Dependent VS. Independent Status | 05.18.07

Posted in FAFSA By Kristin Morris

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. Megan says on March 13, 2012 at 8:48 am:

    I am 22 years old and enrolled in a PharmD program; therefore, for FAFSA purposes, I am an independent. Can my mother still claim me as a dependent on her taxes?

    Reply To This Comment
  2. Christina says on March 8, 2012 at 6:48 pm:

    I’m 21, have a child and still live at home. Am I considered an independent student?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on March 15, 2012 at 8:37 am:

      Yes, if you have a child for whom you provide more than 50% of the support, you are considered independent.

      Reply To This Comment
      • Ezio says on April 1, 2012 at 7:15 pm:

        Ummm i am currently living with a family friend of mine, i recently just got kicked out of my house. So with that being said I beleive i should be considered Homeless or at risk of being homeless correct? I am not in speaking terms with my parents but with my status i technically dont need their taxes or EDF.

      • Student Loan Guru says on April 2, 2012 at 9:54 am:

        If you select “homeless/at risk of homelessness” you will most likely need to provide some sort of documentation to your financial aid office. This can be a letter from a homeless shelter, friend, or family member who knows your situation well. Make sure to contact your financial aid office because the exact documents needed to verify this may be different by school.

  3. Rufus says on March 1, 2012 at 11:50 pm:

    I am 23 and gonna be 24 on june 29, will I be eligible to file independent status?

    Reply To This Comment
  4. Thalia says on February 22, 2012 at 1:49 am:

    I am 20 years old and currently a college student, I am about to start my 3rd term. My parents are divorced and I have always lived with my mom in Oregon. I go back an forth to California to visit my dad and my boyfriend who I have been dating for 5 years, since things aren’t working out here in Oregon I want to move in with him and transfer to a college in California. He has a good job, his own place and I would depend on him, but we don’t plan on marrying just yet. So does that fall under dependent on my mom even if I will be fully dependent on my boyfriend?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on February 22, 2012 at 12:48 pm:

      Yes, dependency is determined by first, whichever parent you have lived with most over the past 12 months. If this is equal (or you no longer live with either), you use whoever has provided the most financial support over the previous 12 months. Financial support can include things like whoever provides your health insure, or other things of this nature, but it must be a parent.

      Reply To This Comment
  5. Brian says on February 18, 2012 at 8:42 pm:

    I’m 21 years old and I live with my parents. I have filled as a dependent for my entire life but now I am thinking of filing as an independent. Since I live with my parents, they do pay for housing but they do not pay for my tuition and or expenses. Both of my parents are unemployed and collecting food stamps from the government so they are not actually paying for anything except their mortgage which is currently in default and it looks as though they will lose the house, which is the only thing they provide me with. Now I want to file as an independent becasue I pay for everything except the roof over my head and so that I can receive a tuition refund in the 1098-T and or the American Opportunity/Lifetime Learning Tax Credits. I have been advised by my accountant that in order to do so I would have to be an independent or have my parents apply for it claiming me as dependent despite the fact that they do not pay for my tuition. I am not sure what I should do in this situation and I would greatly appreciate any assistance. Thank you

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on February 21, 2012 at 10:34 am:

      Unfortunately, claiming to be an independent on the FAFSA is not as simple as “I pay for my own expenses”. The only scenarios where students can be considered independent are highlighted in this blog. If you do not meet any one of the criteria in the post, then you are still considered a dependent for FAFSA purposes. If your parents claim you as a dependent on their taxes, then you would be unable to claim the tax credits yourself, even if you paid the tuition.

      Reply To This Comment
  6. Katrina says on February 16, 2012 at 10:20 pm:

    What is the dependency status of a 20 year old divorced student?

    Reply To This Comment
  7. Jazz says on February 6, 2012 at 10:24 pm:

    So do I get more money for being dependent or independent? Household is 5 about $20,000 for the yr based on my mothers income. This is more a question for next yr. I’m turning 23 this yr and next yr I dont know if i should file my taxes 2012 as independent and my fafsa (2012-2013) independent, OR my taxes 2012 as dependent and fafsa independent or dependent. Next year I will be 24 years old for 2012-2013 school year. I will be 23 at the time filing for taxes and fafsa but by June (before fall 2012 school yr) i’ll be 24. What do you think is in my best interests?

