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My parent doesn’t file a tax return- how do I fill out my FAFSA?

December 18, 2018

If your parent or parents are not required to file taxes, then you may be wondering how that affects your ability to apply for federal financial aid.  The good news is that you can still submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as you normally would, but you will need to verify your parent’s tax non-filing status.

How to Complete the FAFSA

For dependent students, the FAFSA collects parents’ tax return information for the year that is two years prior to the upcoming school year (for example, 2017 for the 2019-20 school year).  On the FAFSA, in the section where you are required to state your parent’s tax filing status, you have the option of selecting “will not file” taxes.  If your parent is not a U.S. citizen and does not live in the United States, then you will be able to indicate that on the form. You can select “foreign tax return” in answer to the question of which type of tax return your parent filed for the subject year.

You will not be required initially to provide verifying documentation of tax non-filing status in order to submit your FAFSA.  However, your application more than likely will be flagged and selected for further verification.

Undergoing the FAFSA Verification Process

Verification of your FAFSA is conducted by individual schools’ financial aid offices.  If you have been accepted to many schools, then you will need to complete the verification process for each school that you are seriously considering attending (and again each year, assuming that your parent maintains his or her tax non-filing status).  

To verify a parent’s tax non-filing status, you will need to submit a Verification of Non-Filing Letter from the IRS for your parent.  (Your parent can request this certification letter from the IRS via Form 4506-T.)  In addition, many schools require a parent to submit a Tax Non-Filing Statement, in which the parent indicates types and amounts of income received in the subject year.  Sources of income may include:

  • Wages;

  • Interest and dividend income;

  • Child support;

  • Social Security benefits;

  • Welfare benefits; and/or

  • Other untaxed income (will need to specify source).  

Additional Required Documentation

For any wages received, your parent will need to provide copies of W-2 or 1099 forms.  Similarly, if your parent received Social Security benefits, then he or she will need to provide an award letter from the Social Security Administration.  For any public assistance or welfare benefits received, your parent will need to submit copies of benefits letters from the appropriate government agencies.  Every school has its own verification process; as a result, some schools may request more extensive documentation than others.

The Importance of Timing

If your FAFSA is selected for verification, then it is important to complete the verification process as quickly as possible.  You cannot receive any financial aid, or offers of financial aid, until your FAFSA is verified. Schools often distribute financial aid to eligible students on a first-come-first-served basis, so if you prolong the verification process, then the possibility exists that your FAFSA will be approved but the school no longer has sufficient funds to meet your financial needs.  Timing is especially important for students who wish to obtain a work-study position, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, or other form of funding with limited resources available.  

What are you waiting for?  Submit your FAFSA as soon as possible, get your supporting documents together, and complete the verification process as quickly as you can.  You, and your parent, will be happy that you did!