I'm 22 years old, and I don't receive any financial aid. I've tried
to fill out the FAFSA but I have an obstacle. I claim myself and no
one else on my taxes. No one claims me. My mom does not fill out a tax
return because she doesn't get a W-2. (She works as a bartender at a
very small bar and is paid in cash only.) I still live at home with
her, but other than that I don't get any financial help from her. Am I
able to fill out a FAFSA without providing any of her information, or
do I have to wait until I'm 24?
— Angela T.
If a student is considered to be a dependent student, the student's
parents must complete the FAFSA. The parents must also supply copies
of their federal income tax returns if requested by the college
financial aid administrator.
If the student is considered to be an independent student, parental
information is not required on the FAFSA.
In most cases a student who is under age 24 as of December 31 of the
academic year is considered to be a dependent student, regardless of
whether the student is claimed as an exemption on the parent's federal
income tax return and regardless of whether the student is financially
self-sufficient. The main exceptions are when the student is married,
a graduate student, a veteran or active duty member of the US Armed
Forces or an orphan, or when the student has a dependent other than a
When there are unusual circumstances, a student can appeal to the
college financial aid administrator for a dependency override. Unusual
circumstances do not, however, include any of the following
circumstances, alone or in combination: the student is financially
self-sufficient; the student's parents do not claim the student as an
exemption on their federal income tax returns; the parents refuse to
complete the FAFSA; the parents refuse to supply federal income tax
returns or other documentation during verification; or the parents
refuse to contribute to the student's education.
College financial aid administrators grant dependency overrides in
rare circumstances. The student might receive a dependency override if
both parents are incarcerated or institutionalized. College financial
aid administrators might grant a dependency override if there is an
abusive family environment, such as when there are court protection
from abuse orders against the parents. Living at home with one's
parents, however, is inconsistent with most of the circumstances that
typically justify a dependency override.
College financial aid administrators generally do not grant dependency
overrides for a failure to file required federal income tax
returns. Subregulatory guidance from the US Department of Education
requires college financial aid administrators to know "(1) whether a
person was required to file a tax return, (2) what the correct filing
status for a person should be, and (3) that an individual cannot be
claimed as an exemption by more than one person." Discrepancies
involving these aspects of federal income tax returns are considered
to be "conflicting information" and college financial aid
administrators may not disburse federal student aid until the
conflicting information is resolved. Colleges must also resolve all
conflicting information before making any adjustments to the data
elements on a student's FAFSA, including a dependency override.
Accordingly, a failure to file a federal income tax return when
required would not be considered an unusual circumstance that
justifies a dependency override.
Thus college financial aid administrators may not disburse federal
student aid when the student, the student's spouse or a dependent
student's parents fail to file federal income tax returns and were
required to do so. Taxpayers are required to file federal income tax
returns when his or her annual gross income exceeds certain filing
thresholds. These filing thresholds may be found in
IRS Publication 17
and are equal to the sum of the exemption amount and the standard
deduction. But if someone's income falls below these thresholds, the
college's financial aid administrator will wonder how they were able to
support themselves. Such a FAFSA is likely to be flagged for
Generally, employers who pay an employee $600 or more per year must
provide the employee with an IRS Form W-2 regardless of whether the
employee is paid by check or in cash. Likewise, if the employer pays
$600 or more a year to a non-employee contractor, the employer must
provide the contractor with an IRS Form 1099. Failure to provide
employees with W-2 or 1099 forms may be a sign that the employer is
engaged in tax evasion.
An employee must still file a federal income tax return even if his or
her employer did not provide a W-2 or 1099 statement as required by
the IRS. Even if the employee's gross income falls below the filing
thresholds, the employee may still be required to file a federal
income tax return to pay Social Security or Medicare taxes. The
employee will have to attach
IRS Form 4852: Substitute for Form W-2 or Form 1099-R
to their federal income tax return. Otherwise the employee is also
engaged in tax evasion. It is best to seek the advice of a
qualified accountant in such a situation.
Clearly, if an employer is engaged in tax evasion, the employee may
lose his or her job by reporting the employer to the IRS. This puts
the employee in a difficult situation. But no tax return means no
federal student aid.