FAFSA: Do I File As Dependent Or Independent? (Updated for 2014-2015)

The guidelines in this article have been updated to reflect the 2014-2015 academic year. If you’re looking to graduate with less debt, be more productive, and land any job you want, check out the other ways this site can help you.

I felt totally awesome last month when I was able to tell my friends that I had already done both my federal and state tax returns. It was the first year I had decided to try out TurboTax (last year I used Iowa State U’s fantastic VITA program), which I found to be a great way to avoid the effort required to walk to the library and pick up paper forms.

It also marked another first; I discovered I was no longer a dependent. Indeed, I no longer fell under the criteria set by the government in order for my parents to claim me as a dependent and get that coveted exemption. Just for reference, here are those criteria:

  • You must have one of following relationships to your parents: child (biological, step, adopted, or foster), brother or sister, or a descendant of one of these
  • You must be under 24 and be a full-time student for at least five months of the year, or under 19 and not in school. If you’re totally and permanently disabled, this age restriction doesn’t apply.
  • You must have not provided more than half of your own support for the year
  • You must have lived with the parent wanting to claim you for more than half the year

source: memegeneratorFor the first time, I did not meet the last two criteria on that list. Maybe you are now at that point as well. If you had an on-campus job last year, you’re bound to make another stunning realization – it’s awesome to be an independent! Specifically, it’s awesome because you get a lot more back on your tax return. In my case, the difference was several hundred dollars (I work a lot – here’s a sample of my work history). That gave me plenty of money to buy more study music. If you worked even close to as much as I did, you’ll probably be beaming when you do your taxes as well. So, naturally, you come to the next conclusion:

Being independent will net me a lot more financial aid as well.

You can claim yourself independent on your FAFSA too, right? Sadly, as the Hitchhiker’s Guide’s Prosser would say, “Well, no, not as such…”

Turns out claiming yourself as independent when applying for federal aid is much, much harder. I found this out today as I was going through the pleasant process of filling the application out; through some digging I found out that the government has experienced a bit of “advantage-taking” when it comes to this distinction on the FAFSA.

Therefore, to be considered an independent on the FAFSA, you need to meet at least one these criteria:

  • Be born before January 1, 1991 (this is for the 2014-2015 year)
  • Be enrolled in a master’s or doctorate program as of Fall 2014
  • Be married as of the day you apply
  • Have children who get more than half their support from you between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015
  • Have other dependents who get half their support from you and live with you at the time you apply through June 30, 2015
  • Have both of your parents deceased, or be a ward of the court (at any time since you turned 13)
  • Be an active-duty member or veteran of the U.S. military
  • You have been deemed homeless or at risk of homelessness by a high school homelessness liaison or a director of a homeless shelter or transitional program
  • You are or were an emancipated minor or in legal guardianship as determined by the court of your home state

You can find all of these requirements at the official government student aid site as well. If you’re unsure about your status, click the link and read over the official guidelines, as they’re a bit more detailed. If you still have questions, contact your school’s financial aid adviser and set up a meeting to discuss your status.

Most of you who are considered independent on your taxes won’t meet any of these; therefore, you’re considered a dependent when it comes to applying for federal aid.

What if I meet one of these criteria, but my parents claimed me as a dependent on their taxes?

As far as I can tell, the criteria for dependency on taxes and the FAFSA are completely independent of each other. I’ve read through all the PDF documents – including this one, which is pretty clear. So even if your parents claim you on their taxes, you should still go by the above criteria when trying to figure out if you’re independent.

What if I don’t meet any of these criteria, but I have no contact with my parents?

Here’s what the official student aid site says:

“If you have no contact with your parents and don’t know where they live, you should discuss your situation with the financial aid office at the college or career school you plan to attend. The financial aid administrator will help you figure out what to do next.”

Note: I’m not a financial aid counselor or an expert. If you’re still unsure, I highly recommend asking a person with those credentials.

Hope this clears up any confusion you have about your status when applying for loans this year. Does this mean you’ll have to continue selling your blood? Probably. Just take solace in the fact that the rest of us are doing it as well.

