Tax assistance program available for post-docs


Help is on the way for postdocs trying to figure out their taxes.

Nathan Urban, vice provost for graduate studies, told the Senate Benefits and Welfare Committee on Jan. 28 that his office is working with the Katz Graduate School of Business and the School of Law to set up a tax assistance program. It would be open to any student or postdoc, but it is the direct result of efforts by David Gau, head of the Pitt Postdoctoral Association, to get help for post-docs — particularly those from outside the U.S. — who don’t receive W-2 tax statements.


People trained under the VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) program will be available from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays and 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturdays at the  Carnegie Library in Oakland.

Appointments are available if your income is up to $55,000. International tax returns also are available.

Schedule an appointment by calling 211 or 888-856-2773, or online at

This program is supported by the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

“It’s not exclusively just for the people who don’t (receive W-2s), but the people who don’t clearly have the bigger challenge,” Urban said. “Those are the people who would have less information about what it is that they’re supposed to do.”

The University splits post-docs into two categories — associates and scholars/fellows. The postdoc associates are treated more like faculty and staff employees and will receive an end-of-year tax statement. The scholars are postdocs who are supported on fellowships that do not cover the full fringe benefit rate.

The postdoctoral scholars, who do not receive W-2s or 1099 forms, have traditionally been treated differently, in part because of the interpretation of NIH rules about how much the University can consider these postdocs to be like employees, Urban said. The rules are part of the NIH guidelines for National Research Service Awards (F32s), and the same regulations apply to projects supported by other training grant mechanisms like T32, he said. These rules apply whether the postdoc is a U.S. citizen of not.

Urban said that most of Pitt’s peer institutions that receive substantial NIH funding also split postdocs into two similar categories. Currently, there are approximately 800 postdocs at Pitt. Of those, around 150 fall into the postdoc scholars category.

“The situation for international postdocs is, I think in some ways, even more complicated especially for those who don’t receive W-2s,” Urban said. “Because there are a lot of rules when you’re an international student or international trainee that determine what your tax liability is to the U.S., and what your tax liability might be to your home country.”

The University has been working for the past few months, at the urging of the Postdoctoral Association, to find ways to assist Pitt postdocs on their taxes.

Last year, a few people from the business school’s accounting program received free Volunteer Income Tax Assistance training to help students and others. This year, the business school has identified more volunteers, including at least one person to get advanced training to help people who don’t receive W-2s.

In addition, Pitt, in collaboration with the University Center for International Studies and the Office of International Services, has purchased several subscriptions to Sprintax, a tax prep information source for international students, scholars and non-resident professionals. It includes tax treaties that the U.S. has with other countries. People interested in Sprintax can contact Urban’s office for a code to log into the program for free.

Gau said his group has been working very closely with Urban and that it’s great to hear that “things are moving along.”

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 412-648-4294.


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