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.

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346 Responses to “Dependent VS. Independent Status”

  1. Student Loan Guru says on August 22, 2011 at 8:13 am:

    @Roy- As long as you provide more than 50% of your daughter’s support, you can file as independent, and from what it sounds like, you do.

    Reply To This Comment
  2. Student Loan Guru says on August 22, 2011 at 8:12 am:

    @Randi – Since her parents abandoned her, she could technically be considered at risk for homelessness. If she can acquire documentation that corroborate the fact that she has nowhere to go, she could file as an independent. The documentation can be from a priest family friend, relatives, or any other person who knows her story and is willing to write a letter on her behalf.

    Reply To This Comment
  3. Natalia says on August 17, 2011 at 11:15 am:

    My mom is getting divorced from my stepfather. I did my own taxes last year, I’m 19 years old, and provided my mom’s and stepdad’s taxes as well and did not receive any financial aid. I came to the conclusion that because of my stepdad’s income I didn’t receive anything. My mom makes around $23,000/year, I have a part-time job and go to school full-time. I was just wondering if it’s better to do my own taxes again and provide my mom’s tax info. or for her to claim me as dependent in order to get finantial aid?

    It would really help thanks!

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on September 2, 2011 at 10:19 am:

      @Natalia – Whether or not you file your taxes as a dependent makes no impact on your financial aid – tax dependency is different from FAFSA dependency. Once your mother is divorced, you will only need her financial information, which should entitle you to more aid. If you are under 24 years old this year and do not meet any of the qualifications for FAFSA independency, then you are required to include parental tax information.

      Reply To This Comment
  4. shannon says on August 14, 2011 at 1:33 pm:

    I am 20 years old and have a daughter who is 1 month old. when i filled out my Fasfa it said i was independent. At the time i filled it out i had not given birth, was living 200 miles away from my parent, and was supporting myself 100%. Now i am back home after giving birth and living with my dad. He does not help me support my child other than providing a roof. My boyfriend, the babies father, supports us 100%. He gives money for food, gas, and all of my babies needs. But because i live with my father, my school is argueing my independent status. What can i do to prove that my father is not providing for her and to keep my independent status?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on August 17, 2011 at 9:23 am:

      In order to claim independent in this situation, you, not your boyfriend, must provide more than 50% of the child’s support. Since your father and boyfriend prove 100% of the support, you are unfortunately not eligible to be considered dependent.

      Reply To This Comment
  5. Michelle says on August 12, 2011 at 5:42 pm:

    I saw on a website that I was required to be 24 years old prior to January 1st on the year that I file my fafsa in order to be considered an independent. My birthday is a few days after the 1st but I’m trying to enroll in school again fall 2012. Do I need to be 24 by the day I file or by January 1st?

    Reply To This Comment
  6. Evan MH says on August 11, 2011 at 10:09 am:

    I’m 18 years old and my mother has been deceased since I was four. My father is disabled, and has been unable to care for me since my mother’s passing, so my aunt and uncle care for me. They have had legal guardianship over me since 2007 and have claimed me on their taxes as a dependent. However, as it pertains to finances for school, neither they, nor any other of my family members can provide ANY form of money WHATSOEVER (except for maybe pocket change) to fund my education.

    Am I eligble to be considered an independent student, since I am under the care of neither of my parents, even though my aunt and uncle had guardianship when I was a minor? Will filing as independent provide me with more federal aid to fund my education? Moreover, will I or the finaid officer get into any legal trouble for filing me as an independent? For some reason, be it forgetfulness or otherwise, my uncle did not put down legal guardianship on my FAFSA when he filled it out for me. He knows all the tax information and stuff. I am attending college this Fall, at the end of August 2011. I also had a job for the past two summers if that means anything.

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on August 17, 2011 at 8:42 am:

      @Evan- In order for legal guardianship to make you an independent, your guardians must have been court-appointed and your parent’s rights terminated. If your Aunt and Uncle’s guardianship was appointed through power of attorney, you would still be considered dependent for FAFSA purposes and would need to provide your mother’s information.

      Reply To This Comment
  7. Destiny says on August 6, 2011 at 10:32 pm:

    I’m 21 years old and have a one year old son. He stays with my parents but I buy everything he needs. Since he does not live with me permanently, does that mean I am still considered a dependent?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on August 8, 2011 at 8:49 am:

      For FAFSA purposes, having a child makes you an independent only if you provide more than 50% of his/her support. This means that the child does not necessarily need to live with you, but it would be hard to prove that amount of support otherwise.