Thomas Frank is the geek behind College Info Geek. After paying off $14K in student loans before graduating, landing jobs and internships, starting a successful business, and travelling the globe, he's now on a mission to help you build a remarkable college experience as well. Get the Newsletter | Twitter | Facebook

Ready to get serious?

Did you find this article useful?

Over 3,100 awesome students are learning how to dominate their classes, get more done, and land the jobs they want - and you should too.

Join in, and I'll also send you a free chapter from my book, Hacking Productivity!

44 Comments:
  1. Hello.
    Me and my boyfriend are 20 y/o’s planning to live together and pay for our rent together, we will both work part time jobs. and go to school full-time. Will I still be considered Dependent? and how will it affect our FAFSA?

    • Cynthia,

      Will the two of you be getting married before you apply for aid? If not, you won’t meet any of the requirements for Independent status (you can see them all above in the blog post), which means you’ll be a Dependent. You’ll have to include your parents’ information on your FAFSA, and you’ll typically be eligible for less aid.

  2. hi im 24 I attended job corps in 2013-2014 my parents did not file me on their taxes so i filed independent. but unfortunately I DIDN’T work. will i revive annnny financial aid???

    • Lulu,

      I’m not sure what Job Corps is, but since you’re 24, you would file as an independent on your FAFSA. Generally you’ll get aid if you didn’t work; in fact, you’ll probably get more since you had no income of your own.

  3. Hello Thomas, 

    Here’s my situation. I’m 24 years old, and never had a job due to health issues and no transportation. My parents claim me on their taxes.
    I noticed your article doesn’t state anything about living with parents and being 24.  I DO live with my parents, and the school is asking if I do, or live off campus.
    Does this make my pell grant money or fafsa lower because I state I’m living at home? Also I checked 0 dollars on all my income, because I really don’t make any.

    I get handed a few dollars here and there for personal stuff, but I’m unsure of how much and if I should edit it or not. (I’m afraid it’ll prolong the fafsa process).

    To sum it up: Will I get less for living with my parents even though I’m 24, and is putting $0 a bad thing on your income if I’m not making anything or unsure of what I get handed to me by parents?

    • Hi Richard,

      As I understand it, once you meet one of the criteria for being considered independent, it no longer matters what your situation is with your parents. This might be obfuscated on the online FAFSA form, but on the PDF verion, step three says:

      Answer the questions in this step to determine if you will need to provide parental information. Once you answer “Yes” to any of the questions in this step, skip Step Four and go to Step Five on page 8.

      Since you’re 24, you don’t have to provide any parent information on your FAFSA and can be considered an independent. Your parents might be able to claim you as a Qualifying Relative on their taxes, but the FAFSA is pretty much separate from taxes.

      The fact that you have no income is actually a good thing in most cases, as your own income is actually weighted more heavily in the EFC (Expected Family Contribution) equation than that of your parents – though again, this doesn’t matter a lick for you since you won’t be putting anything about your parents on your FAFSA.

      Hope this helps! Don’t hesitate to reach out to your school’s financial aid counselor if any of this is confusing :)

  4. Hello. I am 26 and I live with my parents, but I pay my portion of the mortgage and I pay for all of our phones, internet, and tv. I will be paying for school with my own money. Would I be considered independent or does living with my parents automatically make me dependent? Thanks. 

    • As the list says, you only need to qualify for one of the criteria. Since you’re 26, you’d be considered an independent since you were born before 1991.

  5. Hi there,
    I will be considered a dependent for my mom’s and my taxes and independent on my FAFSA. As far as yielding the highest rewards from FAFSA goes, am I better off reporting my mom’s income (~$40K) or leaving my mom’s income off and just use my income of ~$5k. This year I expect to make about half, $2.5K.
    Thank you for your help and patience, thisi is the most informative article I have been able to find (and up to date) on this issue.

    • Hi Brianna,

      As far as I know, you’ll be eligible for more aid if your Expected Family Contribution is lower, which means that less income reported on the FAFSA is better. If you actually do qualify as an independent on the FAFSA, I don’t believe you have to report your mother’s income. However, you might want to ask your school’s financial aid counselor just to be sure.

