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Dependency Status - How It Affects Federal Student Aid

What is Dependency Status on the FAFSA Application?

On the FAFSA application you will be asked to identify yourself as either a dependent or independent student. So it's probably good to understand exactly what the designation means and how your choice will affect the amount of your financial aid you're eligible for. 

An independent is anyone who:

  • is 24 years of age or older by December 31 of the award year.
  • is an orphan or ward of the court or was a ward of the court until the individual reached the age of 18.
  • is a veteran of the Armed Forces of the United States.
  • is a graduate or professional student.
  • is a married individual.
  • has legal dependents other than a spouse.
  • is an emancipated child as determined by a court judge.
  • is a student for whom a financial aid administrator makes a documented determination of independence by reason of other unusual circumstances.

You are a dependent if you don't meet these requirements. Typically the FAFSA determines you are a dependent if you receive half of your income from your parents. Even if you file as an independent on your taxes, you might not be considered as one for financial aid purposes.

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 no support and you're not really a dependent. If you need a professional judgment override for dependency status, gather up as much documentation as you can - from rent bills to utility bills - to the legal judgment from a court emancipating you from your parents and bring it to your financial aid advisor.

It's always worth a shot, but these overrides happen very rarely.

Special Circumstances for Dependency Status

  • Adopted children. You are legally the dependent of your adoptive parents unless you meet the independent requirements above.
  • Foster children. You must live with your foster family for an entire year to qualify as their dependent.
  • Emancipated children. If you are a minor, you can legally emancipate yourself from your parents. However, once you are 18 years old you are already emancipated. Therefore, financial aid offices do not consider emancipated children as independents unless the meet the requirements or have made an appeal. Not being claimed as a dependent on your parents' income tax return does not change your financial aid status.

How Does it Affect Your Federal Student Aid?

Your federal student aid is affected by your dependency status. The FAFSA will determine your EFC based on your sole income if you are an independent or your access to your parents' income if you are a dependent. Since students are likely to make much less than their parents, most people want to be claimed as an independent so they can try to receive more aid. 

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