FAFSA Tip: Eligibility for Independent Student Status | 10.08.10

Posted in FAFSA, Financial Aid, Stafford Loan, Student Loans, Twitter By Student Loan Network Staff

I have received some inquiries about my previous blog: Four Bizarre things you did not know about the FAFSA.

What qualifies you as an Independent Student?

If one or any of the following apply to you, then you will be considered an Independent Student:

  1. You are enrolled in a Masters program, Doctorate Degree, or graduate Certification program
    • age does not matter, if you are enrolled in any of these types of programs you are considered and independent student
  2. You have a child or children that are your legal dependent(s)
    • you may have a family member etc. that is considered your dependent…he/she does not necessarily have to be a child
  3. You are married
  4. You are under the age of 24 and both of your parents are deceased
  5. You were a ward of your state until you were 18 years of age
  6. You are 24 years of age or older
  7. You are a Veteran of the United States Armed Force
  8. You were a foster child after the age of 13.
  9. You are an emancipated child as determined by a court judge.
  10. 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.

Want more details, visit: FAFSA Online : Independent Students

The most important aspect of this is to remember that your school has the right to reassess certain circumstances, a process called professional judgment.

Some students have no contact with their parents, and therefore cannot use their tax information for filing the FAFSA. If you find yourself in this situation, you’ll need to go to your school’s financial aid office and ask them for help. Chances are, you’ll also need to bring plentiful documentation (rent, utilities, etc.) to prove that your situation is as you say it is. You’ll be asking for a professional judgment override on dependency status.

What this means is, if you’re under 24, in order to file as an independent, you must first go to your local courthouse and ask to appear before a judge to be ‘legally emancipated’ and apply as an independent student.

Update: We just wrote a pretty helpful blog about how people in situations like yours can get a FAFSA dependency change. For information on this, read Appealing Your FAFSA Dependency Status

More: When are the FAFSA Deadlines

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588 Responses to “FAFSA Tip: Eligibility for Independent Student Status”

  1. Brandy says on August 11, 2011 at 11:25 am:

    I have a question, I am 25 years old, I do not work due to I take care of my daughter but we live alone, her father pays for rent & utilities, I am wanting to go back to school, I know that fafsa will require proof of where I get my income, & I don’t know what to do? Will they want his check stubs or something? Because it’s very limited to what he gives me for our financial needs..

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on September 2, 2011 at 10:27 am:

      @Brandy – If you’re not married, then there is no need to report a spouse’s information. You simply put whatever money you have in savings or made, even if it is zero for the year. You cannot, however, claim your daughter as a dependent since you do not provide more than 50% of her financial support.

      Reply To This Comment
  2. Joan says on July 31, 2011 at 7:01 pm:

    Hi – My daughter is starting her sophomore yr. in college this fall. We have payed for her tuition so far as we did not qualify for any financial aid. She is taking Spring semester off to have a baby and will start back in the fall 2012, attending school and raising her child. From what I have read, she can now apply as an independent student? Our income will not have to be considered in her FAFSA application? Is this correct? She will be living in an apt. with the baby’s father. If the previous is true, our youngest will be attending college fall 2012 as a freshman. Do I then apply for FAFSA for her separate from our oldest daughter? – most likely still will not qualify. Also, if our oldest still makes the qualifications to be considered a dependent on our 2012 taxes, can this be done? Thank you so much.

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on August 1, 2011 at 9:04 am:

      @Joan- Your daughter may be considered an independent for FAFSA purposes if she provides 50% or more of the child’s support. If this is the case, you would no longer need to provide financial information for the FAFSA. If your oldest meets the tax qualifications, you can then claim her as dependent on your taxes while she claims independent on FAFSA, as FAFSA and tax dependency are not the same.

      For your second daughter, she will need to file her FAFSA separately from your first daughter and will still be considered dependent.

      Reply To This Comment
  3. Quick Question says on July 25, 2011 at 1:44 pm:

    Question: If you are in a 5 year program which means there are 3 years of undergraduate and 2 years of Graduate (once you get in) can you apply to be independent since you are officially in a Masters program come your 4th year.