      Either way, you still have to report your own income – regardless of whether or not you’re putting your mom’s on it as well.

  6. So I live on my own and will claim myself as independent on my taxes. I’m 23 and am about to apply for my fafsa will I be able to be considered independent?

  7. Hi. I am disabled and receive SSD and I have a 20 year old (high functioning autistic, but not legally disabled) son living at home and attending college. We filed dependent on his FAFSA and received his aid, which is he only income he has had this past year. Since becoming disabled, I have had no other income, therefore have not filed a tax return. Do I file now that my son has received his aid or should he file?

    • Hi Kris,

      I believe that the FAFSA doesn’t have a bearing on whether or not you (or your son) are required to file taxes. To figure out if you need to file taxes, you can refer to the “Who Must File” section of IRS Publication 501.

      However, since this is a financial question that could possibly be complicated by factors I’m not aware of, I would highly recommend consulting a financial aid counselor at your son’s school. You can also call 1-800-4-FED-AID to get FAFSA help; they may be able to tell you for sure what you should do.

      For reference, here’s the actual FAFSA form if you need it.

  8. Hi. My parents are being forced to claim my brother and I as independents on their tax returns because our scholarships are paying for more than half of our school fees. On the FAFSA, would we be considered dependents or independent? We both still live at home and our parents are supporting us. Also, does being an independent take away possible gov. financial aid? Thanks.

    • As far as I know (and I’ve dug through a lot of FAFSA documents), the criteria for dependency on taxes is completely separate from the criteria on the FAFSA. You’ll only be independent on the FAFSA if you meet one of the criteria I’ve listed above in the post.

      Being independent on the FAFSA will actually qualify you for more aid most of the time, actually. Stafford loans limits, for example, are $4,000-$5,000 higher for independent students than they are for dependent ones.

      That’s why it’s so much harder to qualify as an independent on the FAFSA than on taxes. When you’re a dependent, your parents’ income and net worth is included in the calculation that figures out your EFC (Expected Family Contribution) and thus the amount of aid you’d be qualified to receive.

  9. Hi, my daughter will be 23 in april, 2014. She has an almost 2 year old son. They both live with us. She works part time. She is not married and technically doesn’t provide half of his care. Can she claim independent status on the FAFSA? She gets a little aid to dependent children and some food assistance. I’m assuming not but if she can would this be the better way to go.

    • Based on the criteria, I believe she still would not be considered independent on the FAFSA. However, I still recommend talking to a financial aid counselor at her school to see what her options are!

  10. My son turned 18 in July 2013. He also began a job. When January 2014 rolls around can he use his income on the FAFSA? He is paying his own way although he still lives with us. We don’t give him money mainly because we are BROKE!! thanks to this awesome economy:)

    • Actually, he is required to report his job income on the FAFSA. And unfortunately, that income will increase your EFC and potentially decrease the amount of aid he’ll be offered – but that’s just how the cookie crumbles in this country :(

      However, I still think it’s a great idea for him to have a job. And if he’s making enough money from that job to pay down some of his college without taking on loans, all the better!

  11. My daughter reached the age of 24 in March 2013. When I file my taxes for 2012 I can claim her as a dependent. My question(s) are: Will this filing have a negative impact on her FASFA for the 2013/2014 year or will it not matter because she is now 24? I want to make sure she gets all she can from the FASFA filing, but of course would like to be able to claim her for 2012.

    • As far as I can tell, there’s no relationship between taxes and FAFSA status. I’ve dug into all the FAFSA documents I could find and never found anything about “If your parents claimed you on their taxes, you’re a dependent.” All I found were the criteria for her being independent, which are listed here. So if she meets any of those criteria, she’s independent.

      That said, I’m not a financial expert, so it might be a good idea to talk to a financial aid counselor if you’re not sure.

  12. My daughter is 20 and will begin a graduate pharmacy program in Fall 2013. Going through the FAFSA, she will qualify as an independent student. Should I go that way and let her apply for FAFSA as independent? Would I lose her as a dependent on my tax return? She has limited income (~$3000 in 2012).