      Reply To This Comment
  8. Aaron says on July 22, 2011 at 9:24 am:


    My girlfriend is 22, she receives no support from her parents. She makes $400 a week. While filing for FASFA they insisted she was a dependent, much like your article insists. This rules makes absolutely no sense to me, but I accept it. Here is what I don’t get.

    After determining that she was a dependent, they then claimed that her parents make too much money for her to receive any aid. Her parents have 8 children!!! They couldn’t afford her schooling even if they were willing to pay. Does FAFSA only count those children in college. In that case their family only has 3 children in college!

    I don’t understand who runs this system. I assumed she would be a shoe in for financial aid and she got nothing. Why does a Financial Override require some form of family drama? Who supports their kid until 24? Are any lawmakers pushing to change this? How can we make some noise about this?

    Thank you for the informative article.


    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on July 25, 2011 at 3:05 pm:

      @Aaron – This is an incredibly unfortunate part of the federal aid system. Many students are unable to receive the aid they NEED because of federal regulations. I am unaware of anything in the works to change this, but you should contact your state representative and start the movement. With enough people on board (and there are many who would be right beside you!) maybe some change could be in the future.

      Reply To This Comment
  9. Aubree says on July 16, 2011 at 1:06 pm:

    Im 22 years old I live on my own pay my own bills. I even filed my own taxes and I was not claimed by my mother who is the only person working because my dad is disabled. Would I be considered independent if I receive no money or financial help from my parents?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on July 20, 2011 at 9:06 am:

      @Aubree – Technically, no. However, certain instances can be appealed, though few are granted solely because a student is financially independent. It usually requires special circumstances, but since you have a disabled parent, you may have a stronger case. Talk to your financial aid office for more information on how to appeal or if you have enough reason to do so.

      Reply To This Comment
  10. Kristen says on July 7, 2011 at 10:21 pm:

    My boyfriend is 26 he works fulltime we have a daughter and live together we are not married. Finacial aid is asking for me to write a letter stateing that he is the head of house hold and that im uneployed.My question is if i was to apply for financial aid will it affect me in the future?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on July 20, 2011 at 9:15 am:

      @Kristen- This should not affect any future financial aid, but it also depends on what your office needs this letter for. It’s usually best to ask your financial aid office these questions as they can give you a more accurate and case-specific answer.

      Reply To This Comment
  11. Amanda says on June 28, 2011 at 5:42 pm:

    My boyfriend is 23 years old, he has been living on his own for a couple years now. His parents do not claim him on their taxes. Because he is not 24 does that mean he cant be an independent?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on June 29, 2011 at 8:18 am:

      @Amanda- That is correct. Unfortunately, living on your own does not qualify a student for independent status. He will have to file as a dependent still, even if he receives no money from his parents.

      Reply To This Comment
  12. Louise says on June 21, 2011 at 6:55 am:

    My daughter is 17 and has a 1 year old child, she just started working a few months ago and will be going away to college Aug. 2011(I will be keeping the baby). Can she file her FASFA as an independent even though I took care of 100% of her and the baby’s expenses.


    How would this information apply to the 2012 FASFA that I will fill out come Jan. 2012.

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on June 21, 2011 at 8:21 am:

      @Louise – Unfortunately, having a child only qualifies a student who provides more than half of the support for the child. Since you support the child, your daughter does not qualify as independent for FAFSA purposes. When you file the FAFSA for 2012-2013, your daughter will have to file as dependent and provide any relevant parental tax information.

      Reply To This Comment
  13. Pj says on June 16, 2011 at 1:44 pm:

    I am so confused. As far as FAFSA goes, I am dependent…my special circumstances do not qualify, ok cool whatever, but as far as my SCHOOL goes, since my mom can not prove she is a state resident, nobody claims me on their taxes, I claim myself every year and have since I was 18, i work full time and pay all my own bills/utilities….even though I am only 21 THEY consider me an independent student…can the school and FAFSA have me classified as two different types of student or is that going to cause me some troubles with getting financial aid?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on June 20, 2011 at 9:17 am:

      @PJ- For financial aid purposes, a school goes by whatever you are classified as through FAFSA. Taxes are a completely separate issue, and you can therefore be dependent on FAFSA, while independent on your taxes.

      Reply To This Comment
  14. jamie says on June 13, 2011 at 11:39 pm:

    what happens if you parent is in jail and you are 18

    Reply To This Comment
  15. Mark says on June 13, 2011 at 2:47 pm:

    Excellent information! I found the site very easy to use, and the information just enough to send me out to do further research. Please keep up the good work.

