Anyone heading to college should fill out and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to put themselves in the running for financial aid. The amount of financial aid you receive is based on a number of factors, one of which is your dependency status. If you have FAFSA independent student status, you could potentially score more aid than a dependent student.
Here’s what you need to know before choosing your dependency status on the FAFSA:
- Why your status is important
- When to file your FAFSA as an independent student
- How to prove your FAFSA independent student status
- What to do if you have no contact with your parents
- Why filing the FAFSA is essential
Your dependency status can affect how much aid you receive. The government assumes that dependent students have the support of their parents. Because of this, dependent students and their families are sometimes expected to cover more of their school’s cost, while independent students might get more aid and grants.
Your status also changes how you complete the financial aid application. Depending on whether you complete the FAFSA as an independent or dependent student, you will be asked to provide different information.
If you’re a dependent student, for example, you will need to include information about your parent or guardian’s financial situation. Providing that information doesn’t mean your family has to pay for your schooling; the government asks for it to get a better idea of your available resources.
If you’re an independent student, you can enter just your information and skip the parent section.
Filing the FAFSA as an independent student doesn’t depend on how close you are to your parents. Instead, there are 10 questions from Federal Student Aid which you can answer to decide what dependency status you should use.
- Will you be 24 or older by January 1 of the school year for which you are applying for financial aid? For example, if you plan to start school in August 2020 for the 2020–2021 school year, will you be 24 by January 1, 2020 (i.e., were you born before January 1, 1997)?
- Are you married or separated but not divorced?
- Will you be working toward a master’s or doctorate degree (such as M.A., MBA, M.D., J.D., Ph.D., Ed.D., etc.)?
- Do you have children who receive more than half of their support from you?
- Do you have dependents (other than children or a spouse) who live with you and receive more than half of their support from you?
- Are you currently serving on active duty in the U.S. armed forces for purposes other than training?
- Are you a veteran of the U.S. armed forces?
- At any time since you turned age 13, were both of your parents deceased, were you in foster care, or were you a ward or dependent of the court?
- Are you an emancipated minor or are you in a legal guardianship as determined by a court?
- Are you an unaccompanied youth who is homeless or self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?
If you answer “no” to all of these questions, you are likely a dependent student and will have to provide your parents’ income on the FAFSA. If you say “yes” to one or more, you might be an independent student on the FAFSA and can enter just your income on the application.
Completing the FAFSA as an independent isn’t something you should decide to do on a whim; the rules around dependency status are strict. Answering with incorrect information might result in less aid than you need.
If you’re declaring yourself as an independent student on the FAFSA, the government might require you to provide proof of your status.
The school financial aid office will review the information you provided. If you are eligible for only unsubsidized loans, you do not need to go through verification. However, if you are eligible for both unsubsidized and subsidized loans, the school has to confirm your status.
If you have to verify your information, your school will send you a letter detailing what documents you need to provide, what the deadline is and what the outcome might be if you cannot show proof.
You might be asked to provide extra documentation about the following factors:
- Tax information: If there are concerns about your adjusted gross income, you might be asked to provide a copy of your tax returns.
- Homelessness: You could be asked to provide the name or number of a homeless youth liaison or Department of Housing and Urban Development provider.
- Foster care: You will likely need to submit the name of the social worker who managed your case.
Once the school is satisfied with the information you provided, they will complete a verification form and submit it to the Department of Education. Based on your situation, your financial aid counselor might adjust how much aid you will receive.
Although the government tries to set clear guidelines around the FAFSA’s dependency status, some situations fall into a distinct gray area. For example, if you left home because of an abusive environment or are completely estranged from your parents, you might need to take extra steps.
The Higher Education Act allows financial aid administrators to override the system on a case-by-case basis if there are special circumstances.
To do so, complete and submit the FAFSA with just your information. After doing this, you won’t find out your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) right away. Instead, you’ll need to contact the school’s financial aid office to explain your extenuating circumstance.
The financial aid office will review your information. They might ask for proof of your situation, such as legal documents, letters from a counselor or a note from a social worker. After reviewing your application, the administrator will decide whether to override your status and label you as an independent.
Filing the FAFSA is an essential first step toward going to college. But in some situations, completing it can be especially complex.
Your status as a FAFSA independent student can require extra documentation and discussions with the financial aid office. Being prepared ahead of time can streamline the process and help you get the assistance you need.
If you need help completing the FAFSA, this guide can answer all of your questions.
Rebecca Safier contributed to this report.
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1 Important Disclosures for College Ave.
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
Rates shown are for the College Ave Undergraduate Loan product and include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.
Information advertised valid as of 4/22/2021. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Lowest advertised rates require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.
2 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. If you choose to complete an application, we will conduct a hard credit pull, which may affect your credit score. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.15% effective Jan 1, 2021 and may increase after consummation.
4 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 11.26% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.22% to 11.66% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 11.37% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.12% to 11.73% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.30% to 11.52% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.29% to 11.89% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.60% to 10.76% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.22% to 11.16% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, the variable interest rate is derived from the one-month LIBOR rate plus a margin and your APR may increase after origination if the LIBOR increases. Changes in the one-month LIBOR rate may cause your monthly payment to increase or decrease. Interest rates for variable rate loans are capped at 13.95%, unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law. Lowest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. If approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, the repayment option you select, the term and amount of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. Information current as of 4/1/2021. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. SoFi Lending Corp., licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. NMLS #1121636 (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org).
6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.68% – 11.98% (1.68% – 11.07% APR)Fixed interest rates range from 4.24% – 12.40% (4.24% – 11.43% APR).
Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.91% – 11.63% (1.91% – 11.33% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.64% – 11.93% (4.64% – 11.61% APR).
Business/Law Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.91% – 10.19% (1.91% – 9.47% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.38% – 10.44% (4.38% – 9.72% APR).
Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.91% – 8.99% (1.91% – 8.69% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.28% – 9.24% (4.28% – 8.94% APR).
Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.49% – 8.33% (2.49% – 8.33% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.94% – 8.58% (4.94% – 8.58% APR).
Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 4.46% – 9.60% (4.46% – 9.54% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.40% – 12.83% APR).
Medical Residency Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.55% – 7.05% (3.55% – 6.78% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% – 10.49% (6.98% – 10.09% APR).
Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable Rates are based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of May 10, 2021, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.11%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. The maximum variable rate is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%.
Fixed Rate Disclosure: Fixed rate ranges are based on applicable terms, level of degree, and presence of a co-signer.
Lowest Rate Disclosure: Lowest rates require a 5-year repayment term, immediate repayment, a graduate degree (where applicable), and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.
Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer. Borrowers should carefully review federal benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are considering possible loan forgiveness options, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision on our website including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.
Eligibility Criteria: Applicants must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or eligible non-citizen with a creditworthy U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer is required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. Citizens Bank private student loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/Promissory Note, verification of application information, and if applicable, self-certification form, school certification of the loan amount, and student’s enrollment at a Citizens Bank participating school.
Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.
7 Important Disclosures for Discover.
Lowest APRs shown for Discover Student Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants for undergraduate loans, and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.