    I have a second child who will be entering as a freshman in Fall 2013. Would I be better off keeping my daughter dependent in the hopes of being granted more financial aid with two kids in college? With just my daughter, we only qualified for a limited loan, which we declined.

    Thank you for any help or advice with this!

    • Before I answer, I need to make it clear that I’m not a financial expert. I’d highly recommend asking the financial aid counselor at your daughter’s school these questions to make sure you have the best answers.

      Also, even though your daughter does qualify as an independent on the FAFSA due to her status as a grad student, she is still required to provide all the parental information a dependent student would, since she is student in a health program.

      That said – as far as I can tell from reading every source I could find – the guidelines for dependency on taxes and on the FAFSA are completely separate and don’t affect each other. So, as long as you and your daughter meet all the dependency requirements for tax purposes, I believe you should be able to claim her regardless of her FAFSA status.

      Now, the second question is irrelevant, because you can’t just choose whether or not to list your oldest daughter as independent or not. As a graduate student, she’s automatically independent by the criteria.

      However, you may still be able to include her when reporting how many students you have in college. If she’s still receiving half of her support from you (which should make her a dependent with respect to taxes), then you can include her in that number. She doesn’t have to live with you.

      If she’s not receiving at least half of her support from you, then she should be an independent for both taxes and FAFSA, and won’t make a difference for your EFC with regards to your other child.

      So the real answer is that you don’t really have a choice – you just need to figure out your daughter’s status. If she can indeed be counted in your number of students in college, then it’s a good idea to include her, because each child in college should reduce your EFC by 50% on the FAFSA.

      It’s a good idea to use an EFC calculator to get a more accurate picture of your situation.

      There’s lots more detail here that I’d recommend you check out. You can also read through the actual EFC formula document if you’d like a real headache ;)

      And do please follow up with a financial aid advisor about this – again, I’m not a licensed expert or anything.

      Also – I have to get on my soapbox a bit here – please use debt only as a last resort! As someone who just finished paying off $15K in loans, I know how much debt sucks. Consider asking about installment plans and convincing your children to take part-time jobs if they haven’t already.

  13. Hi I’m 22 and I live in Maryland with my boyfriend. I work full time and so does he. I also go to school full time. With that said me and my boyfriend pay all the bill and buy all the food do the apartment. The apartment is in both our names as are the bills. So when I filed my taxes I was sure that I would file as independent. My parents send me an occasional 60 dollars every 2-3 months.. But nothing more. So I don’t understand why Fafsa classifies me as a dependent student when clearly I am not!

    • I know how you feel – the FAFSA doesn’t really play fair for self-dependent students under 24. But that’s unfortunately how it is.

  14. I just turned 23 in october. I was born in 89 and I am planning on trying to start online schooling set to start in january (or after depending). I do not live with my parents and they do not support me, they dont even claim me. Should I wait to apply for fafsa after the new year since i will be turning 24 before december 2013? Or if i apply NOW will they consider me a dependent still?

    • The FAFSA’s rules are based on the full academic year (being 2012-2013 in this case), so starting school in January doesn’t make any difference. Since you weren’t born before January 1, 1989, you’ll be considered a dependent student for this year. However, once you do your tax return for 2012, you should be able to fill out a FAFSA for the 2013-2014 school year as an independent.

      Short version: Next semester you’re still a dependent no matter what. Fall 2013, you’re independent.

  15. so if i am denied for financial aid last year, what can i do to receive financial aid next year. that is 2013.

    • Do the FAFSA again, and if that’s not enough, see if you can get a private loan.

      Also, talk to your financial aid office at your school. They’ll be the best resource and will probably know more about your situation.

  16. hi i ll be 21 in september and i appllied for the fafsa last yr bt i ddnt get it. and im not working either. i live with my stepmum and dad but she gets more money because she is a nurse. what can i possibly do to get financial aid next year. because my dad doesn’t make a lot but he is the one paying for my tuition. should i get a job and file for independent nxt year or what? i need your help

    • To determine if you can file as an independent, check the official list of qualifications at FAFSA’s website: http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/fotw1213/help/fftoc02k.htm

      From your comment, though, it sounds like you won’t be able to qualify as an independent. You’ll probably need to file as a dependent since you weren’t born before 1989 and still live with a parent.

