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A Guide to Filing FAFSA® Without a Tax Return

A Guide to Filing FAFSA® Without a Tax Return

Federal tax returns are required to file the FAFSA (Free Application For Federal Student Aid). The federal government uses the information on the tax return to investigate a family's financial situation and determine how much they can afford to pay for college. The FAFSA makes entering information from previous tax returns easy with the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. This tool not only speeds up the completion of the FAFSA but also avoids errors, as the information is pulled directly from previous tax returns. However, sometimes a student or parent has not filed a federal tax return, making it difficult to complete this part of the form.

Reasons for Not Filing a Federal Tax Return

  • Authorized Deferral of Filing Requirements: This is for people who cannot meet tax deadlines for official reasons, such as being an active military member and serving in a combat zone. 

  • Filing Extension: Some taxpayers file an extension of their income tax return, giving them six months extra to file the tax return. 

  • Not Required to File: Sometimes, an individual does not have to file a federal income tax return because the taxpayer's gross income is below the filing limits. 

  • Unauthorized Failure to File: There are several reasons why a person falls into this category. It could be because a taxpayer is unorganized and doesn't meet the deadline. Other times it is because the person owes a high tax or is a tax protester or tax evader. Finally, it can happen because someone is hospitalized, imprisoned, or institutionalized. None of these reasons are appropriate for not filing tax returns with the IRS.

How to File FAFSA Without a Tax Return

If no tax returns have been filed, the taxpayer's W-2 and 1099 returns and/or most recent payment slip can be used to complete the FAFSA. A signed statement confirming the adjusted gross income may be used if the taxpayer is self-employed. Additionally, if the taxpayer has requested an extension or suspension of the reporting requirement, the individual must update the FAFSA at the end of the extension. This may affect an applicant's ability to obtain federal financial assistance if needed. Finally, an unauthorized non-applicant cannot receive financial assistance until the applicant files a non-frivolous federal income tax return. Without this information, the federal government considers any financial information about a student or their parents " conflicting." 

It is against federal laws for financial aid administrators to assist students or make professional judgments until all information has been received and resolved. However, there are exceptions to these policies. Families affected by a federally declared disaster can work with the U.S. Department of Education, IRS, and financial aid administrators to reconstruct records, extend filing deadlines, and change tax laws for disaster victims. 

If a person has never filed a tax return, it's not the end of the world. College dreams should not be dashed. Financial aid is not out of reach. However, this will take a lot of work. A student and his or her parents should seek the assistance of a qualified accountant or tax expert. They will know how to solve problems related to taxpayers' tax situation.

What do you do if there is no help from your parents?

Of course, some students won't get help from their parents, whether paying for college or even providing financial information for the FAFSA. Unfortunately, the FAFSA requires parents' financial information if the student is found to be dependent. Students are eligible to apply to be considered independent students. They will be eligible if they meet one of the following conditions: 

Be 24 years of age or older as of December 31 of the award year.

Be an orphan (both parents are deceased), ward of the court, in foster care, or was a ward of the court at 13 years or older.

Be a U.S. Army Veteran or be on active duty in any form other than for training purposes.

Be a graduate or professional student 


Have dependents in addition to your spouse

Emancipated minor or in legal guardianship

Be a homeless youth 

Students for whom a financial aid administrator determines documented independence by reason of other unusual situations if the student is not eligible for independent status can speak with a financial aid administrator. They can persuade parents to file the FAFSA or work with an accountant to file federal tax returns. When they hear from a professional, like an accountant, that providing their financial information in no way obliges them to pay for college, it might be a little easier to convince them. 

Also, if a student has a history of a hostile home or abuse, he or she can apply for a dependency override from the college. This implies that a financial aid administrator has the ability to change a student's status from employed to self-employed, and the FAFSA can be completed without parent information. 

Finally, if the parent still refuses to file the FAFSA or federal tax returns, a financial aid supervisor can make the student eligible for unsubsidized Stafford loans. Essentially, there are options for students whose parents will not contribute financially or provide financial information, such as federal tax returns. It will take lots of work and many phone calls; however, the prospect of having student aid to pay for their education should be more than enough to motivate students to go this route. 

Bottom Line

The conclusion is students should ask for help instead of losing their college education because of their parents. Exceptions can be made, and the main mission of a financial aid administrator is to help students pay for their education. Therefore, students must let them.



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