    Reply To This Comment
  8. jasmin says on February 5, 2012 at 10:34 am:

    Ok so my mom and step mom are married and my dad is not a very helpful person basicaly he dosnt care and he won’t help me fail the fasfa an I need his tax returns and stuff like that my question is what do I do next if I can’t fial for fanical aid and have no money

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on February 6, 2012 at 8:32 am:

      If your parents are divorced, you only need to use the financial information from the parent whom you lived with the most over the past 12 months. If this is your mom, you can only report her information, not you step-mother’s as the federal government does not recognize same sex marriage. If you lived with your parents equally, you should use the info of the parent who provided more financial support. If this was your dad, and he still refuses to help with the FAFSA, you should talk to your school’s financial aid office.

      Reply To This Comment
  9. Brandon Winrich says on January 28, 2012 at 9:44 pm:

    What happens is I am considered an independent student because I am in a Master’s program, but I am really dependent on a parent? I have multiple special needs and do not yet have a driver’s license or a job. I am unclear how to answer number of people in my household, because it is not my household. I live with my sister, my mother, and my grandmother (who my mother supports). Both my sister and I will be in college next year. Thank you for your assistance.

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on February 2, 2012 at 11:28 am:

      @Brandon – Because you are an independent (from the FAFSA perspective) you only need to report those in your household whom you support. If you have no dependents, this would just be you (even if you are living at home, etc.)

      Reply To This Comment
  10. Sarah says on January 23, 2012 at 1:01 pm:

    I am 20 years old. My parents are both divorced and re-married. My mother resides in FL and whom I have lived with up until the age of 16. I moved to NJ where my father resides from 16 until now. However, I have been living with my grandmother in NJ since I moved here. We had a paper notarized by my dad and grandmother for my high school stating that I reside with my grandmother and she claims me on her taxes and supports me financially. What to do I do?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on February 2, 2012 at 11:35 am:

      For FAFSA purposes you should use the financial information from the parent who provided the most financial support (since you lived with them in equal amounts: 0). This support can include whose health insurance you are under and things of this nature. Your grandmother would only count for FAFSA if she legally adopted you.

      Reply To This Comment
  11. Rachelle says on January 14, 2012 at 12:03 pm:

    This is slightly incorrect. You don’t have to be 24 ON the day you file your fafsa, you just have to be turning 24 for that school year. Example: I am currently 23 years old and filing for the 2012-2013 school year, I turn 24 on 10/19/1988, have no dependents, am not married or a veteran, both of my parents are still alive (pretty simple) but I am considered an Independent student now because my birth date falls before 01/01/1989. I just got off the phone with the FAFSA customer service. Hope that helps someone.

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on January 16, 2012 at 9:46 am:

      That’s an excellent point, thanks for the heads up! Some of the tips in these older posts may no longer apply, so I will make sure to update it!

      Reply To This Comment
      • David says on February 23, 2012 at 2:23 pm:

        In looking at Rachelle’s question and your reply, it seems like it doesn’t really matter whether your parents claim you as a dependent in 2011; if you turn 24 during the 2012 calendar year and are applying for aid for the 2012-13 school year, you can file as an independent, right? I ask because my daughter will turn 24 this year, lives at home but holds a job and is paying her own tuition. We would like to claim her as a dependent for 2011 but don’t want to hurt her chances of qualifying for aid in the 2012-2013 school year.

      • Student Loan Guru says on February 23, 2012 at 5:15 pm:

        Yes, she will be considered independent for 2012-2013 since she was born before Jan 1, 1989.

    • Danielle says on March 22, 2012 at 8:12 pm:

      You helped me! My birthday is January 23, 1989, and didn’t know whether or not I qualified to be independent or not.

      Thanks!

      Reply To This Comment
      • Student Loan Guru says on March 23, 2012 at 2:59 pm:

        Awesome! Glad you found your answer!

  12. Jay Patel says on January 5, 2012 at 6:45 am:

    I am applying for Master’s program in CS for Fall 2012. Although a PR of US, I will be completing my Bachelor’s degree from India. My parents have been living in Pennsylvania since the past 5 years and have been filing their tax information. My income is nil. Should I include my parents’ information although I will be considered an independent student?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on January 6, 2012 at 12:03 pm:

      No, if you are an independent student (which you are since you’re in a Master’s program) you do not fill out parental information. Since your income is still zero, you will be awarded more aid than if you included your parents’ information.