      Remember that the FAFSA is only one part of financial aid. As a dependent student, you’re usually offered less in government loans than an independent student; however, you can still apply for private loans if you need more money to attend school.

      I also highly recommend working a part-time job while you’re in school if you can handle it. Not having an income in college isn’t fun and only increases your debt.

      Lastly, don’t discount scholarships. Apply for as many as you can.

  17. hi so im 21 my parents live with me and i support my little brother so i claim him on my taxes. Does that make me independent on FAFSA?

    • Yes – if you’re providing at least 50% of his support and he lives with you, then you would be independent on the FAFSA.

      • then why is the school still asking for proof of legal guardianship?

      • No idea – I’m certainly no expert on financial aid procedures. It’s probably because they want proof that you’re supporting him. I’d suggest talking to your school’s financial aid office about it.

  18. I was filled as a dependent on my taxes because I still live at home so my parent cover my living expenses. I do help them out as much as I can and sadly they can not cover my college expenses so it is all on me. I don’t mind, been doing so for five years now.

    The thing is I am applying FASFA for my last semester and I labeled as an independent by them since I turn 24 by the end of the year.

    It gives me the option of putting in my parents information. Should I just go ahead and put my own or should I still put in there information like I always have.

    • It depends on how much aid you think you need, and if you meet the criteria. If you do meet the criteria for being independent on your FAFSA (remember, it’s more strict than for taxes), then you need to ask yourself if you need a bigger loan for your last semester. Will the same loans you’ve been getting work this semester? If so, I’d suggest just doing what you’ve always done.

  19. Okay. Im 20 and I work and go to school full time and still live with my parents. I support myself completely, literally the only thing they provide is a house because everything else I pay. Even school, because unfortunately I did not get any money from fafsa in 2011 :(
    Because of this article I see that I can claim independent on TAXES, I juat have to be sure my parents dont claim me.
    So even if I move out and im literally on my own but I do not meet any of criteria to claim independent on fafsa, I still need my parents info for fafsa? What IF for some bizzarre reason my parents are acting like jerks and dont want to help, what should I do?

    • Fortunately for you, your parents don’t really have the option of being jerks. If you don’t meet any of these criteria, then your parents are required by federal law to provide you with their financial information. If they don’t, I’d recommend contacting the FAFSA office and letting them know.

  20. So, to clarify, I can claim myself as independent on my taxes but its a definite no go as claiming myself independent on this year’s fafsa.
    That’s all I needed to know.
    Thanks!

  21. Hi. I know I’m pretty late on this but I really need help on this claiming dependent/independent thing. I graduated undergrad in June 2011, taken a year off and am working full time. I’ve recently applied to grad school and have been accepted, so I’m planning to enter grad school of fall 2012. I was born Oct 1989 and was and am still living with the rents. I’ve earned less than $20,000 for 2011 between two jobs. My parents haven’t decided whether to claim me yet and my dad hasn’t done his taxes yet. Can I claim myself independent still on my 2011 taxes. Any help would be appreciated. =] Thanks!

    • Just to be clear, this is for your taxes, not your FAFSA. You won’t be independent on your FAFSA for sure.

      Since you were a full-time student for a least five months in 2011 and lived at home, and since you’re under 24, the determining factor is whether or not you got half your support from your parents in 2011. If you think that you personally paid for more than half of your meals, clothing, car maintenance, and any other non-housing expenses, then you can claim independent. Otherwise, your parents can claim you.

      Remember that being independent on your taxes only helps you in taking yourself as an exemption on said taxes. You won’t be able to get extra loans from a FAFSA.

      Check out this article for the full criteria.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

// Read This Next

The Overwhelming Value Of Being Specific

Goals + Ambition: Check. Now go beyond the blog and get free tools to achieve them.