One major part of filling out the FASFA includes declaring if you are a independent or dependent student. This simple question can determine how much federal aid you receive, what types of loans you qualify for, and how much in student loans you can take out.
Independent vs Dependent: Which Student Are You?
Even if you feel like an independent student or pay for your own schooling, the federal government does not consider you an independent student until you are one of the following:
- 24 years or older by December 31st of the award year
- Married at the time of filing (you can be separated but not divorced)
- Have children or other dependents that depend on you for half of their support
- A veteran of the U.S. armed forces
- Currently on active military duty
- Deemed an emancipated minor, orphan, foster care dependent, or ward of the court
- Were determined to be homeless as a youth or a self-supported youth that was at risk for becoming homeless
If you are 23, single, and living on your own and paying all of your own bills, you would still have to mark dependent when you filed your FASFA. Note that dependency status on the FAFSA is different than being dependent on federal income tax returns. They use two separate definitions of dependency. So even if you are considered independent for your taxes, that does not mean you are automatically considered independent for FASFA.
Benefits of Declaring Independent
Majority of the time, independent students are granted more award money because they fall into a lower category of earning. Being a dependent student means that the government assumes you will have parental financial support, even if that is not true in your case.
Therefore, if you are part of a family of four, and your parents’ annual income is $100,000, you may not be eligible for several financial aid awards or federal loans. However, you will still be eligible for private student loans, and if your parents co-signed the loan, you would be more likely to get a better interest rate.
Requesting Independent Status
In special circumstances, you might be able to get independent status by filing the right papers through the financial aid administrator at your school. Most students will not be granted independent status, since it is usually granted on extreme cases, such as cases of abuse or abandonment.
What You Need to Know Before Filing Independent
If you do qualify for independent status, there are a few things to know before you file. First, it is important to have proof of your independence status ready. You might be asked to show proof before your paperwork is accepted, and you do not want anything to slow down the process.
Also, it is important know that even as an independent student, you might still be required to answer some questions about your parents. Before you leave the parent section blank, take the time to call your school’s financial aid officer to check.
Finally, if you are married, you are considered an independent student, but your federal student aid will now be based off of both you and your spouse’s income and assets.
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