FAFSA: Do I File As Dependent Or Independent? – 2017-2018 School Year

The guidelines in this article have been updated to reflect the 2017-2018 academic year. Jump straight to the answer – I’ve also answered some frequently asked questions near the bottom of the article.

If you’re looking for more ways to fund your education and save money, check out my article on 39 ways to cut the cost of college.

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

For 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, 1994 (this is for the 2017-2018 year)
  • Be enrolled in a master’s or doctorate program as of Fall 2017
  • Be married as of the day you apply
  • Have children who get more than half their support from you between July 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018
  • Have other dependents who get half their support from you and live with you at the time you apply through June 30, 2018
  • Have both of your parents deceased, be in foster care, 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 at any time on or after July 1, 2016
  • 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 | Instagram

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73 Comments on "FAFSA: Do I File As Dependent Or Independent? – 2017-2018 School Year"

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I am turning 24 next year in March can I go to school for free that semester?

Susan Shepherd

Iaml lost can’t find it access my safe key code can’t remember passwords Ian messing up application

Dylan Franklin

Hey, my guardians are labeled as joint managing conservators because of Texas law, but they are supposed to be financially responsible for me. Do I use them as my Fafsa parents? I can’t use my genetic parents.


For the new fafsa, where you can do the renewal thing. I am 24 before Dec.31 of 2017, for this reason ONLY, I am considered an Independent. I still live with my parents and I do not work at all, I am dependent on them. My question would be, would it be better to answer questions about my parents, or not to answer questions about my parents? I am afraid that I won’t get all the aid I need for the upcoming school year…


Haven’t lived with my parent in 7 months and they won’t give me money but still claiming my child tax? But I’m living with someone that takes care of me and gets nothing


I am soon to be 25 and live with relatives. For 2015 taxes I claimed my neice,I was financially supporting her, I then lost my job and no longer could support for this year. When I submitted my taxes she was my dependent on my taxes, but no longer is supported by me,nor lives with me. Do I still list her as household? Do I list relatives who im currently living with? Or do i list only myself since I’m only supporting myself? I pay for my own neccessities. I’m just confused when it comes to verification form.


Hi. I don’t live with my parents and I support myself 100%. I understand how the dependency status works. So if i list my parent’s information and mine, does that mean they will not give me financial aid? My mom and her husband together make about 70,000 for a household of 4. I am excluded since I rent a room in a different home. I made aout 13,000 grand last year in 2015 and lost my job at the end of the year. I just don’t want to get denied because of the dependency status.

Malcolm X

if my sister is 21 and im 20, will she be able to file me?


My son will be 23 in October of this year. He is a sophomore in college. Am I correct in thinking that
1) We will be able to claim him on our taxes for 2016.
2) Since he turns 24 on Oct. of 2017, we will still be able to claim him since he will only be 24 for 3 months of that year.
3) If he gets married in the last quarter of this year (when he is 23) or the first few months of 2017 (still age 23, but the year he turns 24), he will be able to claim independent on taxes, and on the FAFSA and be able to get financial aid.
Thank you.


Does he live with you? If he provides more than half of his financial support and has not lived with you for more than half the year then no you cannot claim him on your taxes, he should claim as an independent. However, he can claim you on his fafsa because he is not married and under the age of 24, he does no have to be living with you in order to claim you on his fafsa.

Kenya Acosta

I am 18 years old, a senior completing my last semester of high school, and 6.5 months pregnant. I want to fill out my FAFSA as dependent because of the scholarship program I want to apply for which will give me a full ride at ASU because my mom makes less than $40,000 a year. Now, I want to file for WIC and food stamps. My mom wants me to apply dependently through her, (her income is $26,000 a year for a house of 4) but my boyfriend wants me to get food stamps with him (no job, not a student, currently living at aunts).

What will give me the most benefits, filing with my mom or boyfriend?
Will claiming food stamps independently affect the FAFSA process or cause the process to have any hiccups?
Will I be able to claim my daughter once she’s born?

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