Filing for FAFSA: How Your Tax Return Affects Your Child’s Education Funding

Whether your high schooler is dreaming of ivy-covered dorm rooms or the state college up the road, chances are you’re thinking of how you’re going to pay for it. Between tuition, room and board, books, and living expenses, the bill keeps getting higher and higher. 

That’s where the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) comes in. Whether you’re looking to apply for loans, government-funded scholarships, or your child’s school’s financial aid package, you’ll need to fill out the FAFSA. 

It is important to know that a tax return is almost always required to fill out a FAFSA application. 

What tax return do I need for FAFSA 2023-2024?

The tax return required is always the one filed the year prior to the start of the school term. In the case of FAFSA 2023-2024, you will need a copy of your return for your 2021 income, filed in 2022. 

What tax return information do I need for FAFSA?

You will need the following tax information when filling out the FAFSA application:

  • Social Security Number
  • Filing status 
  • Type of tax form you filed (Form 1040, W-2, etc). 
  • Adjusted Gross Income amount for the year of your tax return
  • Wages, salaries, cash, savings account income amounts. 
  • Education credits received, child support
  • Untaxed income for that year (tax exempt interest)
  • Income tax owed
  • Student aid (taxable grants/scholarships and education credits)

Can I file FAFSA without a tax return?

Yes, but only in particular situations.There are two exemption qualifications: You can file FAFSA without a tax return 

  1. If you (as a parent) make less than the minimum income amount to file taxes, or 
  2. If the child is a non-U.S citizen who also lives outside the U.S. 

If neither of these apply to you, you will have to file your tax return in order to apply for FAFSA. 

Filing your taxes is extremely important to secure your child’s eligibility for financial aid at any U.S. university as well as for any scholarship from the state or federal government. This will also impact their ability to take out loans from a reputable lender. 

What is FAFSA’s “independent” vs “dependent” student?

Essentially, FAFSA’s dependency status determines whether you need to submit your tax returns or your child needs to submit theirs. An “independent” student will only submit the application using their own income and tax return, whereas a “dependent” student will need your tax information. 

Is my child considered a “dependent student” if I file them as a dependent?

Even if you claim your child as a dependent, they won’t necessarily be considered a “dependent student” in the eyes of the U.S. government. Any one of the following circumstances will lead to FAFSA considering your child a “dependent.”

  • They are 24 or older by the first January of the school year for which you are applying for financial aid.
  • They are married or separated but not divorced.
  • They are working toward a master’s or doctorate degree
  • They have children who receive more than half of their support from your child
  • They have dependents other than children or a spouse who live with them and receive more than half of support from them. 
  • They are currently serving on active duty in the U.S. armed forces
  • They are a veteran of the U.S. armed forces
  • They were orphaned, in foster care, or a ward of the court
  • They are an emancipated minor or in a legal guardianship as determined by the court
  • They are an unaccompanied youth who is homeless or self-supporting and at risk of being homeless

Unless any of the above applies to your child, your tax information will be required to submit a FAFSA application. 

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Don’t let your child get left behind when they take their first steps into adulthood. Our tax professionals have helped thousands of Coloradans file their taxes and comply with FAFSA regulations. Reach out to a Boxelder tax professional today and keep your child’s future secure.


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About the Author

A company founder standing by Colorado's Front Range

Tom Conradt

Co-Founder, IRS Collections Defense Attorney

Tom Conradt is the co-founder of Boxelder Consulting & Tax Relief, and has been practicing IRS Collections defense law for the past ten years. Graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Tom is the lead IRS Collections Defense Attorney and heads the tax resolution department. Tom’s favorite part about working at Boxelder Consulting is hearing about the relief that clients experience after they sign up and start seeing immediate results on their case. Tom enjoys all the outdoor activities Colorado has to offer, including skiing, hiking and climbing. He is also looking forward to the return of indoor pickup basketball.

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