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Do both parents have to file taxes if "Married filed separately" but one parent has no income?

Chris2077Chris2077 5 replies1 postsRegistered User New Member
I'm going into my third year of college in California and I need to verify my parents' tax return for financial aid verification. The issue is that the financial aid office wants copy of my parents' 2017 tax return. My mom filed under "married filed separately" while my dad did not file because he was disabled and had $0 in income. I've sent them a copy of my mom's tax return. Despite mentioning that my dad was disabled and did not file his 2017 taxes due to disability and no income, they still want to see his tax return. They stated "If your parents are married and they designated "Married/filing separately" as their filing status, then both parents are required to file a tax return." Now they are asking for my parents to file an amended tax return. This would take anywhere from 12-18 weeks according to the IRS. The semester is going to start and the deadline to pay for tuition is a month away. My dad no longer lives in the U.S. and I lost connection with him. If they don't verify the tax returns, then I will not get financial aid. This will force me to take a leave of absence. Do my parents have to file for an amended tax return? Any suggestions on what I can do besides taking out loans?
edited August 11
32 replies
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Replies to: Do both parents have to file taxes if "Married filed separately" but one parent has no income?

  • thumper1thumper1 73734 replies3213 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    @BelknapPoint what do you think?

    I think that married filing separately would mean that the second parent also would file...married filing separately. But then if the second parent had zero income...he wouldn’t be required to file.

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  • cptofthehousecptofthehouse 28759 replies56 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited August 11
    What is needed is a IRS 4506-T, with Item 7 checked off, filed, in order to get a Verification of Non Filing Letter from the IRS on part of the father.

    However, if your parents are physically separated as of the date you filed FAFSA, shouldn’t the filing status be separated and only the Custodial Parent (the mother) even be listed on the FAFSA?
    edited August 11
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  • twoinanddonetwoinanddone 22414 replies14 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    I don't think she can get a non-filer's form without having contact with the father.

    Did your father live in the US in 2017? If not, you mother may be able to amend her return to Head of Household.
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  • BelknapPointBelknapPoint 4375 replies16 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    I think that married filing separately would mean that the second parent also would file...married filing separately. But then if the second parent had zero income...he wouldn’t be required to file.

    If one parent files married filing separately, then the other parent would have to file the same way if the other parent is required to file. I'm not sure that in every case the other parent must file. It's usually so much more advantageous for a married couple to file jointly for a host of reasons, so it's odd that OP's mother filed separately, especially when the father supposedly had no reportable income.
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  • twoinanddonetwoinanddone 22414 replies14 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    Sometimes one person refused to sign the tax return prepared by the other or just aren't available to sign. I've had clients like that, but they didn't have students depending on parent's filing for student FA.
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  • cptofthehousecptofthehouse 28759 replies56 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    My question is whether the student filed FAFSA correctly. If the parents were separated the day she filed FAFSA, then the FAFSA should have been filed as with parents in separated status even though they were still married. If the father was living with the mother on the day FAFSA was filed, then the status did have to be married, and, both parents tax returns needed. If one parent did not fike verification of that fact is needed. Was the father present and his financial information presented on the FAFSA?
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  • mom2collegekidsmom2collegekids 83958 replies1009 postsForum Champion Financial Aid, Forum Champion Alabama Forum Champion
    This is your 3rd year of college. Did your mom file separately during previous years?

    Your dad has to file something, even it’s a non filer form indicating that he’s not required to file.

    Since mom is filing separately, does that mean that they can’t take the education tax credit?
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  • cptofthehousecptofthehouse 28759 replies56 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    You are not permitted to take the education credits if you have married filing separately. You lose other favorable treatment as well. There is no telling why OPs mother applied in this status. The fact is, she did. It might be beneficial to review the tax status and see if the mother was able to claim HOH. That the student was at college still counts as living with the parent for the residence standard for HOH , something that could have been missed But I’m just guessing here.

