Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the first time can be daunting, especially for students completing it on their own. The application is designed to collect information to determine students’ financial need.
If you are filling it out, you may be wondering about your dependency status.
Dependency isn’t about whether you live with your parents; it is based on your response to certain questions on the FAFSA. Importantly, the answers you provide will determine your status.
Some examples of questions that prove your dependency are whether or not you have children, if you are married or separated, if you have served in the military, and your age.
As a dependent, you must report your family’s information as well as your own in the application.
But what happens if you don’t live with your parents and are independent? How do you fill out the FAFSA – in particular, the questions about parents?
How to Fill Out the FAFSA If You Don’t Live With Your Parents
If you have answered yes to one or more of the questions in the dependency status questionnaire portion of the FAFSA, the federal government will classify you as an independent.
The independent label doesn’t necessarily mean you can leave the section on parent information blank. Some schools may require the information anyway.
The federal government recommends filling out the FAFSA with as much information as possible, including the information on your parents. Contact your school in advance to determine what their specific preferences are, because some schools will require additional proof of independence before providing student aid.
The federal government also has information available for those students with special circumstances such as those who are homeless or whose parents are incarcerated.
How Does Independent Status Affect Federal Student Aid?
Because dependent students are assumed to receive some assistance from their family, there are some benefits to being an independent.
For example, the maximum limit for federal student loans is $4,000 higher ($9,500 versus $5,500) for an independent undergrad student for the first year than for a dependent student. The increased limit covers undergraduates, graduates, and all other levels of education. The increased availability of federal student loans means you may have to take out less in private student loans.
There might also be increased eligibility for students who are assumed to have little to no support from their families to pursue their education. There are finally income tax benefits for students with independent status; they can claim back a portion of their education expenses on their tax return.