Exclusive AMA w/ The FAFSA Guru: How to Maximize Your Financial Aid Offers

Tina Steele, a.k.a. @TheFAFSAGuru, has spent 30+ years working in higher education, helping thousands of students find the financial aid they need to pursue their dream of attending college. She helps maximize funding and minimize your debt, and makes it simple for families to get every dollar they deserve. Her clients have received on average $12,000-$20,000 of additional funding over the course of their education.

The FAFSA Guru by Sokanu’s mission is to make financial aid guidance affordable for families by offering two programs. For a modest monthly fee, The Financial Aid Academy is a digital course that provides a roadmap for families toward maximizing their financial aid award.
The Coaching Program for College Planning is designed for families of high school seniors and provides comprehensive application guidance via live monthly webinars and a private Facebook group with weekly live Q&As.

Tina will answer your questions about the financial aid process, help you better understand the many financial aid options available to help you pay for college, and how you can maximize your financial aid offers.

She has agreed to share her Financial Aid 101 webinar with anyone who is interested and is offering a 25% discount on both of her programs for the first 5 people that sign up! To access the discount use code CCFORUM at checkout.

The AMA will be live on Wed, Nov. 4 so make sure to ask your questions ahead of time.

If I don’t file tax returns (SAHM mom with some interest and dividend income, too low to be taxed), will it hurt my FAFSA and/or CSS? Does it make a difference?

Should I file taxes (even though I don’t have to pay any taxes) just for the sake of FAFSA and CSS?


Are you married? Does your spouse file income taxes?

We’re separated so I understand for FAFSA, it’ll be me filling out the app (my DC spends most of his time with me, even though he’s a dependent on my exDH’s tax returns - so yes, my exDH has income and files taxes annually). For CSS, we’ll both have to fill out separately.

I guess I’m trying to figure out if not filing taxes “raises eyebrows” at any schools. It’s such a pain to fill out the tax returns so I rather not do it if I don’t have to.

But if it’s a issue, I’ll bite the bullet and fill out tax returns this / next year. Thinking about it is already giving me a headache!

Do you live in separate homes?

Do you receive alimony?

@sonatarhia on another thread, you indicated your income was in the $15,000 a year range. Are you sure you were not required to file a tax return?

Regardless…in terms of affecting aid…it doesn’t matter if you get a non-filers statement or do your taxes. Your aid will be calculated based on the financials you provide in the financial aid application forms.

As noted on your previous thread, you might meet the requirements for the simplified needs test for FAFSA purposes if you meet all the criteria. There is no simplified needs test for the Profile so your $500,000 of stock value will be an asset.

Perhaps @TheFAFSAGuru has a way you can minimize the impact on this asset…but really…it’s yours, right?

We live separately for several years now, and I do get some child support (which I know I will need to report on FAFSA/CSS). I’m below the bracket to file taxes because I have a few deductions / expenses that offset the income every year and bring it below the bracket.

I haven’t filed tax returns for years, and is wondering if I should - for the sake of financial aid? if it doesn’t make a difference, then I would be happy to continue skip it (I keep all my statements and such so I can certainly provide to schools to show income/expenses).

Whether or not you have to file is very important. Your comment that you have deductions and expenses that allow you to skip filing raises a red flag for me. You don’t have any deductions if you don’t file. You need to go to the IRS website and search “do I need to file.” Filing requirements are based on income. If you were required to file but did not, you will be required to file before you can receive federal aid (including loans). Trust me, I have had to deny aid to people who should have filed but did not. If they chose not to do a late filing, they couldn’t get financial aid.

@kelsmom OK, I’ll do the IRS test again this year to confirm (did it several years ago and qualified at the time, and my financial situations haven’t changed since). However, sounds like I should file anyway just to play it safe?

Thank you!

If you file, you can probably use the DRT when filling out the FAFSA. Then you wouldn’t have to get tax transcripts.

I always filed for my kids even when they had little or no earnings as it made FAFSA easier.

This is a little odd. You get to claim deductions and expenses on the taxes you FILE which might reduce the amount of actual taxes you need to pay.

But I don’t believe you can just decide you have those deductions and not file. I think you need to check this.


The way sonatarhia describes her process does seem odd, but it’s difficult to make any judgments without more specifics.

@BelknapPoint No it will not hurt you at all and is actually helpful in terms of qualifying for financial aid when you are a non-tax filer due to having lower income

I don’t understand how it would be helpful for FA to be a non-tax filer. Wouldn’t the income be the same whether or not they filed taxes, meaning they would qualify for the same financial aid?

@BelknapPoint yes I agree with this reply you need to make sure that you are not required to file taxes otherwise it will cause issues. When you refer to having deductions do you mind sharing what they are? That Would be helpful in giving you the best advice

@BelknapPoint here is an IRS tool that you can use to help you determine if you need to file taxes. https://www.irs.gov/help/ita/do-i-need-to-file-a-tax-return

@kelsmom yes for sure! Not filing when you’re supposed to @BelknapPoint can prevent you from receiving financial

@TheFAFSAGuru @BelknapPoint did not ask the question about tax filing. That question was posted by @sonatarhia

Fact is…this posters income will be the same whether he or she files taxes…or not. That same income amount will be listed in the FAFSA either way. BUT…if this poster was required to file taxes and did not do so, it most definitely will affect the student actually getting federally funded need based aid disbursed.

If you are required to file taxes, you need to do so.

This poster needs to get that figured out. You can’t just take deductions and expenses off of your income and reduce your taxable income so you don’t need to file. You need to complete a tax return, find out what deductions you can take, take them and reduce your tax PAYMENT liability.

At least that is my understanding. I would suggest the poster who posted the question speak to a tax expert and determine whether they should have been filing all these years…or not.

As noted…lots of info not provided here…most notably…what IS that $15,000 income. Is it from interest or dividends? Is it from self employed or contract work?

But $15,000 income is $15,000 income regardless of whether you file taxes and use those for completing financial aid forms…or complete a non-filers statement which would explain the reason you didn’t file.

Sad how some people ask legit questions and get censored, while experts can help you manipulate the systems

@thumper1 @sonatarhia There really is no way to minimize the impact of assets on the CSS Profile. There is however a section for special circumstances where you can write anything about your financial situation you would like the financial aid office to take into consideration.