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Student Loans

How to File the FAFSA When You Don’t Live With Your Parents

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) determines students’ eligibility for financial aid. You’ll need to submit this form each year if you’re interested in getting federal student loans, grants, work-study, or other types of aid to pay for school. Completing the FAFSA means answering questions about yourself and in most cases, your parents. 

You might assume that you don’t need to include their information if you no longer live at home, but that’s not always the case. If you’re considered a dependent, you’ll still need to share some personal and financial details about your parents. The Department of Education defines who is a dependent or independent student. 

Read on to learn how to fill out the FAFSA if you don’t live with parents and how the information you provide might affect your financial aid eligibility. 

How to fill out the FAFSA if you don’t live with parents 

You don’t need to live with your parents to complete the FAFSA, but you must request an FSA ID to get started. Your parents will need their own FSA ID to complete their portion of the application if you’re a dependent student. Once you have your ID, you can complete the FAFSA at

The information you’ll need to complete the FAFSA may include: 

  • Your Social Security number and date of birth
  • Your parents’ Social Security numbers and dates of birth
  • Your driver’s license number if you have one
  • Tax returns
  • Records for any untaxed income
  • Bank statements showing balances in savings and checking accounts
  • Names of schools you’re interested in attending

Students (and parents, if students are dependent) must consent to allow the IRS to transmit their tax data to the Department of Education electronically. If you or your parents fail to do so, regardless of whether you live with them, your FAFSA could be rejected.

Once you’ve logged in, you’ll simply need to answer the questions FAFSA asks. You should answer them to the best of your ability and as accurately as possible, as deliberately sharing false information is considered to be fraud. Leaving fields blank could also cause your application to be rejected. 

If you need help filling out the FAFSA when you don’t live with parents or have a special circumstance, you can contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC). Representatives are available by phone, live chat, and email to answer questions about the FAFSA process. Help is available in both English and Spanish. 

What if I have a legal guardian?

If you have a court-ordered legal guardian, you’re not required to share information about your parents on your FAFSA. You’re considered an independent student in the eyes of the Department of Education, regardless of whom you live with. 

What if I live with a grandparent or other relative? 

Living with a grandparent or another relative doesn’t change whether you must report your parents’ information if you’re required to do so under FAFSA rules. You’d still need to answer the questions about your parents to the best of your ability.

What if I’m an emancipated minor/unhoused/at-risk youth?

If you’re an emancipated minor, you’re an independent student for FAFSA rules and don’t need your parents’ information to apply for aid. So you’d just have to answer the questions on the form that are relevant to you. 

You may qualify for provisional independent status if you are:

  • Homeless and lack fixed, regular housing
  • Unaccompanied, meaning you don’t live in the physical custody of a parent or guardian
  • At risk of becoming homeless

The provisional independent status wouldn’t require you to share your parents’ information. When completing the FAFSA, you don’t need to provide proof of these situations to the Department of Education, but your school can ask for documents to support your claim. That might include:

  • Court or law enforcement documents proving your status
  • Letters from clergy members, school counselors, or social workers affirming your status
  • A documented interview between you and the financial aid administrator at the school you plan to attend

Providing as much proof as possible can help strengthen your claim. Ultimately, it’s up to the financial aid administrator to decide whether to approve you for aid when there are special circumstances. 

Why does FAFSA need my parents’ information if I don’t live with them? 

The Department of Education uses your dependency status to determine what information you need to provide on your FAFSA. If you’re a dependent student, it doesn’t matter whether you live with your parents or not or whether they claim you on their tax return. You still have to report their information. 

There’s no simple definition of who is dependent or who isn’t. You’re asked a list of specific questions on the FAFSA to determine that. For example, the FAFSA asks whether you:

  • Are under 24 years of age
  • Are married and/or have dependent children
  • Are serving in the armed forces, or are a veteran
  • Plan to enroll or have enrolled in a master’s or doctorate program for the upcoming academic year
  • Have been orphaned, assigned ward of the court status, or lived in foster
  • Are/have been homeless or at risk of becoming homeless

Dependent students are assumed to have the financial support of their parents, even if they don’t live with them. 

The FAFSA requires information about parental income and assets to calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) if you’re a dependent student. Your EFC, year of enrollment, enrollment status, and cost of attendance are used to determine financial aid eligibility. 

Is it better to live with parents for the FAFSA?

Living with parents for the FAFSA may be better because it’s usually easier to gather the necessary information. The FAFSA requires dependent students and their parents to answer questions about their income and assets, and there may be less back and forth over how to answer if you’re sitting down to complete the application together. 

Not living with parents could add a wrinkle to the process. For example:

  • If you’re technically dependent but your parents refuse to provide their information, your FAFSA could be rejected. That could limit your options for receiving aid to Unsubsidized Direct Loans, which may lead to a funding shortfall. 
  • If you’ve gone through no contact or been forced to move out due to an abusive situation, you may need to submit additional documentation to your school to be considered for aid. 

It’s less common to have situations where a dependent student doesn’t live with at least one parent. Remember that even if you live with a grandparent or relative, they’re not considered your parents for FAFSA purposes unless they’ve legally adopted you. You’d still need to share your parents’ information if you’re dependent under FAFSA rules. 

Appeals and special circumstances 

The Department of Education recognizes that not all student situations are the same. If you have a unique or unusual circumstance, you can complete the FAFSA without providing parent information, though you’ll typically need to share additional information/documentation with your school. Examples of unusual circumstances include:

  • Having a parent who’s incarcerated
  • Leaving home because of an abusive situation
  • Being a victim of human trafficking
  • Having refugee or asylum status
  • Being abandoned by or estranged from your parents

You can report these situations by answering yes to this question on the FAFSA: “Do unusual circumstances prevent the student from contacting their parents or would contacting their parents pose a risk to the student?”

If you reported your parents’ information on your FAFSA but their financial situation has changed, you can contact your school’s financial aid office to make them aware. The school may reconsider your aid package if your parents have experienced a loss of income or employment. 

What if your financial aid package isn’t enough? In that case, you could try writing an aid award appeal letter to the school. The school may reconsider how much aid you’re eligible to receive if an unexpected change in your circumstances affects your ability to pay for school. 

Ask the expert

Andrew Steger


The most common mistakes made with the FAFSA are missing the deadline or not getting the form in as early as possible. Additionally, entering incorrect or false information can delay or decrease awards. Always use income tax returns or savings account statements to input as accurate information as possible.

Tips for maximizing your aid 

If you’re completing the FAFSA, it’s important to ensure you get all the aid you qualify for. Here are some tips for making the most of your aid eligibility. 

  • Determine the correct dependency status. 
  • Submit your FAFSA early, as some types of aid are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. 
  • Report all income and assets accurately. 
  • Don’t leave any questions unanswered, and double-check to verify the answers are correct. 
  • Minimize income if possible, but don’t intentionally underreport earnings. 
  • Appeal the decision if your award isn’t enough. 

If you’ve taken these steps and are still short, you might consider looking into private student loans to make up the difference. Comparing top private student loan lenders can give you an idea of what rates and terms you might qualify for.