Are You Independent or Dependent?

It’s that time of year again–the time of year that students and parents are forced to either complete their taxes early or go through loads of paperwork from the previous year to fill out the FAFSA. For those student who have completed the FAFSA in previous years it’s clear that there are lots of unclear questions. One category that lots of students have questions about is the designation of independent and dependent students.

This is an important designation because it has a very significant pull on the amount of financial aid that a student is eligible for and raises the amount of Stafford loans available immediately.

In order to meet the definition of being an independent student one must meet at least one of the following criteria:

• You are 24 years old or older (Born before Jan. 1, 1990 for the 20013-2014 FAFSA).

• You’re married on the day you apply for financial aid (even if you are separated but not divorced).

• You are or will be enrolled in a master’s or doctoral degree program (beyond a bachelor’s degree) at the beginning of the academic year your FAFSA is for.

• You’re 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. (A “veteran” includes students who attended a U.S. service academy and were released under a condition other than dishonorable.)

• You have children who will receive more than half their support from you during the FAFSA academic year.

• You have legal dependents (other than your children or spouse) who live with you and who receive more than half their support from you.

• When you were age 13 or older, both your parents were deceased and you were you in foster care or a dependent or ward of the court.

• As of the day you apply for aid, you are an emancipated minor as determined by a court in your state of legal residence.

• As of the day you apply for aid, you are in legal guardianship as determined by a court in your state of legal residence.

• At any time on or after the July before you file your FAFSA, your high school or school district homeless liaison determined that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless.

• At any time on or after the July before you file your FAFSA, the director of an emergency shelter program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determined that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless.

• At any time on or after the July before you file your FAFSA, the director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program determined that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless.

• Note that a parent not claiming a child on their own tax return does not make a student independent.

If a student does not meet one of the above criteria, they must file as a dependent. Dependent students have to report both their parent’s income and assets in addition to their own, while independents only report their own income and possibly their spouse’s income if applicable.

Hope that cleared up any questions for you! Good luck filling out those papers!


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