Can You Get Federal Student Aid Without Filing Taxes?April 14, 2022
If you’re a high school senior preparing for college, you might be shocked at how expensive college is. Luckily, there is financial aid available. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 85.2% of first-year, full-time college students received federal aid, such as grants, work-study, or federal student loans.
To access that financial aid, you need to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). But what if you — or your parents — haven’t filed a tax return? Can you apply for FAFSA without filing taxes? The answer to those questions is dependent on your circumstances.
Who Is Eligible for Federal Financial Aid?
To qualify for federal, state, and institutional financial aid, you must meet the following requirements:
- You must be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen
- You must have a valid Social Security number (if you are a student from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, or the Republic of Palau, you do not need a Social Security number)
- Be enrolled at least half-time at an eligible school
- You must maintain satisfactory academic progress
- You must submit the FAFSA
Can You Get FAFSA If You Don’t File Taxes?
To complete the FAFSA, you have to provide information about yourself, your parents, and your finances. The form will prompt you to enter information from your tax return (or your parents’ tax returns if you are a dependent student).
However, you or your family may not have submitted your tax returns. If that’s the case, you may or may not qualify for federal aid. The handling of your FAFSA application depends on the circumstances behind not filing a tax return.
You or Your Family Are Tax-Exempt
Not everyone is required to file a tax return. If your family is low-income — meaning the household income falls below a certain threshold — your family is exempt from filing a federal tax return.
If that’s the case, you don’t have to enter any tax information on the FAFSA. Instead, you can check the box that says “will not file taxes” and submit the FAFSA as is. Your FAFSA form will likely be flagged for further verification, so make sure you have supporting documentation of your household income, such as pay stubs, disability benefits, or W-2 forms. You may also need a verification of non-filing letter.
While this scenario may require additional work and documentation, not filing your taxes won’t hurt your eligibility for financial aid.
Your Parents Live Outside the U.S.
If you are a U.S. citizen — but your parents aren’t and live outside the U.S. — you can select the “foreign country” option for your parents’ tax information on the FAFSA. This will prompt you to enter their tax information for their country of citizenship.
Your parents’ citizenship status doesn’t affect your eligibility for financial aid, so even though your parents didn’t submit a federal tax return, you’re still eligible for all federal aid.
Your Parents Didn’t File a Tax Return (and Were Supposed To)
If your parents aren’t tax-exempt — but didn’t file a tax return — you can still fill out the FAFSA. However, getting aid can be more difficult.
Financial aid administrators could not issue you aid as a dependent if your family didn’t file a tax return when they were supposed to do so.
But, in extenuating circumstances, you may qualify for an exception, and they will list you as an independent student rather than a dependent. If that occurs, the only aid available to you is Direct Unsubsidized Loans.
If this is your situation, check the box on the FAFSA that says, “I am unable to provide information about my parents.” You will have to enter the reason why you can’t provide that information.
After submitting the FAFSA, contact the college’s financial aid office and explain your situation to find out what options are available to you.
You Didn’t File a Tax Return (And Were Supposed To)
If you are over the income threshold and didn’t file a tax return, you won’t be able to submit a completed FAFSA, and you won’t qualify for federal financial aid. If you are behind on your taxes, contact a tax professional to get back on track to regain eligibility for financial aid.
Alternative to Federal Student Aid
Can you apply for FAFSA without filing taxes? While it’s possible to submit the FAFSA without filing a tax return, you’ll only qualify for aid if you are tax-exempt or if you qualify for an exception with the financial aid office.
If you need additional help paying for school, you have several other options:
- Independent grants and scholarships: Grants and scholarships are available from non-profit organizations and companies. While some organizations will require your FAFSA information, not all do, so you can qualify for gift aid even if you didn’t file a tax return. Search for available opportunities on FastWeb.com.
- Part-time jobs: Another option is to work part-time as a college student. You can use your earnings to offset your education costs and reduce the need for financial aid. Look for jobs on Indeed or SnagAJob.
- Private student loans: Private student loan lenders don’t require the FAFSA. Instead, they look at your credit history and income (or your cosigner’s credit history and income) to determine your eligibility for a loan. You can borrow up to the total cost of attendance and have up to 15 years to repay your loan with ELFI.* And, you can get a rate quote in minutes.