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on August 4, 2011 at 7:18 am:

      This depends on the individual program. You will need to contact your school’s financial aid office to know for sure.

      Reply To This Comment
  4. Alis says on July 24, 2011 at 3:32 am:

    Hi, i am 19 and starting university in the UK in october. My mother passed away last year and although my biological father may still be alive, i have had no contact with him since birth.
    My mother was married to My step-father, who had no legal guardianship over me i.e adoption, but i see as my father.

    does this entitle me to stand as an independent person, as by law, i have no living/stable parent?

    any comment would be really helpful! thanks

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on July 25, 2011 at 7:56 am:

      Yes- since one parent is deceased and you have zero contact with the other, you should be able to file as independent.

      Reply To This Comment
  5. Marti says on July 18, 2011 at 1:33 am:

    hi, im 20 and ive already finished my first year at a community college in Alabama but i took a year off for work. Me and my boyfriend have been living together by ourselves for 2 yearsand we split everything down the middle, and my parents live in Oklahoma and dont pay for anything for me. When i filled out my FAFSA it sent me a letter saying i need to send documents proving that i pay for half or more than half of a dependant(boyfriend) living with me. What documents can i use to prove this, school starts soon and im in a rush. My landlord will write a letter to them telling them that we pay the rent seperate and the financial advisor said that was okay but that i need another form of proof. The electric bill is in his name and the water in mine. but we just recently moved and the water bill hasnt come in yet. can i use the deposit reciept i got for my water bill as proof?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on July 20, 2011 at 9:12 am:

      @Marti- The school ultimately decides what is acceptable documentation, but usually this includes receipts, lease agreements, bank statements or any other financial documentation. You should contact your financial aid office to find out what they will and will not accept as proof.

      Reply To This Comment
  6. Niq says on July 15, 2011 at 2:24 pm:

    Hi I am in a sticky situation!!!

    I have been going to school as a dependent for two years but everything changed this summer. I got kicked out of the house and forced to do EVERYTHING on my own so now I can not get back into school because the EFC was to high so the school did not offer me anything, and my mother will not help out with anything dealing with me FROM NOW ON and my father is decese !!…So in order to go back to school next year I was wondering how I can file as an independent even though I am not 24. I now live with my cousin but I want to continue my education, and my mother will not coroporate with anything dealing with me. Is there really NO WAY?? I would have to get all loans for $28000 for 2 more years?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on July 20, 2011 at 9:00 am:

      @Niq- Typically, parental refusal to support a child is, unfortunately, not an accepted reason for claiming independent status. In certain cases students can appeal their dependency status, assuming they can prove (with documentation) certain conditions such as abandonment, abuse, risk of homelessness etc. To learn more about how to appeal, read Appealing Your FAFSA Dependency Status. If you still are unable to receive enough aid, you can always consider a private loan.

      Reply To This Comment
  7. Kayla says on July 8, 2011 at 6:57 pm:


    I have a question. I am 22 year old and unmarried – as such I understand that I should be filing as a dependent. Here is my question:

    My fiance currently lives with me. I pay all the bills – rent, electric, gas, groceries, etc. His two children come to stay with us every other week. As such, I am providing 50% or more of their support. However, I am not their biological mother, and I am not yet married to their father. Based on the support that I provide, can I claim them on my FAFSA?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Kayla says on July 8, 2011 at 7:49 pm:

      For those of you that have similar questions, I spoke directly with a FAFSA representative…

      I was advised that YES you may claim children of this nature on the FAFSA. When opting YES, the FAFSA will provide further questions for the details of the dependent kids in the household. Children that are not technically your own, but to whom you offer more than 50% of support, would be listed under the additional question regarding “individuals other than your children or spouse” in the household.