      Reply To This Comment
  13. Sandy says on December 7, 2011 at 4:11 pm:

    Hello, I am going back to college next year, and I have been working for the last several years with an income of about $30,000/yr in Canada. That may seem like a lot for an independent student but the fact is I was supporting my elderly parents as well, helping them pay for rent/cars/bills, etc with no money saved up for my own. I am moving back to the US, where I will not be working in 2012 for the most part. The FAFSA relies on tax information and if I’m married or have kids, etc. My situation doesn’t look good. Do you think I would be eligible for the Pell Grant if I speak to a FINAID officer?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on December 12, 2011 at 1:08 pm:

      In situations like this, it’s definitely important to speak with a financial aid officer. Your eligibility for more aid (including Pell Grants) is determined by the school, so you will need to contact the FA office directly for accurate information.

      Reply To This Comment
  14. Carrie says on December 4, 2011 at 3:30 pm:

    Hello! I have a sort of complicated question. I am 23 until March 9th, 2012. I wanted to get married next year but if I will become an independent in March then I might wait until 2013 if I can get aid for myself for the fall of 2012 (my last semester). I think that I won’t be considered an independent since I will not be 24 before January 1st, 2012. Is this true? If you could answer this it would be fantastic.

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on December 12, 2011 at 1:13 pm:

      If you were born before Jan. 1, 1989 (which according to your birthday, you were) then you can file as independent for the 2012-2013 year.

      Reply To This Comment
  15. Kristina says on November 3, 2011 at 5:48 pm:

    I am 21 years old,I live on my own and resive no help from my parents to pay for school or anything else. I am originally from Norway where I have lived most of my life with my father untill 2007. I lived with my mom and stepfather my Jr and Sr year of High School. My stepfather and I never got along and he has never paid a dime for anything that I have, and my mother does not have a job. They kicked me out in 2009 and I am no longer allowed to live there, I have contact with my mother over the phone and see her when my stepfather is out of town. He is the reason that I do not qualify for finacial aid however because he makes to much money. My mother has not earned any money the last 11 years and my father lives in Norway and on the fasfa form I cannot put him as my parent even though he is the one that has been my main finacial provider next to myself over the years. Because he does not have a ss number. When I got kicked out I had to move in with friends and were moving from friend to friend all the time untill one of my mothers former friends took me in and let me stay for free as long as I helped out with animals and house. I am now living in my own apartment since July 15th 2011, pay my own bills, have the car in my name and all that and I have been on my own since 2009. Is there anyway to have my stepfather taken off my fasfa, he is not even my family simply a man my mother chose to be with and just because he has money does not mean he is providing for me, he has his own 3 children to worry about. If this is not possible what about putting my father in Norway on there, after all he has been and still is my main provider if you can call it that. Please I need help, I cannot afford to keep paying for classes out of own pocket for the next 3 years. What can I do?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on November 15, 2011 at 11:20 am:

      @Kristina – You can try appealing your financial aid office and explain the situation. For information on the process read, Appealing your FAFSA Dependency Status.

      Reply To This Comment
      • Rachel says on February 16, 2012 at 11:26 am:

        This student CAN file the FAFSA with her father in Norway. You will file listing the social security number for the father as all zeros. He will have to sign the paper signature page and mail into the FAFSA processor, but this is how it should be and can be done.

  16. Anthony says on October 24, 2011 at 11:34 am:

    My mom died and my father has never took care of me and I don’t live with him, I live with my grandmother, but I don’t see an option that really fits my situation, how should I fill out the parent part of the application ? Should I, or should I not include her income ?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on November 1, 2011 at 2:49 pm:

      You cannot include a grandparent’s information unless they have legally adopted you. Based on your situation, I would appeal your status as a dependent student. To appeal, you should contact your financial aid office.

      Reply To This Comment
  17. enow says on October 23, 2011 at 12:47 am:

    im from africa…i won the american lottery and right now im in america living with ma uncle but i take care of ma self….my parents are in africa…and im 19 yrs of age..i work right now..my parents dont give me any support either…dont know what to do…

    Reply To This Comment
    • Rachel says on February 16, 2012 at 11:31 am:

      You will file the FAFSA with your parental information listing your parent’s social security numbers as all zeros (000-00-0000); your parent in Africa will be required to sign the paper signature page and mail it to the FAFSA processor. This is how you will qualify for aid. Simply having a parent living in a different country does not make you independent for financial aid purposes.