    I would look into that and also whether FAFSA parental status was accurately shown as I said earlier, if the dad did not live with mom when the FAFSA was filed, she’d becacsingke parent on FAFSA and the dad’s info not needed
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  • thumper1thumper1 73734 replies3213 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    @Chris2077

    We’re your parents already separated when you filed the 2019-2020 FAFSA form? Did you indicate “married” as their marital status if they were separated?

    If your parents were separated when you filed the FAFSA, that should have been noted as their marital status, and the income of your custodial parent only would have been listed for 2017.

    @kelsmom can the marital status be amended on the FAFSA if it was done incorrectly?
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  • Chris2077Chris2077 5 replies1 postsRegistered User New Member
    edited August 12
    (Update) Thanks everyone for the comments. I have been going back and forth between the IRS and financial aid office. The IRS representative said that all I have to do is get a copy of "verification of nonfiling" for my father's 2017 taxes. When I called back the financial aid office they said this:

    "We have followed-up with our processors regarding your requirements, and, unfortunately, an amended tax return for 2017 is needed. Based on IRS regulations, if your parents were married during the 2017 tax year, they must file as either "married, filing jointly" or "married, filing separately. Since your mother already updated with the IRS to indicate a "married, filing separately" status, we will need you to update your tax filing statuses. We will either need an amended 2017 tax return, with your parents filing "married, jointly," or they can file separately. Should they file separately, your father will need to file a separate return for 2017."

    I don't understand why they are saying that my dad needs to file his 2017 taxes because his income is $0 and was not required to file. This contradicts what they said of my fathering being required to file. We did not receive an audit from the IRS or a letter that states the filing status should be changed to "married filed jointly". My mom also did her 2018 taxes as "married filed separately" so this will once again become an issue in the future. My brother who goes to a different university got financial aid for the academic year and was not asked for our parents to file an amended tax return. Is the information they provided correct? How will my parents file an amended tax return if my dad does not live in the U.S. You need both parents signature to file the 1040X amended tax return (I don't want to forge his taxes). Even if I did find my dad he would refuse to sign because his cognitive abilities are poor ( he suffered from multiple strokes couple years ago).

    I'm literally about to cry because I depend on the financial aid to pay for college. Please help me. I will be going to the financial aid office tomorrow to plead my case
    edited August 12
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  • thumper1thumper1 73734 replies3213 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    Have you gotten financial aid in the past filing the same way? If not, what changed this filing year? Maybe that is part of your problem.
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  • Chris2077Chris2077 5 replies1 postsRegistered User New Member
    During my freshman year my parents filed as "Married jointly". I sent the tax return copy (2015) and had no problem. During sophomore year, they both were unemployed and both didn't file taxes (2016) because they were not required.I sent non-filing statement for both of my parents and financial aid office accepted them. In 2016 my dad moved out of the U.S. NOW it's my junior year and my mom filed 2017 taxes as "married filed separately" . My dad has $0 in income and didn't file (this is why I started this post)
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  • cptofthehousecptofthehouse 28759 replies56 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    Were your parents still living together when you filed this last FAFSA? Should you have filed the FAFSA with your mother as a separated Custodial parent? If your father left the US in 2016, and your mother was still here, he was not living with you and your mother when you filed this last FAFSA, was he? The FAFSA for the upcoming school year,2019-2020 was Available October 2018. Yes, you use 2017 tax returns, but your mother’s marital status on that FAFSA is what it was on the date the FAFSA was filed, not the tax year that is used for income purposes. Her status should have been single or separated for that FAFSA , not married. A lot of families go through parental separation and the status is as if date of FAFSA filing.

    I do not know if FAFSA can be amended for wrong marital status.
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  • thumper1thumper1 73734 replies3213 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    Agree...and I posted that upstream.

    Contact the financial aid department if your dad was already out if the picture the date your FAFSA was filed. It’s possible the school can change your parent filing status to “separated”.

    But I don’t think that solves the married filing separately issue...