    Reply To This Comment
  16. britt ham says on June 2, 2011 at 11:19 am:

    ok so I am currently 22 years old and seperated/married. I file as an independant.I want to get my divorce done and over with. but if I get a divorce do I go back to being a dependant? or can I still file as ian indpendant? i cant find this answer. help!

    Reply To This Comment
  17. sheila says on May 25, 2011 at 5:19 pm:

    i have a differet situation. i wanted to file my own taxes because im receiving a scholarship that is suppose to be filed, to file my student loans and claim myself. i didnt have a job during this time so that is all that i will be filing. what would happen on my fafsa as far a changes, can you help. thanks in advance!!

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on May 27, 2011 at 10:40 am:

      @Sheila- Your tax filing status does not affect your FAFSA status in terms of filing as independent or dependent. If you want to calculate the possible changes in terms of funding, you can use the Department of Education’s FAFSA forecaster

      Reply To This Comment
  18. Jazmine Lewis says on April 25, 2011 at 11:56 pm:

    My mom chose my current stepfather over me and one of my siblings. So, Basically I was kicked out around 17 or 18 years old. I haven’t lived with them for almost 4 years now. I was unable to support my self because I truly didn’t and still don’t have a stable place to stay. I have a boyfriend right now and I stay with his mom and step-dad. I still can’t support myself because I don’t make enough money. My ex-stepfather is really the only one who helps when he can, but he stays in California and I live Texas. He sends money when he can, but I can’t really do much with it. I ended up living in a friend’s car for a month. I don’t have a religion, so I can’t get letters from a priest or pastor. This is the first time I’ve really told someone other than immediate people around me about my situation… To add to that I just met my biological father for the first time a few months ago. He’s never really supported me ever in my life, but for christmas he put me on his insurance. I don’t know if I can I add him or my ex-stepfather to my FAFSA… If I can’t add either party then what can I do? I’d really appreciate the help because the financial aid advisors at my community college never give me any advice.

    Reply To This Comment
  19. sukhvir singh says on April 13, 2011 at 2:52 pm:

    hello do I have to file as independent if I am 24 years ol d now or do i just file as dependent because i still live with my parents

    Reply To This Comment
  20. Jeff says on April 4, 2011 at 8:11 pm:

    I will be applying for graduate school in a year. At the time, I will be 22 years old. I pay for my apartment, vehicle, etc… When I apply for graduate school and fill out the FAFSA for the fall, will I be able to claim I am independant? What would be the restrictions holding me back?


    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on April 5, 2011 at 10:53 am:

      @Jeff- Yes. You only need to meet one qualification to file as an independent. Since you will be starting graduate school, this would be sufficient grounds to file as independent.

      Reply To This Comment
  21. Ali says on March 24, 2011 at 5:15 pm:

    Ok, this is why the federal government sucks. My boyfriend is on his own has been employed full time for three years now and is supposed to be a “dependent”? this makes no sense. Thanks so much now he’ll be stuck at his crappy dead end job because under your standards he is dependent to his parents who haven’t given him a dime since he graduated.

    Reply To This Comment
  22. Mary says on March 20, 2011 at 12:59 pm:


    I am a graduate student. Under the state of TX I am claimed as independent, however I was only offered student loans and no pell grants. I barely made $9,000 last year and I have a younger brother and sister that are in college as well. Is there a reason for this? Am I not eligible to receive pell grants? I would greatly appreciate it! Thank you.

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on March 21, 2011 at 2:31 pm:

      @Mary – You should consider appealing your financial aid award package… Your school’s financial aid office should tell you what documentation to submit for this (as it differs by school).

      Reply To This Comment
    • Rachel says on March 28, 2011 at 1:56 pm:

      As a graduate student, you are ineligible for PELL grants. You may only receive PELL in your first undergraduate degree – once you obtain your 1st Bachelor’s degree, you can no longer qualify for PELL. This is not something that can be appealed to your FA office.

