Dependent VS. Independent Status | 05.18.07

Posted in FAFSA By Student Loan Network Staff

Ok, let’s go over a common scenario…

You’re 21 years old, have been living on your own for a couple of years, are legal drinking age and yet you still need your parents information when filling out the FAFSA. It seems unbelievable, but it is true. The US Department of Education considers a student a dependent up until the age of 24 except in certain circumstances. Below I have broken down the difference between an Independent VS. Dependent student.

Independent Status

  • You will be at least 24 years old by December 31 of this year
  • You are or will be enrolled in a masters or Doctoral degree program at the beginning of the school year
  • You are married on the day you file your FAFSA
  • You are a parent
  • You have dependents other than your spouse who live with you and who receive more than half their support from you at the time you apply
  • Both your parents are deceased (or were until age 18) a ward of dependent of the court
  • You are currently serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces for purposes other than training
  • You’re a Veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces.
  • You were a foster child after the age of 13.
  • You are an emancipated child as determined by a court judge.
  • You are homeless or at risk of homelessness as determined by the director of a HUD approved homeless shelter, transitional program, or high school liaison.

If none of the above criteria apply to you, you’re a dependent student – even if your IRS tax status is different, even if you have no idea where your parents are.

That said, in rare cases, your school’s financial aid officer can override the FAFSA results to help you get more aid if you can demonstrate a compelling case that your parents and family provide absolutely no support, and therefore you’re not really a dependent. This is called a professional judgement override and while they are granted extremely rarely, they do exist. If you need a professional judgement override for dependency status, gather up as much documentation as you can, from rent bills to utility bills to the legal judgement from a court emancipating you from your parents and bring it to your financial aid advisor. While you’re not guaranteed anything, it’s at least worth a try.

Here’s what a financial aid administrator had to say on the topic of professional judgement override:

For Dependency Overrides the Federal guidelines are extremely clear. Being self-supporting is NOT grounds for an override.

Instead you must prove INVOLUNTARY DISSOLUTION OF THE FAMILY. This means you were forced to leave your parents’ home and have no contact with them. You must explain,in detail, why you cannot live with your parents. Then you must have official third party letters, on letterhead, that back up your story.

Just because you feel mature enough or responsible enough to be on your own does not erase your PARENTS’ OBLIGATION to assist you with your education.

We accept letters on letterhead from H.S. Guidance counselors and teachers, lawyers, personal counseling centers, social services, clergy, etc. We also will accept police reports documenting abuse. Absent that, we require two letters from people personally knowledgeable to the relationship with the parent like a Grandparent, Aunt or Uncle. The letters must be very detailed about the situation and their relationship to the student.

Most students make the mistake of having a roommate or employer write a letter that the student is self sufficient and pleading for us to just cut them some slack. They don’t realize that Fin Aid reps are personally liable for willfully violating Federal Law. I’ve been in Financial Aid for 12 years and I haven’t met a student yet that is worth going to jail for.

If you are still unsure of your status please feel free to contact the Student Loan Network.

The FAFSA blog is sponsored in part by:

Five most recent FAFSA form help blog posts:

5 Most Recent Student Loans Blog Posts:

The Student Loan Help blog is sponsored in part by:

346 Responses to “Dependent VS. Independent Status”

  1. thomascenia says on August 16, 2013 at 5:32 am:

    im 21 and i was adopted when i was 4 now im trying to sighn up for college,were would i go to get papers saying in emancipated?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on August 20, 2013 at 10:12 am:

      If you are adopted, you should use your adoptive parents’ information on the FAFSA. Students who were legally emancipated prior to age 18 would need to provide the court documents that support this.

      Reply To This Comment
  2. Teresa says on July 15, 2013 at 11:42 pm:

    My now 22 yr old daughter moved in with her step-dad and me in march. For the past 1.5 yrs she was living with her boyfriend. She has 2 kids with him, they live with us too. He pays no child support. She didn’t work at all in 2012.
    We are trying to get her on her feet and help her get going on a career. She now works in the service industry, we help with the babies so she can. The babies dad does not help or see them at all or pay for a thing.
    The college we applied to say she is “dependent” for fasfa cause she now lives with me. She didn’t get married , she just lived with her boyfriend prior. They are telling me to say she NO to all things on the dependency page, and put “parental info on app”. I do not understand. I pay for nothing she has. I help her with a roof, so she isn’t on the streets. She gets food stamps, wic, and help with child care to work, when I’m not home. Saying NO – that she doesn’t care for the babies is a flat out lie. How is that right?
    She has offered to rent out a room from us now that she has a little income. Would that change her to independent status? I had thought being a single mom of 2 kids would- but apparently I am hurting my daughters status because I’m her mom and under the roof.
    She needs this opportunity. If she leaves us to go back to that mentally ill, violent and unable to keep a job, person – just so she is not under the same roof with me, I think I’ll move out first, so she can stay and be in a safe stable place!
    Please, please, please tell me there is another positive answer ……

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on July 16, 2013 at 3:47 pm:

      In order for her to be considered independent based on having dependents, her children will need to receive more than 50% of their support from her. This includes housing, food, clothing, health insurance, and other necessities. If you can prove (with documentation) that she does in fact provide more than 50% of the support for her children, then she may qualify for independent status.

      Reply To This Comment
      • Teresa says on July 16, 2013 at 5:01 pm:

        She provides, via State assistance. Food, childcare, medical. Which is based on her limited work income (all in her name) She receives no child support, or help at all from the dad. he does not see the kids, or babysit, or get them anything. We help today with shelter. this current housing situation is a temporary stop on her path for a full life. She buys their clothes, diapers, car seats, high chairs, toys …… If all we have provided is housing, how do you weigh that? Does food get more weight then housing? Is there a formula?

        What would the next steps be to making this happen. keep in mind, the college has already asked that the dependant area on the form be filled with NOs, parent financials added, and form resubmitted.

        That is not going to happen, She has children she provides for. And all 3 would be in a shelter right now, if we hadnt taken them in.

  3. David Bigwood says on June 30, 2013 at 4:41 pm:

    I hope so! Can’t wait to hear about that, thanks for checking!

    Reply To This Comment
  4. JJ McCarthy says on May 29, 2013 at 2:07 pm:

    Our grand daughter was abandoned by both parents in 2001. Finally received guardianship in 2005. Parents not capable of taking care of their daughter. Mother incarcerated part of the time she abandoned the daughter. Grandma & Grandpa step up to take are of Granddaughter. In 2007 Oklahoma courts grant adoption to the grandparents. Grandparents are both retired and have exhausted 401 savings for taking care of child. Student granted Independent Status per the Financial Director. 3 Years later, new director in place and tell grandparents that their grandchild in not eligible for Independent Status. College wants grandparents to change FAFSA status to dependent.
    Nothing has changed, but threatened to have to pay back monies owed because of error of Financial Director. What can we do?

    Reply To This Comment
  5. Tre says on April 28, 2013 at 6:38 am:

    My 19 yr old son, left my house in feb 2012, after becoming violent towards me. He lived on friends couches and was determined by his high school to be a homeless student and received independent status on his fafsa for last year – things have not improved for him and he is currently living between friends and other family members houses. I have absolutely no contact with him and his father is deceased. Since he was awarded independent status due to special circumstances last year, does he automatically get it for this upcoming year ?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on April 29, 2013 at 10:51 am:

      Not necessarily. He will most likely need to contact the school’s financial aid office to prove that his situation is the same.

      Reply To This Comment
  6. Nye says on February 9, 2013 at 2:44 pm:

    I am 21 years old, I have a one year old. 2013-2014 will be in my school’s nursing program which is higher than normal tuition. I filled out fafsa as an independent last year and did not provide tax information because I was not working. Her father is filing her this tax season. Will him filing her affect my status as an independent?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on February 11, 2013 at 5:05 pm:

      Technically, you can only file as an independent on the FAFSA if you provide more than 50% of the support for the child. If you do not, you would still be considered dependent unless you can meet any of the other qualifications of an independent student.

      Since the child’s father is claiming the child, I assume he pays more than 50% of the support, which would therefore make you ineligible for independent status.

      If you have any more questions on this, your best option would be to contact your financial aid office to see what your options are and if you’re filing correctly.

      Reply To This Comment
  7. ashley says on January 16, 2013 at 12:46 am:

    Im 21 years old i was homeless for two years moved back with my mother but im paying rent. Im a new york resident but moving to pennsylvania for school. What should i do? I do not get support from my family. I want to file for independent but do not want to use my mothers information.