      Reply To This Comment
  8. Erika says on June 15, 2011 at 9:06 am:

    I will be going back to school at 27 as an independent student, going to an american university in a foreign country. I have loans from a previous degree, and my parents helped with my other bachelor’s degree, but I will be going full time and beforehand will be volunteering for 12 months and have no money or savings. My parents will not be helping pay this time, as I wouldn’t expect them too. I’m worried about getting the total amount in loans and or grants to pay for the school. Do you think it will be possible to receive the total amount required? Based on my income from this year I will file taxes next year for about 25k in income, not much, and I won’t have a job for a year and again no savings. I basically have no money. Do you think it will be possible to go to school and get the loans I need?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on June 16, 2011 at 8:35 am:

      @Erika- It’s almost impossible to predict the exact aid a student will be eligible for, as this depends on a number of factors including how much money the government has budgeted, how many other students are seeking the same aid, etc. It does sound like you would be eligible for a fair amount of aid, but again, there’s no way to know for sure unless you apply.

      Also, from what it sounds like in your post, I am assuming you are going for another Bachelor’s degree? If this is the case, then unfortunately, you will not be eligible for any federal aid, as only students pursing their first bachelor’s are eligible.

      Reply To This Comment
  9. Ashley says on June 14, 2011 at 5:16 pm:

    What if you can not get in contact with your parents and even if you did, they would not let you use your taxes? How would you file you FAFSA then, but I am not 24 years old and according to this info I am still a dependent to them even though I have talk with for over year and have nothing to do them?

    Reply To This Comment
  10. Alice says on June 13, 2011 at 10:47 pm:

    I acknowledge that I am considered as a financially dependent student because I am 20 years old, but neither of my parents are paying for my education or anything pertaining to me. As of this summer, I will be pulling my own weights by supporting myself for monthly rent, groceries, and community college expenses. I have done some calculations; I would need to work a minimum of 30 hours per week just to have a roof over my head. At the same time, if I work 30 hours per week, then that leaves me little time to attend college as full-time student. I’m a science major going into Pre-Pharmacy, and I would need the time to do homework because the majority of my courses will be calculus, chemistry, biology, and physics. What should I do?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on June 14, 2011 at 1:38 pm:

      @Alice- If federal funding is insufficient, then private loans can help to pick up the slack. Besides paying for school, they can also help a student to build a good credit history, providing they’re repaid on time. Learn more at PrivateStudentLoans.com.

      Reply To This Comment
  11. Toni says on June 13, 2011 at 12:38 pm:

    I am so very confused about the aid from FASFA. My daughter has not lived at home for about 2 1/2 years. She works, has her own apt, car note, car insurance and many other bills. I am the only one who works in my houshold. My husband is dasabled. I have one son at home also that I support. My daughter filed with FASFA and received no support at all. They said I her parents could afford $ 9000.00. That is crazy since we live on a fixed budget with one income. My daugher is 22 years old and was told she had to use our income also. How can this be? She really wants to go back to school and now will have a very difficult time doing so. Why does she have to use the parents income when she has been out on her own for a long time?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on June 14, 2011 at 8:46 am:

      @Toni- Unfortunately, this is a problem many students face. While the family might consider a student financially independent, FAFSA regulations are stricter. In situations where estimated family contribution is more than what the family can afford, you can always appeal the financial aid offer. Keep in mind you will have to show where this money is going instead and provide as much information as possible. To learn more about how to file successfully, read “Appealing a financial aid offer- can it be done?

      Reply To This Comment
  12. Pat says on June 3, 2011 at 4:45 pm:

    hey i am 23 but i am turning 24 in july before the semester…but i havent worked last year i been a full time student i just used my refund to pay for my rent and needs..does this make me an independent

    Reply To This Comment
  13. ana says on June 2, 2011 at 12:35 pm:

    i am 25 an INDEPENDENT student and i live alone, would i just included myself in household income?
    also if i have 2 sisters in college will i need to included them on my fafsa?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on June 3, 2011 at 7:51 am:

      @ana- If you file your FAFSAas an independent then you only need to provide your own financial information. Your sisters should not be included on your FAFSA.

