If you are considered a Dependent for the purpose of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you will be required to include your parents’ financial information along with your own. If you are considered Independent, however, you will only be required to include your own information. But if you’re just starting college, sometimes it can be hard to know the classification under which you fall. Here are some helpful hints for figuring it out!
On the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you will be asked the following questions to determine whether you will be considered a Dependent or Independent student:
- Were you born before January 1, 1990?
- As of today are you married?
- At the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year, will you be working on a master’s or doctorate program (such as an MA, MBA, MD, JD, PhD, EdD, or graduate certificate, etc.)?
- Are you currently serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces for purposes other than training?
- Are you a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces?
- Do you have children who will receive more than half of their support from you between July 1, 2013 and June 30, 2014?
- Do you have dependents (other than your children or spouse) who live with you and who receive more than half of their support from you, now and through June 30, 2014?
- At any time since you turned age 13, were both your parents deceased, were you in foster care or were you a dependent or ward of the court?
- As determined by a court in your state of legal residence, are you or were you an emancipated minor?
- As determined by a court in your state of legal residence, are you or were you in legal guardianship?
- At any time on or after July 1, 2012, did your high school or school district homeless liaison determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless?
- At any time on or after July 1, 2012, did the director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless?
- At any time on or after July 1, 2012, did the director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?
If you can answer Yes to any of the above questions, you will be considered an independent student on the FAFSA and generally will not need to provide your parents’ information.
However, if you answer No to all of the above questions, you will be considered a dependent student, and generally your parents must provide parental information on your FAFSA.
These are the only situations that make you automatically independent. If you have a special circumstance that prevents you from providing parental information, you may still be able to submit your FAFSA. However, your FAFSA will be considered incomplete. You must contact the financial aid office at your college and provide them with documentation to verify your situation. Most colleges have a form that you must complete with documentation of your situation in order to consider you for Independent status.
You’ll notice that the questions don’t ask about whether or not you live with your parents, whether or not your parents are willing to pay any of your college expenses, or whether or not you filed your own tax return. The reason for this is that none of the answers to those questions are relevant to your FAFSA dependency status. Even if you do not live with your parents, your parents have told you they’re not going to help pay for college, and you filed your own tax return, you must include their financial information on the FAFSA if you answer No to the above questions.
The most common errors that are made in answering these yes or no questions are:
- Students with children: Even if you have a child, if you don’t have any income from work, child support or other sources, you can’t be providing at least half the support for the child. In this case you would still be considered dependent on parents. If you are a Father, even if you pay child support, colleges usually won’t allow you to claim independent status unless the child actually lives with you. If the mother is also going to college and you aren’t married, then only one of you can use that child to claim Independent Status. However the child support you pay is reported on the FAFSA and deducted from your income in the EFC (expected family contribution) calculation.
- Guardianship: Notice the question says “legal” guardianship. That means legal paperwork signed by a Judge. Just because you live with a relative doesn’t make them your legal guardian unless that guardianship has been awarded to them by court documents.
Now, if you are considered a Dependent student on the FAFSA, you may have trouble figuring out which parent to list. Below are the criteria you will use to decide.
- If your parents are living and married, you answer the questions about both of them even if you don’t live with them.
- If your parent is single, you only report the income and information on that parent.
- If parents are divorced, answer the questions about the parent you live with most or if you don’t live with either the parent you last lived with.
- If your parents have shared custody, and you live with each 1/2 the time, you would choose the household you want to consider your responsible household. That should be the one that provided the most financial support during the last year or the last few years.
- If the parent that you are showing on your FAFSA has remarried, you will also report the income for your step parent.
- The only people you can report as parents on your FAFSA are biological, adoptive or step parents. You would never report a Grandparent or other relative as you parent unless they have adopted you.
- If you are under a legal guardianship, that guardian is not responsible for you after you turn 18 even if you continue to live with them. So you would not report your guardian as a parent, you would be independent.
If you have any trouble with dependency questions on the FAFSA, check out this flowchart for quick reference.
And remember, if you ever have any questions or want any help with the FAFSA in general, contact us for an appointment.