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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Patty Davis

My daughter will go to graduate dental school fall of 2016. She is currently in her last semester for BS degree. She is dependent now until she starts the grad program. At this time she will be independent . How should we fill out the FAFSA? Can we do two in one year since her status will change? We definitely have to apply as independent for the grad school. Thanks


I had a question. I am 24, still living with my parents, and I am about to transfer to a state college from community college. If my parents recently claimed me on 2015 taxes, should I claim independent or dependent on my fafsa and college application?


Hey! So this is my situation…. I am 19 and completely live on my own. I get no money from either of my parents. So what you’re saying is that I cannot file as an independent on my fasfa?

p smith

if I file my own taxes & I’m 21, can I apply for student loans?


My granddaughter intends on becoming Emancipated this year at age 16 with good reason. Does this automatically qualify her as an Independent for FASFA without having to allege say parental psychological abuse or non support. Are there some trigger words needed before FASAFA classifies someone as an Independent or is it simply the fact that she would be legally emancipated? Does this mean she would have full scholarships and grants for college? What can she expect. Thanks. Sheila.


To whom it may concern,
We filed our taxes recently and person who prepared them said that since our daughter will be 17 next year we cannot claim her. Is this true? She will only be in 11th grade UN high school and we provide everything for her. So then tell me if this is true WHY!!!


Hi Shirley,
Your tax person wasn’t wrong but more likely the explanation was lacking. There is something called the “Child Tax Credit” that is worth $1K presuming that you had a decent amount of earned income. It first goes towards your tax liability and then if you have less than $1K in tax liability the rest gets treated like a payment as an “Additional Child Tax Credit” and can get refunded to you. HOWEVER, the Child Tax Credit can only be taken on a child below the age of 17. Which means that the year she is 16 will be the last year that you get it. Why Pres. Bush chose the age of 16 to be the last year we will never know since it isn’t 18 or 21 or 24, any of the other normally flagged ages. But if you paid more than half of her support and she is under 24 and still in school you should be able to claim her as a dependent. (But you won’t get that nifty $1K credit but you get some deductions).


my son started this school year away at school. When he/we applied for FASFA, my son was not woring WithIn the course of the semester he started a new part time job at a local store (seasonal). Will this new income effect his FASFA?


My sons friend who is 20 moved from Tennessee to live us in Missouri because he was living in his car. He wants to co to college now but his parents won’t help do any paperwork at all. His Mother just got a house build for by Habitat for Humanity because she is low income. His father is remarried and on disability. He does not really talk to his parents much at all and they told him they will not fill out any paperwork for him at all. They give him no money or support of any kind for over a year and have not claimed him as dependent on their taxes for a year either. His school basically told him unless his parents fill out the paperwork he can’t go to school until he is 24. What are his options? I am not ready to take on financial aid for a child that is not mine. I already pay for all of his food,clothing,has, car insurance, etc..

So here is my situation. I’m 18 years old, 19 in Feb. And my mother does not make very much money. My father however, makes tons as he’s the head engineer at the major company he works for. My dad will NOT help me financially, but his income will completely screw me out of most if not all financial aid. I live In Oklahoma, and I’m moving to California with my boyfriend of 5 years, and plan to attend college out there. We will be staying with his mom temporarily(less than 2 months) while finding an apartment for us to move into. I don’t meet any of the requirements, but unless I can file as an independent I’ll never make enough to cover my tuition and monthly bills. If I file as dependent and provide the tax information, as I have previously stated, my dad’s income will not allow me to get the financial aid I need. I don’t want to put off school longer than I already have. Marriage for my boyfriend and I, isn’t an option. My family would really look down on that… Plus I’d rather not rush that. I’m still young, and although I am serious… Read more »

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?

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