      Reply To This Comment
  14. Philian says on May 16, 2011 at 11:31 pm:

    Hi, i am 19 years old and also an independent student.i applied to several colleges and universities. the private institution i was accepted in want me to pay a lot of money. how is this possible when i have no help from anyone. if i were to take out a private loan wouldnt i need someone to co sign it. the university claimed to give me their best package. i dont see how this is possible while i still have to pay 14 thousand for my first year. could there be a mistake in my FASFA???
    please help

    Reply To This Comment
  15. Ryan says on May 10, 2011 at 1:45 am:

    I will be going into my senior year in college and Im 21 years old.Im trying to go independent for the next year. My dad recently passed away but my mom is not deceased. I have contact with my mom but have not lived with my mom since highschool. I live in an apartment and pay for rent,utilities, car payment, food etc. I also have loans under my name and pay for my tuition. Am I eligible to be independent?

    Thank you

    Reply To This Comment
  16. Scott says on April 16, 2011 at 9:20 am:

    I have two sons in college. My younger son is starting his 4th year in 2011 and is a dependant. The other is graduating this May recieving his bachelors. He will continue for one more to get his masters. He could now qualify to submitt the FAFSA as independant, but is that something that could be better for him or me? He has not recieved any grants in prior years (only $500.00 in TAP and Stafford loans only).

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on April 18, 2011 at 11:43 am:

      @Scott- Typically, students receive more aid as an independent than dependent because their EFC is much lower. The amount your son will actually receive can vary, but I would not expect much change in grants because, for the most part, Pell Grants are awarded to undergraduate degree candidates.

      Reply To This Comment
  17. Nkosi says on April 10, 2011 at 3:56 pm:

    Hi! I am filling out the household information. I live with my parents, however, on the student side, I don’t have dependents. I can only claim myself. My household size is 6, but none of them depend on me. For questions 50 and 51, I have the answer no. I put in “1″ for the number of college students as well as number of dependents (which I guess includes myself) what am I to do for questions 93 and 94?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on April 11, 2011 at 10:11 am:

      @Nkosi- In this situation, household refers to you, a spouse and any dependents. If you claim only yourself, then the number of people in your household would be 1, and same with question 94.

      Reply To This Comment
  18. Lauren says on April 5, 2011 at 4:44 pm:

    Hi, I have a sort of odd situation–
    I am a US international student in the UK and am staying here for three years on my own. Not a study abroad program, I am literally paying directly for the foreign tuition, so it obviously costs a lot. Seeing as I’m not even in the same country as my parents (who don’t give me any sort of financial help anyway), would my school be able to override my status as a dependent student to an independent in order to receive more federal loans?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on April 11, 2011 at 10:12 am:

      @Lauren- This can vary by school, so the only way to know for sure is to contact your school’s financial aid office.

      Reply To This Comment
  19. nichole says on March 27, 2011 at 10:10 pm:

    Hi. I filled out my fafsa application but wanted to know if i am considered an independnt or dependent if i live with my fiance and his parents? We have four kids and I am a stay at home mom so I dont bring home any kind of income. My fiance finacially supports me and our four kids. But since we are not married would his income count? Also if i take care of our four children but do not financally support them would they be considered my dependents? ahhhhh this is so confusing!

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on March 28, 2011 at 10:33 am:

      @nichole- Based on the information you’ve provided, you should file as a dependent (assuming you are under 24 years old). In order to file as independent, you will have needed to provide more than half of the support for your children. Since your fiance financially supports the children, he is the only one eligible to claim them as dependents.

      Reply To This Comment
  20. Eligibility for Independent Student Status for the FAFSA | Student … | Loan says on March 26, 2011 at 11:15 pm:

    [...] more from the original source: Eligibility for Independent Student Status for the FAFSA | Student … Share and [...]

    Reply To This Comment
  21. Alex says on March 22, 2011 at 6:36 pm:

    Hello, I have been considered a dependent for 3 years now in college. My problem is, I work and so does my father, but I dont depend on my parents income; thats why I have a job. But the school doesnt take that as a valid excuse. I came up with an idea on how to become considered a d

    I came to a thought, what if I claim one of my brothers children in my taxes. My brother and I live in the same house with my parents. Is this legal? And what are the chances of this method working?

