Students who want to be considered for financial aid will need to submit the FAFSA. The FAFSA will determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and colleges will use the EFC to determine how much financial aid they will offer you if you are admitted. In addition to providing your financial information, the FAFSA requires the financial information of your parents if you are considered “dependent” by the FAFSA. However, some students might have trouble figuring out who should fill out the FAFSA. For example, if your parents are divorced or living apart, it may be confusing for you to determine who will fill out the FAFSA. Below are some tips to determine who will need to fill out the FAFSA so you can be considered for financial aid.
Who is your parent?
Parents are defined by the FAFSA as your legal (biological or adoptive) parents or stepparents, or a person who has been determined as your legal parent. Widowed stepparents, grandparents, foster parents, legal guardians, older siblings, and other family members are not considered parents for FAFSA purposes unless they have legally adopted you.
Are you dependent or independent?
One misconception students and parents have is about dependency. The FAFSA determines dependency differently than taxes. Even if you claim yourself on your taxes, you may still be considered “dependent” for FAFSA purposes. The FAFSA will ask the following questions to determine your dependency status:
- Were you born before January 1, 1995?
- Are you married?
- Will you be working towards a master’s or doctorate program?
- Are you currently serving on active duty in the U.S. armed forces?
- Are you a veteran of the U.S. armed forces?
- Do you have dependents who live with you?
- Were both of your parents deceased, were you in foster care, or were you a dependent or ward of the court since turning 13?
- Are you an emancipated minor?
- Since July 1, 2017, were you determined to be an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?
If your answers to all of the questions above are no, you are considered “dependent” for FAFSA purposes and your parents will need to also submit their information for the FAFSA. If you answered yes to at least one of the questions above, you are considered “independent” for FAFSA purposes and your parent’s information is not required.
If you considered dependent, here are some common situations and who will be considered your parent for FAFSA purposes.
- Parents are married. If your parents are married and living together, financial information for both of your parents should be included on the FAFSA.
- Parents are unmarried, but living together. Just like married parents, if your parents are living together, financial information for both parents should be included on the FAFSA.
- Parents are married and living apart. If your parents are living apart and not considered legally separated by the state, information for both of your parents should be included on the FAFSA.
- Parents are unmarried, separated or divorced and living apart. The parent who you lived with the most during the past year should fill out the FAFSA. If your parent is remarried, the financial information for the new spouse should also be included on the FAFSA. Who claimed you as a dependent on their taxes does not matter. For example, if the parent you live with the least claimed you on their taxes, the FAFSA still wants the information of the parent you lived with the most.
- Student lives equally with unmarried, separated or divorced parents. If you live with each of your parents equally during the year, the parent who provided the most financial support should fill out the FAFSA. Again, if that parent is remarried, the financial information for the new spouse should be included on the FAFSA as well.
- Student does not live with legal parents. If you live with someone other than your legal parent, the FAFSA will still require the financial information of your legal parent.
- Student cannot get financial information for parent. There are circumstances in which you might not be able to get financial information for your parents. These special circumstances might include incarcerated parents, you left home due to an abusive environment, or you do not know the whereabouts of your parents. If you have any of these circumstances, you can fill out the FAFSA and specify you cannot get parental financial information due to special circumstances. You will be able to submit the FAFSA without your parent’s information, but you must contact the financial aid offices at the colleges you are considering to discuss your circumstances. After the colleges understand the circumstances and you have provided requested documentation, the colleges will make financial decision about your dependency status.
- Parents will not provide information on the FAFSA. If you are considered dependent per the FAFSA’s definition, but your parents will not provide financial information, there are some options for you. You will need to specify that you cannot get financial information for your parent and that they do not have special circumstances (as described above). Unfortunately, you will not be able to get federal financial aid other than an unsubsidized loan. You will then need to contact the financial aid offices at the colleges you are considering to discuss your circumstances. If you use this option, an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) will not be calculated. Keep in mind that many state aid programs, as well as institution specific aid, requires an EFC. Therefore, you will probably be ineligible for these aid programs.
If you still have questions about who should fill out the FAFSA, visit the Federal Student Aid website for more information. In addition, financial aid officers at the colleges you are considering can be great resources to answer your questions.