learning about the process early on is beneficial. Familiarize yourself with tax forms, deductions, and credits. Many people use tax software or hire professionals to help them navigate the complexities of filing taxes…but don't worry; it's usually pretty simple, especially if your income is below a certain amount. 

How do I know if I need to file a tax return?
The good news is there are resources to help you navigate the tax world. Check with your parents or guardians, teachers, or even online resources like the IRS website. They can help you figure out whether filing is necessary and guide you through the process.

What if I do need to file a tax return? 
First off, don’t panic! Filing taxes doesn't need to be stressful or scary; there are resources such as free online tax filing platforms or apps available which can guide you through each step. After all, everyone started somewhere - even adults need help sometimes!

Okay, I filed my return, now what?
Taxes aren't just about paying in; sometimes, you can get money back! This is called a tax refund. Sometimes, the government might estimate how much tax you owe based on your income, but overestimate. This means they took a bit more than they needed and will give you back the difference. You should also check if you're eligible for any deductions or credits – these are like coupons that can reduce your tax bill or even get you some money back.

Knowledge is key!

Knowledge of taxes gives you more power over your financial future. Once you understand the fundamentals, you can confidently move toward your financial goals such as saving for college or creating a smart budget. Financial literacy involves making informed and effective decisions with money; understanding taxes plays a pivotal role here - be mindful when budgeting, saving, or investing and consider their tax consequences!

  • Make sure you include estimated taxes in your budget to avoid unpleasant surprises during tax season.

  • Some investments, like Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) or 401(k)s, offer tax advantages. Learning about these options can help you make smart saving decisions.

  • Capital gains tax may apply when you sell investments for a profit, so understanding these taxes may have an effect on your investment strategy.


  • Taxes are your contribution to the public services that keep a community going.

  • You might need to file a tax return, depending on your income.

  • Resources are available to help you navigate the process.

  • You might even get a tax refund!

  • Knowledge is power – the more you understand taxes, the better you can manage your money.

Taxes might not be everyone's favorite topic, but by understanding them, you're taking control of your financial future. And who knows, you might even find a little bit of fun in the process (and if you do, a career in financial services may be something to consider!) Stay curious, seek additional resources, and remember that being informed about taxes is an essential part of making sound financial decisions. By embracing this knowledge early on, you can build a foundation for a financially secure future.

Bonus Tip: Check out the IRS Teen Tax Topic Hub for fun and informative resources on taxes specifically for young people. 

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