Dependent vs. Independent Student? Determine Dependency Status For Federal Student Aid
"Dependent vs. Independent Student? Determine Dependency Status For Federal Student Aid" submitted by SchoolGrantsfor Editorial Team and last updated on Monday 9th January 2012
Your financial need is the difference between the cost of attending school and the amount you and your family are expected to contribute. Cost of attendance refers to tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, transportation, personal expenses, possibly a computer and student loan fees if you borrow. Your expected family contribution is based on information from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the FAFSA. This calculation includes your and your parents’ income (if dependent), number in household, number in college, the amount of savings, investments and taxes due. Subtracting the school’s cost of attendance from your expected family contribution determines your need and the financial aid package you may be awarded.
If you’re both a parent and a student, you may be eligible for cash aid and help with child care, transportation and job or training expenses through your local community college. Contact your county social services office for more information if your child’s other parent is deceased or absent from the home, or if you or your spouse is physically or mentally disabled, unemployed or working fewer than 100 hours a month.
Whether you’re a dependent or an independent student will determine whose financial information you’ll need to report on the FAFSA, and the types and amounts of financial aid you may be eligible to receive. Financial aid administrators may make determinations regarding a student’s independent student status based on a documented determination of independence by another financial aid administrator in the same award year. Not living with parents or not being claimed by them on tax forms does not determine dependency status for federal student aid. Check Important Note Before You Apply For FAFSA
You’ll need to determine whose information to report on the FAFSA—if you’re an independent student, yours (and, if married, your spouse’s); if you’re a dependent student, yours and your parents’. When you apply for federal student aid, your answers to questions on the FAFSA determine whether you are considered a dependent or independent student.
Dependent students must report their parents’ income and assets on the FAFSA as well as their own. Dependent students are financially dependent if they did not meet any of the criteria for independence (see below). Federal student aid programs are based on the concept that a dependent student’s parents have the primary responsibility for paying for their child’s education. Independent students report their own income and assets (and those of a spouse, if married). The Credit CARD Act also requires young adults under the age of 21 to show independent means to repay the debt or have a guarantor/co-signor.
An independent student is at least 24 years old as of January 1 of the academic year, is married, is a graduate or professional student, has a legal dependent other than a spouse, is a veteran of the US Armed Forces, or is an orphan or ward of the court (or was a ward of the court until age 18). A parent refusing to provide support for their child's education is not sufficient for the child to be declared independent. Independent Student must meet one of the following conditions: twenty-four years of age or older; an orphan; a ward of the court; a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces; is married; has a child; is a graduate or professional student; has serious family circumstances.
You’re considered an independent student if at least one of the following situations describes you—not whether you live on your own, or if your parents no longer list you as a dependent on their tax return or feel it’s not their responsibility to help you pay for college. For the 2010–11 academic year, you’re an independent student IF at least one of the following applies to you:
- You were born before Jan. 1, 1987.
- You’re married on the day you apply (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 2010–11 academic year.
- You are 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. For more details on who is considered a veteran, see the explanatory notes on the FAFSA.)
- You have children who will receive more than half their support from you between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2011.
- You have legal dependents (other than your children or spouse) who live with you and who receive more than half their support from you now and through June 30, 2011.
- At any time since you turned age 13, both your parents were deceased, you were in foster care or you were a dependent or ward of the court.
- You are or were an emancipated minor as determined by a court in your state of legal residence.
- You are or were in legal guardianship as determined by a court in your state of legal residence.
- At any time on or after July 1, 2009, your high school or school district homeless liaison determined that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless.
- At any time on or after July 1, 2009, the director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing 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 July 1, 2009, 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 selfsupporting and at risk of being homeless.
If none of these criteria apply to you, you’re a dependent student.
If you do not have a determination that you are homeless, you should contact your financial aid office for assistance if you believe you are an unaccompanied youth who is homeless or self-supporting at risk of being homeless and answer No to the FAFSA questions concerning being homeless.
Your COA will vary depending on where you live (on or off campus, with your parents) and the college you attend. If you have children or other dependents who require care while you go to class, your COA may also include these expenses. If you have a disability, let your college’s financial aid office know about any related expenses that aren’t already covered.
How much can you borrow also depends on whether you’re a dependent or an independent student. The FAFSA will ask for information about the value of certain assets and education savings accounts owned by your parents (or you, if you’re an independent student), including Coverdell savings accounts, 529 college savings plans and the refund value of 529 prepaid tuition plans.
Your student budget or cost of attendance (COA) will vary depending on where you live (on or off campus, with your parents) and the college you attend. If you have children or other dependents who require care while you go to class, your COA may also include these expenses. If you have a disability, let your college’s financial aid office know about any related expenses that aren’t already covered.
If you’re a dependent student, you’ll need both of you and your parents’ Social Security numbers and Federal Student Aid PIN, 2009 W-2 forms and other records of money earned by you and by your parents, your parents’ 2009 Federal Income Tax Return to apply for most federal and state aid. (If your parents don’t have Social Security numbers, enter all zeros when asked for them on the FAFSA.) To learn more, go to www.ssa.gov or call 800.772.1213 (TTY 800.325.0778).
