Dependent VS. Independent Status | 05.18.07
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.
- 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.
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