One of the more confusing aspects of filling out a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is determining whether you are an independent or dependent student. Most teenagers fresh out of high school are probably dependent because they still depend on their parent(s) for financial support. However, as we all know, 18 or 19 year old students do not make up the entire student body of a university. If you are unsure of your dependency status, make sure you visit the Student Aid website. Some other helpful resources can be found at Student Financial Aid Services Inc. and FAFSA Online. In addition, some of these statements, which are either fact or fiction, will help you understand your dependency status better.
Statement 1: I’m 19 years old and I was engaged, but not married when I filled out my FAFSA. I got married before I started the current semester. I am an independent student.
This statement is false, unless the student would meet one of the other qualifications for being an independent student. Any student who is married as of the date he or she fills out the FAFSA will be considered independent. However, if, at the time they fill out the FAFSA, they are not legally married, then that student would be dependent unless they meet one of the other criterion. It is possible for the student’s university to have a student update his or her marital status on the FAFSA if the school deems it necessary. These decisions are made at the discretion of the school.
Statement 2: I’m 22 years old and currently serving overseas for the U.S. Armed Forces. I still live with my parents when I’m home. I am an independent student.
This statement is indeed true. Any person who is currently serving on active duty, as long as it is for anything other than training, is considered an independent student, even if his or her physical address is still his or her parents’ house.
Statement 3: I’m 33 years old and still live with my parents, who help me pay my bills. I am still a dependent student.
This statement is false. Any student who is over the age of 24 is considered an independent student, even if they still live with their parents.
Statement 4: My daughter is 18 years old and moved out on her own. She should be considered an independent student.
This statement is also false. If a student does not match any of the other criterion, he or she is still considered a dependent even if he or she does not live with a parent or guardian. The student would remain a dependent until he or she can reach one of the criterion listed in the FSA Handbook.
The FSA Handbook that the ED publishes each year has a wealth of information. If you have questions about FSA, that is probably the best place to look. The 14 to 15-pageFSA Handbook can be found online. In addition, financial aid specialists at your university can help you with any question you may have. When in doubt, it is a great idea to ask or find the information rather than assume.
By Ryan Laspina
Senior Specialist, Red Flags and External Reviews