Federal Loan Limits For Dependent and Independent Student
Your expected family contribution, or EFC, will determine the types and amounts of federal and state aid you qualify for. If you’re a DEPENDENT STUDENT, your EFC will be based on:
- your income and your parents’ income;
- your assets and your parents’ assets;
- the age of your older parent living in your household;
- the number of family members living in your household;
- the number of family members other than your parents in college during the coming school year; and
- your and your parents’ state of legal residence.
If you’re an INDEPENDENT STUDENT, your EFC will take into account:
- your income and assets, and your spouse’s, if married;
- the number of children and other dependents in your household;
- the number of family members in college during the coming school year; and
- your state of legal residence.
Know more about Federal Loan Limits based on different criteria.
Determining Dependency Status of homeless, orphans, and foster youth or wards of the court.. for federal student aid
Submit FAFSA without parental information due to abusive family, adopted, homeless, divorced or separated parents, stepparents, dependent but no contact with parents, orphans, and foster youth or wards of the court...special circumstances? If a student is clearly independent, then there is no need to report information related to his or her parents. But if it is not clear that a student is independent, then it becomes necessary to determine if the student is being supported by adoptive or biological parents. The following patterns of response show likely outcomes in several cases.
Question from Foster: As a youth from foster care, you are entitled to additional money to support your college education. I wish I did not have to ask you this, but we need to show proof that you were in foster care so that you don’t have to complete the parent income information on the FAFSA. Do you have or can you get some form of verification?
Student: How do I do that?
|Question||Foster Youth Response||Student Response||Outcome|
|WORST||You need to contact your former social worker in the county in which you were in foster care.||Student feels overwhelmed, stupid, and left on his or her own to figure things out. Student has lost touch with social worker, does not remember the social worker’s name, and has no idea how to get in touch with her or him. Student has no Internet access to look up this information, so he or she feels helpless and lost||Student does not return to the Financial Aid Office nor seek any additional help from other Student Support Services.|
|BETTER||If you do not know your social worker, you can contact the county ILP / ILS office. Here is a list of contact names and numbers.||Student feels intimidated and does not feel supported since he or she has no idea what to say or how to ask for proof that they were in foster care.||(A) Student is too nervous, overwhelmed, or intimidated to call and does not return to school. (B) Student musters up the courage to call but becomes confused and frustrated trying to contact the right person and is not sure what to ask for. Consequently, he or she returns to the financial aid office with no documentation or incorrect documentation.|
|BEST||Let’s go into my office together and figure out who we need to call. What county did you live in? I’ll call the ILP coordinator from that county and explain what we need and then you can get on the phone and give your consent||Student feels welcomed, comfortable, supported, and less overwhelmed than if he or she had to do this on his or her own.||School and student receive proper verification of dependency status.|
|Why were you in foster care?||Are you supported by your biological, adoptive, or foster parents?||I live with and am supported by my adoptive parents.||Student must report his or her adoptive parents’ information on the FAFSA.|
|What did your parents do to you?||Are you supported by your biological, adoptive, or foster parents?||I have adoptive parents, but I do not live with them and they do not support me. (See example below.)||Student must provide verification from a third party (such as a close friend, teacher, mentor, church member, etc.) who is familiar with the student’s situation and knows that it is unsafe or otherwise unfeasible to contact the adoptive parents to get necessary information. You may consider using professional judgment and conducting a dependency override.|
|What was your foster care experience like?||Are you supported by your biological, adoptive, or foster parents?||My foster parents support me.||Student does NOT need to report foster parents’ information, but, depending on the level of support, this may be recorded under in-kind support.|
|What did you do to get put in foster care?||Are you supported by your biological, adoptive, or foster parents?||I live with and am supported by my legal guardian.||Student does NOT need to report their legal guardian’s information, but, depending on the level of support, this may be recorded under in-kind support.|
Example: Fran explains to the Foster Youth Liaison that she was in foster care for three years (between age 2 and 5), then she was adopted. She goes on to explain that she was abandoned by her adoptive parents at age 14 and placed in a group home. In order to continue receiving government assistance through the Adoption Assistance Program (AAP), Fran’s adoptive parents refused to relinquish parental rights and place her back into foster care. She is now 18, has not had any contact with her adoptive parents in 4 years, and explains that it would be detrimental to her health and well-being if she had to contact them for assistance or information. Fran is not eligible for any kind of assistance that a youth from foster care would be eligible for (ILP, Chafee, etc). This is an example of a situation where a dependency override should be considered.
NOTE: While most of you are aware of this, it is still important to note that the following information is NOT necessary to verify a student’s foster care status and may unwittingly embarrass or alienate some youth who have emancipated from care. The following are actual questions that youth from foster care reported being asked that made them reconsider attending college. Visit: http://www.casey.org for more details.
- Submit FAFSA Without Parental Information
- Different Types of Student Loans or Grants After You Graduate
- Federal Stafford Loans and Grants
- Differences between Direct lending and the FFEL Program related to default prevention
- Federal Student Loans vs. Private Loans
- Before you search for the best student loan
- Stafford Loan Limits
- Financial Aid For Dependents, Homeless, Orphans, and Foster Youth or Wards of the Court