      Reply To This Comment
  23. Jess says on March 19, 2011 at 9:32 pm:

    Okay here is my problem. I am no longer speaking to my mother, I am a college student, but I am on my own. I have a job and pay for my own things. I claimed myself an independenet. Now my mother is trying to tell me father that I am going to be getting into a lot of trouble because she has every right to be claiming me. What I don’t understand is can she do that? All of my scholarships and grants is all in my name. She wasn’t the only one that helped pay for the rest of my schooling. My father, my mother, grandfather, and myself all helped pay for the rest of my schooling. So who really should get it? I claimed my taxes for my job and the books and everything that I had to pay.. why should she be able to get any money back? Can she do this? Ever since my mother and father have been divorced my father has paid child support and I have been on his dental and health insuarance..she pays NOTHINH…So what is the legal thing to do in all of this? Is she allowed to claim me?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on March 21, 2011 at 1:57 pm:

      @Jess – I’m sorry that you’re having a difficult situation with your mother. What you are speaking of though, is an IRS tax dependency issue and the topic of concern here is FAFSA dependency. These two qualifications are separate. I can’t tell you how to file your taxes, but if you did not live with your mother in 2010 or receive significant support from her, she might be committing fraud by claiming you as a dependent. It actually sounds more like your father could claim you as a dependent if he helped you with school and provides your insurance. As far as your FAFSA form goes, you are receiving too much support from family members to file as an independent on that form.

      Reply To This Comment
      • Been There B4 says on August 15, 2011 at 6:03 pm:

        She is not allowed to claim you as a dependent if she did not support you for more than 6 months out of the year. She would have to lie to claim you.

    • Shian says on June 2, 2011 at 10:58 pm:

      Hi Jess,

      Last Fall semester I was in the same situation, my parents put me out because they found out I spoke with my bio mom that I hadn’t seen in 14 years. I moved from GA to IL and filed a dependency appeal at the college I am now attending. As long as you can give them a valid reason to why you should be considered for independent status they will approve you. Going above and beyond helps. State honestly your family situation, all bills rent, W2′s, etc. you have tied to your name. If you have a disability such as depression this also helps. I was able to get it due to my harsh family situation and a statement from my therapist. Though, getting a third party statement is very important, not from a friend or boyfriends mom. As long as it is a counselor or other professional that is aware of you being financially stable your odds for getting approved are great.

      Good Luck.

      Reply To This Comment
  24. Linda says on March 19, 2011 at 4:15 pm:

    We claimed our 23 old son on our tax returned. He is still in college but rents an apt. His “permanent” address is still our home address. He gets the GI bill and other military eductional benefits whichs helps him pay for rent, food, tuition, books and other expenses. We pay for his health insurance and auto insurance. Was it ok to claim him as a dependent? The tax benefit was better to do so.
    Second question: The FASFA this year said he was considered independent and we did not have to provide our tax return info. Now the school is asking for more information. I’m confused on whether he is dependent or independent for FASFA, what do they mean exactly by “do we provide more than 50% of his support?”

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on March 21, 2011 at 1:50 pm:

      @Linda – The FAFSA and IRS Tax dependency status eligibility requirements are completely separate, despite their similarities. I work in financial aid and can’t comment to what you should or should not do with your taxes. Tax forms are often asked for as back up to information in the FAFSA — not the status selected specifically but more of a breakdown of the type of support you provide for your dependents. From that, the school will determine if for school funding purposes your son is really independently paying for his own education and deserves a loan based on his own individual income. The school will help you determine if you provide 50% or less of his support, as that’s the question they’ve been tasked with researching in order to offer him a loan amount.

      Reply To This Comment
      • Linda says on March 21, 2011 at 2:33 pm:

        Everything you said was correct. Since this seems to be a very helpful website, I thought I would do follow up to let you know what additional info I found out incase anyone else has a simular situation. We were ok to claim our son on our taxes. We can claim him up to age 24 as long as he is a student. As far as the FASFA, it is probably correct too in determining he is independent. It could be because of his age or because he is in the military (or if he had kids or a spouse). The school (by sending their form) wanted to find out…because he is independent…is he getting any type of support from anywhere? How much he is getting and who is giving it to him. As parents, we were consider “other source of support” on this form. Since our son pays for his own rent, food, cell phone, car expenses and tuition (with the help of the military and financial aid), in our case, we only had to disclosed the amount we pay for his auto insurance. We didn’t have to disclose anything for health insurance, because our family plan is the same price whether he is on it or not. If we had been paying for a separate policy just for him then we would have had to disclose that amount also. Hope this helps someone else.

      • Heidi says on May 11, 2011 at 12:02 pm:

        So, if my son is 24 and is considered an independent student for fall 2011, can I still claim him as a dependent on my taxes when I do them for 2011 and will he still be able to use our insurance?

      • Student Loan Guru says on May 11, 2011 at 3:05 pm:

        @Heidi- Yes, as long as he meets the dependent qualifications from the IRS, then he can file his FAFSA as independent while you claim him for tax purposes. And he can still be on your insurance until the age of 25 as of Jan. 2011.

  25. Chow says on March 19, 2011 at 8:57 am:

    Simply wanna say that this is handy , Thanks for taking your time to write this.

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