I have a problem with my FAFSA. My mom didn't file her income
tax returns the prior prior year. What do I use when I fill out my FAFSA form?
— Erica H.
There are four common scenarios in which someone might not file a
federal income tax return:
1. Not required to file.
The taxpayer is not required to file a
federal income tax return because the taxpayer's gross income is less
than the filing thresholds listed in Table 1-1 of
IRS Publication 17
and none of the situations in Table 1-3 apply.
2. Authorized extension of filing requirements.
The taxpayer is required to file a federal income tax return but
submitted IRS Form 4868
to get an automatic 6-month extension.
3. Authorized suspension of filing requirements.
The taxpayer is required to file a federal income tax return, but
the filing deadlines are temporarily suspended. For example,
filing deadlines are suspended for active duty members of the
Armed Forces serving in a combat zone for the duration of their
service in a combat zone and for 180 days afterward.
4. Unauthorized failure to file.
The taxpayer is required to file a federal income tax return and
did not receive an extension or suspension of the filing
requirements, but has not yet filed a federal income tax return.
Sometimes this occurs because the taxpayer is disorganized, owes a big
tax bill or is hospitalized, incarcerated or institutionalized.
Sometimes the taxpayer is paid under the table and is afraid to report
the income for fear of being fired. Some taxpayers will refuse to file
a federal income tax return because they are tax protesters or tax
evaders. None of these reasons for failing to file a federal income tax
return are considered adequate by the IRS.
If the taxpayer was not required to file a federal income tax return,
the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is completed
based on the taxpayer's W-2 and 1099 statements and/or the last pay
stub of the year. If the taxpayer is self-employed, a signed statement
certifying the amount of adjusted gross income may be used.
The questions concerning adjusted gross income,
income tax and exemptions will be skipped. If the taxpayer's earned
income was above the minimum filing threshold, however, the FAFSA will be
automatically selected for verification because of the apparent
(Even if a taxpayer is not required to file a federal income tax
return, it is often worthwhile to file a federal income tax return to
claim a refund on federal income tax withholdings and to obtain
refundable tax credits
A similar approach is taken if the taxpayer was required to file a
federal income tax return but obtained an authorized extension or
suspension of the filing requirement. The applicant will be required
to update the FAFSA when the extension ends, and this may change the
applicant's eligibility for need-based federal student aid.
Otherwise, if the taxpayer was required to file a federal income tax
return but did not obtain an authorized extension or suspension, the
applicant will be ineligible for federal student aid until the
taxpayer files a non-frivolous federal income tax return. A failure to
file a required federal income tax return without an authorized
extension or suspension is considered "conflicting information."
Federal regulations prohibit college financial aid administrators from
disbursing federal student aid or making professional judgment
adjustments until all conflicting information is resolved.
If a taxpayer did not file because he or she was affected by a
federally-declared major disaster, see
Disaster Assistance and Emergency Relief for Individuals and Businesses
on the IRS web site. It includes information about reconstructing
records, extensions of time to file and tax law changes for disaster victims.
If a taxpayer did not have an authorized extension or suspension and
did not file a federal income tax return despite being required to do
so, she should seek the help of a qualified tax preparer or
accountant. They will know how to address the problems with the
taxpayer's income tax situation. For example, the IRS offers
for taxpayers who can't pay their federal income tax bill immediately.