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Financial Aid without Filing the FAFSA?

Mark Kantrowitz

December 07, 2009

I tried to apply for federal student aid last year, and was told that I needed to include my parents tax information to receive aid. I’ve been living on my own since I was 17, claim myself on my taxes, and support myself with the help of my fiance. I can’t afford to go to school without financial aid, and my parents won’t help or give me their tax information. Is there a way to apply for financial aid by myself without my parents? — Leah B.

To be considered independent, you must be age 24 or older, married, a graduate student, a veteran or serving on active duty, or have dependents other than a spouse. You can also qualify as an independent student if you are an orphan, were in foster care or a ward of the court when you were age 13 or older. Other options for independent student status include a court order granting you emancipated minor status prior to your reaching the age of majority or a court order placing you in a legal guardianship. Finally, you can qualify for independent student status if you are determined to be an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or at risk of being homeless. (The determination can be made by a high school or school district homeless liaison, a HUD-funded emergency shelter or transitional housing program, the director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program, or a college financial aid administrator.)

College financial aid administrators can also perform a dependency override to change your status from dependent to independent. However, none of the following circumstances are sufficient for a dependency override by themselves or in combination: parents refusing to contribute to your education, parents refusing to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or participate in verification, parents not claiming you as an exemption on their federal income tax returns and your demonstrating total self-sufficiency. However, there might be other circumstances that justify a dependency override, such as a hostile or abusive family environment, abandonment by parents, incarceration, hospitalization or institutionalization of both parents.

Financial aid administrators have the authority to let you borrow from the unsubsidized Stafford loan program if your parents refuse to complete the FAFSA and have terminated all financial support.

Talk to the financial aid administrator at your college. Explain the circumstances that have lead to your parents refusing to help you complete the FAFSA.

If you and your fiance get married, you will be considered independent provided that you get married before you file the FAFSA. The FAFSA may not be updated for changes in the applicant’s marital status that occur after the FAFSA is filed.

I am applying to begin grad school next fall. My husband works full time, and I am not working at all right now. Is there any benefit to us filing our taxes separately in my effort to receive financial aid? Because I have no income, would I be eligible for more federal aid? — Michelle M.

The income and assets of an independent student’s spouse must be reported on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) regardless of whether you file joint or separate income tax returns. There is no student aid benefit from filing your income taxes as married filing separately.

There are also several disadvantages to filing your taxes separately. For example, the Hope Scholarship tax credit, Lifetime Learning tax credit, tuition and fees deduction and student loan interest deduction are not available to taxpayers who file separate income tax returns.

The only student aid program that provides a financial benefit to filing separate income tax returns is the income-based repayment program (often used in conjunction with the public service loan forgiveness program). Borrowers who file separate income tax returns will have monthly payments based only their own income and debt.


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