    @BelknapPoint if the parents were separated when the 2017 taxes were filed...what would the correct filing status have been for the custodial parent?
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  • cptofthehousecptofthehouse 28759 replies56 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    The FAFSA instructions specifically say that FAFSA filing status is as of the date the FAFSA is filed.

    When the tax return used is filed jointly, it’s a pain in the neck to pick out the Custodial parent income at times. In this case, it’s easy because mother filed a separate return. It’s irrelevant what noncustodial parents income or return is when the FAFSA is filed as “separated”. I’m betting, OP filed FAFSA with mother checking the married box rather than separated because she was using an IRS form that stated her status to be “Married Filing Separately “even though the two statuses do not have to be consistent. Just like the assets are of the date the FAFSA is filed and the income from the return up to two years earlier.
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  • BelknapPointBelknapPoint 4375 replies16 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited August 12
    I don't understand this. My dad was not required to file taxes because his income is $0. What IRS regulations are they even talking about?

    Ask them. "What specific IRS regulation or instruction requires my father to even file a 2017 tax return if he had no taxable income, when my mother filed as married filing separately?" Politely insist on an answer that directly answers the question.
    edited August 12
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  • BelknapPointBelknapPoint 4375 replies16 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    BelknapPoint if the parents were separated when the 2017 taxes were filed...what would the correct filing status have been for the custodial parent?

    "Separated" has a specific meaning under the FAFSA rules. OP has written nothing in this thread that indicates the parents are separated using the FAFSA definition. Separation by physical distance and/or maintaining separate households is not in and of itself sufficient.
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  • cptofthehousecptofthehouse 28759 replies56 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    Given that the father is now not reachable, it is possible that the marital status entered on the FAFSA was in error. That the father is not reachable certainly supports the situation

    If a financial aid officer digs heels in, it’s a difficult problem. It’s the FAFSA regulations that are a problem here. The father might have technically had to have filed a federal return by law if his income was high enough or other situation. Federal law requires you to file a tax return for any year in which a filing requirement exists, such as when your income exceeds the threshold for your filing status. I seem to remember that if married filing separately, there could be reason to have to file taxes even if they are social security or disability benefits. There is no penalty for not paying if you don’t owe but technically there are cases when the law states you are required to file. I do not know if FAFSA addresses such cases— I seem to remember that if the tax law requires a filing, whether anything is owed, there is no penalty for not filing, you have to file. I don’t remember the specifics, however.



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  • twoinanddonetwoinanddone 22414 replies14 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    In 2016 my dad moved out of the U.S. NOW it's my junior year and my mom filed 2017 taxes as "married filed separately" . My dad has $0 in income and didn't file (this is why I started this post)

    You mother should consider the Head of Household status. It is up to her to determine if it is appropriate as only she knows whether she considered herself married or separated at the end of 2016 for tax status purposes.
    Can I claim head of household if I'm married?
    As a general rule, if you are legally married, you must file as either married filing jointly with your spouse or married filing separately. However, in some cases when you are living apart from your spouse and with a dependent, you can file as head of household instead.

    If your father were still in the US, they could file as married or he could get a statement of non-filer, but he doesn't so you can't. If she can amend and file as HOH your problems will be solved. She would then also qualify for tax credits for college.
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  • Chris2077Chris2077 5 replies1 postsRegistered User New Member
    edited August 13
    According to FAFSA terms, "When two married persons live as a married couple but are separated by physical distance (or have separate households), they are considered married for FAFSA purposes". This is the reason why I put married as the marital status on my FAFSA application. Also, for those of you saying that she should file as "Head of Household", my mom did. However, she was audited and changed the filing status to "married filed separately" which is where she currently is. The audit was just a simple change in filing status

    Thank you all for your messages and help. I have a massive headache from the constant stress. I appreciate the help and thank you for keeping me sane. I'll update you guys tomorrow after visiting the financial aid office in person. Talking to them on phone has caused a massive confusion. Thanks again
    edited August 13
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