FAFSA

How to File the FAFSA Without a Tax Return

fafsa tax return

Anyone who’s ever filled out or is getting ready to complete the FAFSA knows: They want a lot of information from you. A lot. And while it’s all important — failing to provide something they’ve requested could set you back months in the process — the most critical thing the government requests from you is your income tax return.

That’s because the federal government uses your tax return (and your parents’ returns, if you’re classified as a dependent) to determine financial need and award money. But what happens if you or your parents didn’t file a return? Can you file a FAFSA but not file a tax return?

Yes, you can. The government recognizes there may be situations where you want to fill out the FAFSA without a tax return. This guide explains what to do in these situations.

Scenario 1: You’re a dependent who didn’t file a return, but your parent(s) did

Does this sound like you? You are:

  • Classified as a dependent, and therefore, required to include your parents’ income information on the FAFSA
  • Not required by the Internal Revenue Service to file your tax return
  • One or both of your parents, however, has filed a tax return

If this is you, here’s what you do:

  • When the FAFSA asks you if you’ve completed a tax return, answer “not going to file.”
  • When the FAFSA forwards you to the income section, enter the income your parent(s) earned (this information comes from their W-2)

Scenario 2: Both you and your parents did not file a return

Does this sound like you? You are:

  • Classified as a dependent for purposes of the FAFSA
  • Not required by the IRS to file a tax return, and neither are your parents

If this is you, here’s what you do:

  • When the FAFSA asks you if you’ve completed a tax return, answer “not going to file.” You may skip the questions about income tax, exemptions and adjusted gross income

Scenario 3: You’re filing the FAFSA as an independent student, and you didn’t file a tax return

Does this sound like you? You are:

  • Classified as an independent student for purposes of the FAFSA
  • Not required by the IRS to file a tax return

If this is you, here’s what you do:

  • When the FAFSA asks you if you’ve completed a tax return, answer “not going to file.”
  • You may skip the questions about income tax, exemptions and adjusted gross income

Scenario 4: You (and/or your parents) got a suspension or extension on filing your return

In this situation, those who are required to submit a tax return (whether that’s just you or you and your parents) requested either an:

  • Authorized extension of filing requirements (IRS Form 4868)
  • Authorized suspension of filing requirements (for example, for certain members of the military fighting in a combat zone)

If this is you, you do not have to include a return when filing the FAFSA. You must update the FAFSA, however, when any extensions end.

Scenario 5: You (and/or your parents) should have filed a return… but you didn’t

Maybe you or your parents were sick, incarcerated or just overwhelmed. Whatever the reason, you should have filed an income tax return, but you didn’t — and neither did you request an extension. This is called an “unauthorized failure to file,” and it disqualifies you from being eligible for any federal aid.

If this sounds like you, consider getting advice from an accountant or tax professional. They can help you get set up on a payment plan with the IRS and qualify for financial aid.

A few important things to note

  • For more information on who has to file a federal income tax return, visit IRS.com.
  • If you (or your parents, if you’re a dependent) are not required by the IRS to file a tax return, BUT you (or your parents) received a W-2, 1099 and/or a final pay stub of the year, you must provide these when filing the FAFSA (you will be prompted to do so)
  • The government may request a verification of non-filing to prove that you or your parents did not file taxes for the year in question. Contact the IRS to get this verification.

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