      Reply To This Comment
  18. Maggie says on October 7, 2011 at 11:03 am:

    I’m very close to a 21-year-old woman who has been unable to get financial aid because her mother refuses to provide financial information. She has been living on her own for about 2 years, with no help from her parents or anyone else. She has been accepted and even registered for classes at a community college, but then can’t take the classes because she can’t qualify for financial aid. It’s been 3 years, now, that her mother has refused to give her this information and she’s been unable to go to school. Is there anything she can do besides enter the military, have a child, get married or become homeless? I wonder if she can become emancipated now, when she’s already 21.

    Reply To This Comment
  19. Alaina L. says on October 4, 2011 at 6:14 pm:

    I was wondering if my boyfriend would be eligible for an independent status. His family has been threatening to kick him out and he’s 21 so he decided to just move out. He’s staying with my family while I’m at school because he cannot support himself. His mom doesn’t work and his dad makes too much money to really qualify him for much financial aid. He has his own job and I was wondering if he would be able to file as an independent because he is at risk for homelessness or does that not qualify? We plan on getting married, but I just turned 18 and I think rushing a wedding to get us both an independent status is irresponsible. Any help would be welcome :]

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on October 5, 2011 at 9:25 am:

      @Alaina – He should be able to appeal based on his situation. These are the qualifications from the Department of Education:

      “Homeless means lacking fixed, regular and adequate housing, which includes living in shelters, motels, or cars, or temporarily living with other people because the student had nowhere else to go.”

      If your boyfriend appealed his financial aid status, he would need to provide evidence of his risk for homelessness. This can include letters, preferably from homeless shelters, counselors, priests, or other community figures. You should have him contact the school’s financial aid office for more information on their process and what exact documents may be required.

      Reply To This Comment
  20. Nathan McDonald says on September 20, 2011 at 9:04 am:

    Count yourself lucky, I get 24.6% of my wage taken out in tax before I even receive it.

    That wouldn’t be too bad if everything was tax free, but then I have council tax, road tax, value added tax, national insurance contributions… I’m not going to start on my bills…

    Try living on that haha! Our fuels about 3 times more expensive and our foods also about 3 times more expensive!

    I will cry in happiness the day England decides to make education compulsory after the age of 16! Our country might actually go somewhere!!

    Reply To This Comment
  21. Matthew says on September 20, 2011 at 1:26 am:

    Just to let you know, the definition for self supporting and independent are the same thing. Go ahead look it up.

    Reply To This Comment
  22. Jessica says on September 4, 2011 at 12:03 am:

    Hi, so my parents recently kicked me out of the house and i have been living in my car for 2 weeks. I work but i do not make enough to support myself. For about 3 years my parents have been mentally abusing me and ive even contemplated suicide. I have no phone, no money, nothing. I am forced now to pay my own car and insurance. Can I file for independent?
    I am going to be ajunior in college and i have no way of paying books or anything. my parents have already paid my tuition for this year though.

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on September 6, 2011 at 2:19 pm:

      @Jessica – You can appeal your financial aid status by risk of homelessness. You will need to provide proof that you are living out of your car – this can be letters from friends or adults that are aware of your situation, or even priests – anyone who can attest to the fact you are struggling. You should contact your financial aid office for more information on their appeal process and to find out what other proof they may require. Good luck!

      Reply To This Comment
  23. Judy says on September 1, 2011 at 1:00 am:

    Hello, I’m 23 years old and I immigrated to the U.S. 1 year and a half ago. My parents are divorced. My mother and me were sponsored a green card through my U.S. citizen uncle but my mother had abandoned her permanent resident status a year ago and no longer live in the U.S. I currently live with my uncle. Am I considered independent student when filing the FAFSA?

    Reply To This Comment
  24. Tamara says on August 31, 2011 at 10:45 am:

    Going beyond the issue of dependency do you have any idea of whether or not someone can apply for FAFSA if they are under 18? I work for a company who helps parents and children 0-3 get connected with resources they need. As of yesterday one of our teenage prenatal mothers has earned her GED, and she is only 17. She would like to apply for Pell Grant. She would most likely qualify financially no matter what her dependency status needs to be. I am not sure if she can apply yet because she is under 18.

    Reply To This Comment
  25. Arlena says on August 29, 2011 at 7:31 am:

    Sadly true. I would get alot more financial aid if i was independent but I can’t until I’n 24 an by then I’ll be done with school possibly even graduate school.

    Reply To This Comment

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