How can I fill out a FAFSA without a tax return?
You can fill out a FAFSA, also known as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, without a tax return in certain situations recognized by the government. We explain how you may still be able to complete and submit your FAFSA and apply for aid without a tax return for you or your parents.
The purpose of providing your IRS income tax return information on the FAFSA is to help give the government an idea of your financial situation in order to determine your need for assistance. However, there may be reasons why you don’t have access to the required tax returns or have returns at all.
First, let’s review whose tax information may be needed to complete the FAFSA. If you, the student, are your parent’s dependent, you’ll need information from your parent’s tax return. If you personally have income you may also need to file an income tax return and use that information on the application.
Have other student tax filing questions? Be sure to visit our Tax Guide for College Students and find out about student forms that can be filed for free.
FAFSA tax return requirements
First, let’s review the FAFSA tax return requirements and whose tax information may be needed to complete it.
If you, the student, are your parent’s dependent, you’ll need information from your parent’s tax return. If you personally have income you may also need to file an income tax return and use that information on the application. (Note: Being a dependent means something specific for taxes. Find out if parents can claim a college student as a dependent.)
Don’t worry about not having the actual return. In the next section we cover how to apply for FAFSA without a tax return.
Below we list the type of tax return information required on the FAFSA.
- Social Security Number – do not enter an ITIN in the SSN box
- Filing status (for you/your parents)
- The type of tax form you filed (ex. Form 1040)
- Adjusted Gross Income amount for that year
- Wages income, cash, savings account amounts
- Education credits received, child support
- Untaxed income for that year (ex. tax exempt interest)
- Income tax owed
- Student aid (ex. taxable grants/scholarships and education credits)
Luckily, you don’t necessarily have to enter that information line-by-line. Thanks to the IRS’ Data Retrieval Tool, most people can have their information added automatically. Find out more about the Data Retrieval Tool.
How to apply for FAFSA without a tax return
If you’re trying to complete the FAFSA without a tax return, you’re not alone. This is a common concern. In fact, some wonder how they can complete the FAFSA with no income or if you have to file taxes just for the FAFSA.
Depending on your personal situation, how you work around not having a return will differ. Below we outline a few situations.
You have yet to file your return – In the past, the dates of when the FAFSA was available and the specific year of tax return information needed made it difficult for those trying to get their application in early. Luckily, the government made changes to the process in 2015 that allowed for an earlier submission date and also allowed for an older tax return to be used.
“What tax return do I need for the 2021 FAFSA?”
For the 2021 FAFSA, you’ll use your 2019 tax return. With the new schedule, most taxpayers will have filed before the application period opens each year on October 1. The extended tax deadline is typically October 15, so if you asked for tax filing extension, you could file at any time between the normal April 15 deadline and October 15 extended deadline.
If you need the full extension period to complete your taxes, you may not have the tax return information in time to submit your FAFSA early.
If that is the case, you can indicate “Will file” on the form and can use a late December paystub and the previous year’s income tax return to provide estimates for questions about your income if it is similar. If your income is not similar, you can use the Income Estimator available when you complete the FAFSA online at www.fafsa.gov.
Once you file your return, you must update your FAFSA from “Will file” to “Already completed” and enter your final amounts.
You or your parents are not required to file a return – Those with little or no income have asked if they can pay zero ($0) income tax and still submit a FAFSA. If you or your parents’ income is below the minimum amount to file taxes, you can choose the option “Will not file” when you complete the FAFSA. However, you will need to provide any W-2, 1099 or final pay stub received for that specific year.
Your parents are not citizens and do not live the U.S. – If your parents do not live the U.S., you will be able to choose “Foreign Country” as an answer to the question about their state of legal residence. Additionally, you can select “Foreign tax return” in answer to the question of what type of tax return they filed.
Questions about the information on your tax return?
Our Tax Pros are available to help. They’re dedicated to knowing the nuances of taxes and can help you understand your return.
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