Dependency status on the FAFSA

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Mark Kantrowitz

By Mark Kantrowitz

September 13, 2018

Dependency status on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is based on many factors, including age, marital status, and military service. It does not depend on whether someone can claim you as a dependent on their federal income tax returns.

If a student is dependent, parent information will be required on the FAFSA. If a student is independent, parent information will not be required on the FAFSA.

Dependency status on the FAFSA depends on the answers to about a dozen dependency status questions. Dependency status is defined by the Higher Education Act of 1965, not the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.

So, dependency status on the FAFSA does not affect dependency status on federal income tax returns, or vice versa. For example, when divorced parents have an IRS multiple support agreement to determine which parent can claim an exemption for the child on their federal income tax return, it has no impact on which parent is responsible for completing the FAFSA.

See also: How to Prepare for Filing the FAFSA

Dependency Status Questions

Since 1993, the FAFSA has determined whether a student is dependent or independent based on the answers to a set of dependency status questions. If the student can answer “yes” to any of these questions, they are independent. Otherwise, they are dependent.

  1. The student is age 24 as of December 31 of the academic year.
  2. The student is married or separated.
  3. The student is or will be enrolled in a graduate or professional school program.
  4. The student has children who receive more than half their support from the student.
  5. The student has legal dependents who live with the student and receive more than half their support from the student.
  6. The student is serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces for purposes other than training.
  7. The student is a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces.
  8. The student’s parents are both dead, the student was in foster care or the student was a dependent/ward of the court at any time since the student turned age 13.
  9. The student is or was an emancipated minor, as determined by a court in the student’s state of legal residence.
  10. The student has a court-ordered legal guardian other than the student’s parent or step-parent.
  11. The student is an unaccompanied youth who is homeless or is self-supporting and at risk of being homeless.

The last question is listed as three questions on the FAFSA, depending on who made the determination that the student is homeless or at risk of homelessness:

  • high school or school district homeless liaison
  • director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by HUD, or
  • the director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program.

Dependency Override

A dependent student can become independent through a dependency override. College financial aid administrators may use a dependency override to change a student’s dependency status from dependent to independent (but not vice versa) when there are unusual circumstances. Unusual circumstances can include abandonment, court protection from abuse orders against the parents and other very rare situations.

Even if the student is living on their own and is financially self-sufficient, that’s not enough for a dependency override. The parent’s refusal to complete financial aid application forms or provide help paying for college is also not sufficient justification for a dependency override.

Less than 1% of undergraduate students become independent because of a dependency override.

See also: Complete Guide to Financial Aid and FAFSA

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