Dependency Status

When you apply for federal student aid, you report certain financial information to determine your financial need. Financial need affects whether you receive most types of federal student aid and, if you're eligible, how much you'll receive. You'll need to know whose financial information to report on your application, yours or your and your parents' information.

Dependent students must report their parents’ income and assets as well as their own on the FAFSA. Federal programs assume that dependent student's parents have primary responsibility for their student's education. Your parents' information will be used to calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC).

Independent students report only their own income and assets (and those of a spouse, if applicable). Dependency status is not contingent on whether a student lives with parents or is claimed as an exemption on parents' tax returns.

You’re considered an independent student only if at least one of the following criteria applies to you:

  • You were born before January 1, 1997.
  • You will be enrolled in a master's or doctorate program (beyond a bachelor's degree) at the beginning of the 2020–2021 school year.
  • You are married as of the day you apply (or you're separated but not divorced).
  • You are currently serving on active duty in the military for purposes other than training.
  • You have children who will receive more than half their support from you between July 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021.
  • You have dependents (other than your children or spouse) who live with you and who will receive more than half their support from you between July 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021.
  • When you were 13 or older, both of your parents were deceased, you were in foster care, and/or you were a ward of the court.
  • As of the day you apply, you are an emancipated minor as determined by a court in your state of legal residence.
  • As of the day you apply, you are in legal guardianship as determined by a court in your state of legal residence.
  • At any time on or after July 1, 2019, your high school or school district homeless liaison determined you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless.
  • At any time on or after July 1, 2019, the director of an emergency shelter program funded by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development determined you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless.
  • At any time on or after July 1, 2019, the director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program determined you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless.
  • You are a veteran of the US Armed Forces. (A "veteran" includes students who attended a US service academy and who were released under a condition other than dishonorable. For more detail on who is considered a veteran, see the explanatory notes on the FAFSA.

If none of the above criteria applies to you, you're considered dependent. If you meet the definition of independency because you are an emancipated minor, under legal guardianship, a ward of the court, under foster care, or at risk of homelessness, documentation such as court records are required to verify your status.

Dependent Students with Divorced or Separated Biological Parents

When completing the FAFSA, report information about the parent you lived with for the greater amount of time during the 12 months preceding the date of application. If you didn't live with either parent, or if you lived with each parent an equal number of days, use information about the parent who provided the greater amount of financial support during the 12 months preceding the date of application. If you didn't receive any parental financial support during that time, you must report information about the parent who most recently provided the greater amount of parental support. If your parents are not married but live together, both parents’ information must be included on the FAFSA.

If the parent you receive financial support from was a single parent who is now married, or the parent was divorced or widowed but has remarried, your step-parent’s financial information is required on the FAFSA. This does not mean your step-parent is obligated to give financial assistance to you, but his or her own income and assets represent significant information about the family's resources and will be included in calculating federal aid eligibility. Including this information on the FAFSA helps provide an accurate picture of your family's total financial strength.

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