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on January 16, 2013 at 10:54 am:

      Your best option is to talk with your school’s financial aid office. If you don’t currently meet any of the requirements for filing as independent, there’s not much you can do other than file an appeal with your financial aid office based on special circumstances.

      Reply To This Comment
  8. M Freeland says on October 2, 2012 at 3:14 pm:

    Legal emancipation is not enough, I was legally emanicipated at 18, with a court order, and North Carolina still would not recognize me as independent. I lived on my own, filed my own taxes, paid my own bills, had moved out of my mother’s house at 15 and had never lived with my father, I still had to use my father’s income on the FAFSA. Now, my sister is in the same situation- she has lived with me since she was 12, was taken from our mother, and because our papers say “custody” instead of “guardianship” she is still required to use our income, we are considered responsible for her education, and since we earn a middle class income (with our own two kids and my other sister as a dependent) she still gets no aid at all. I love that at 18 you can die for your country, but unless you are irresponsible and pop out kids of your own too young, you cant be independent. Where in the constitution does it require parents to pay for higher education? It’s absurd.

    Reply To This Comment
  9. Kiaris Taylor says on September 21, 2012 at 12:59 am:

    Hi. I am 21 years old and I was recently put out of the house with my parents. I do not have contact with them anymore,since this is so, I can obtain the documentation I need in order to get financial aid. I now live with my grandmother, and again, have no communication ties with my maternal unit. My father is dead and therefore I have no mother or father to help me with school expenses. I have two jobs, but its not enough to pay for school. My school gave me papers to apply for a dependency override. Here’s the catch. I’ve never filed my taxes. How is it possible for me to obtain a transcript from the irs to supply to my school? This is a piece of documentation they are asking me for.

    Reply To This Comment
  10. Rachel says on July 12, 2012 at 12:35 pm:


    You will need a letter from the director or staff from a homeless shelter, transitional housing, or some form of a housing relief. Therefore, you will need to go talk to them and explain your circumstances. They can possibly provide you with housing, yes you won’t be in an apartment, but rent is free there.

    I know this, because I am one of the few that has independent status, because I lived in a transitional house when I was 16-18 years old and struggle to make ends meet ever since. Though in a couple years I’ll have my degree and the federal government won’t be picking up anymore slack for me.

    Reply To This Comment
  11. Alice says on May 11, 2012 at 11:02 pm:

    Under these circumstances, can I file independency on my FAFSA?
    I’m 21 years old who immigrated to the U.S. a few years back. My father is 61 years old, and my mother is 60 years old. My parents are struggling in generating income because both of my parents are working for a minimum wage job. They do not qualify for better paying jobs because neither of them speak fluent English. My father is an assembler, and my mother is a caregiver. Being a caregiver is an unstable because once her clients pass away, then she is jobless for the week. Both of them are struggling to pay for the apartment rent, so they’re moving to a senior home where it’s more affordable. My school counselor advised me to get a full time job so that I can support myself in terms of paying for my own rent and food since my parents do not support me in any way in terms of paying for my college tuition, textbooks, or food. When I asked my mother to pay and support me for college, she asked, “Am I getting the education, or are you? Why should I spend thousands of dollars for you when the degree is under your name?” Yes, I know. She’s different than most parents. It’s because my grandparents never provided anything for her, so she’s doing the same thing to me. As you can tell, I am the first college generation of my family and I would definitely like to finish college and earn a degree, but it’s very hard to focus on school if I have to work full time, and go to school full time. It would be a great help if I can claim independent on my FAFSA status so that money can help me pay my rent. With the circumstances of my parents not making enough money in the first place, refusing to help me out with college costs, and abandoning me to live at a senior home, am I able to get an override and claim myself independent?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on May 14, 2012 at 8:27 am:

      Probably not -the fact that your parents refuse to provide financial support will not be sufficient reason for an override, however, you should still check with your school’s financial aid office.

      Reply To This Comment
  12. mike says on April 15, 2012 at 1:28 pm:

    I am 20 years old i filed my taxes as a independent i work and pay bills on my own i live paycheck to paycheck and really on the risk of being homeless with my landlord now she is upping the rent.My fasfa says contact my finacial aid office and provide documentation what type of documentation will i have to provide.

    Reply To This Comment

Leave a Reply

By clicking 'Submit Comment', you agree to the Edvisors Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.