An unusual verification scenario

A colleague recently encountered an unusual verification scenario. When a student filed head of household on her Federal Income Tax returns and listed her spouse and child in the household size, she decided to examine the situation closer to ensure that all of the information in the file was consistent. She knew that in order to file as head of household, the student generally couldn’t be married and she set out to identify any conflicting information.

When she interviewed the student, she explained that she was married in another country and that although she was a Permanent Resident herself, her husband who was unemployed, was a nonresident alien. Since he didn’t work, he didn’t file taxes. She remarked that she and her husband were not considered married in the United   States. This didn’t sound right to the experienced financial aid administrator, so she pulled out good-old IRS Publication 17 to do some research.

She knew right where to look, and thumbed to the page on Head of Household.

It read:

Head of Household

You may be able to file as head of household if you meet all the following requirements.

  1. You are unmarried or “considered unmarried” on the last day of the year.
  2. You paid more than half the cost of keeping up a home for the year.
  3. A “qualifying person” lived with you in the home for more than half the year (except for temporary absences such as school). However, if the “qualifying person” is your dependent parent, he or she does not have to love with you.

She reread the first requirement aloud, recalling the student’s similar statement. “You are unmarried or “considered unmarried” on the last day of the year.”

What did that mean?

She read on, eventually finding her answer.

It read:

Nonresident alien spouse.  You are considered unmarried for head of household purposes if your spouse was a nonresident alien at any time during the year and you do not choose to treat your nonresident spouse as a resident alien. However, your spouse is not a qualifying person for head of household purposes. You must have another qualifying person and meet the other tests to be eligible to file as head of household.

Much to her surprise, the student’s story checked out and she quickly phoned the student to give her the good news. She was excited to tell her all about the exciting guidance she found in IRS Publication 17. When she got around to calling me, we agreed, this was one of those stories for the infamous “book” of financial aid rarities and oddities.

Got a great financial aid related story to tell? Tell us about it below.

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