    Please Help!

    Reply To This Comment
  22. Greg says on March 18, 2011 at 10:56 am:

    Hi, I am currently in a sticky situation. I am 18 years old, and planning on going to the University of Mount Union in the fall. I am a senior in high school currently. I have absolute no contact with my family. I live with a friend but I do not pay rent or utilities. My phone is pre-paid so I don’t have a bill for that either. My mail does go to my current address with my friend. So how can I prove that my parents and I have absolute no contact with each other and that I am really on my own?

    Reply To This Comment
  23. Michelle says on March 16, 2011 at 2:39 pm:

    I am currently 23 years old, but will be turing 24 in May of this year. I will be applying for fafsa for the next school year (fall 2011-spring 2012) within the next week or so. I am not sure if I can file as independent becaues I am still 23, however will be 24 when the school semester begins in the fall.

    Reply To This Comment
    • Rachel says on March 28, 2011 at 2:17 pm:

      @ Melissa: This year, the questions reads: Were you born before January 1st 1988. If you can answer “yes” you are independent. If you have to answer no, then you are dependent.

      Reply To This Comment
  24. Aldo says on March 14, 2011 at 1:01 pm:

    HI! I’m planniing to apply for a scholarship, I live with my sister and nephew. I filled my 2010 taxes as single and do not receive any money support from her other than a place to live. would I be considered part of her household?

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on March 15, 2011 at 9:07 am:

      @Aldo- In order for you to be considered part of your sister’s household, she would need to provide over half of your support. This includes rent, food, health insurance etc. You may have to do some math to figure this out, but I doubt you would be included as part of her household. Good luck.

      Reply To This Comment
  25. Kam says on March 12, 2011 at 12:35 am:

    Hi, I’ve read all the questions and responses that are similar to my issue. My parents filed their taxes this year w/o my W2 info. Previous years they have used my info, but those years, as now, I was paying for my own school, rental, etc. Yet, I still had to use my parents’ taxes for the FAFSA. I received some financial aid when I filed my parents taxes, making me a dependent. So I am assuming that past tax forms wouldn’t really work in my benefit. This year, I will be filing myself, and I have a loan in which I am currently paying on and will use towards my taxes. Since I am claiming myself, I am assuming I am to select independent, but my mother is still paying my insurance. I am honestly confused and I do not know exactly what I need to do. Do I have to file for independence since my parents did not claim me? If so, this means that I would have to pay my own insurance, correct? If I have to file for independence, what letters would I need from my employer? Also, is there a major benefit from filing as an independent? Please help me, hopefully I did not confuse you.

    Reply To This Comment
    • Student Loan Guru says on March 15, 2011 at 5:24 pm:

      @Kam – It is really important that everyone here understand that your tax filing status and your FAFSA filing status are separate and one does NOT depend on the other. While similar information is collected, and tax forms can be used to back up FAFSA information, the two forms have different qualifications regarding filing status. If you are under 24, you are NOT considered an independent for your FAFSA. Even though you were not listed as a dependent on your parents’ taxes, you will still need their information in order to file your FAFSA. If you were paying your own insurance and can prove you’re completely supporting yourself, there is a chance you could get a dependency override from your school (this happens directly with the school’s financial aid office). Before looking further into this, it’d be best to speak to the financial aid office to see if you would be eligible for the override. Otherwise, you file as dependent on your FAFSA form.

      Reply To This Comment
    • john says on May 31, 2011 at 11:05 am:

      No, you are still considered dependent. The post is kinda misleading, you can petition for independency override but that usually requires extreme circumstances, like abuse suffered from your parenst which makes it not healthy for you to have any contact with them ect, just simply paying you own bills will not get you independent status, if that where the case most students would be considered independent and thats not the case. I used to be a Fin Aid advisor at a large state school and sat in on many professional judgement hearings.

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