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Answers to Common Questions about Dependency Status and Financial Aid

Mark Kantrowitz

November 14, 2011

Will my daughter’s chances for receiving financial aid be higher if we don’t claim her on our taxes? Household income is about $85,000 and she did not qualify for financial aid through the FAFSA. She is in a community college and is 20 years old. She recently moved out of our home but we are paying her college tuition. She has not received any scholarships. — Danielle V.

It does not matter whether you claim your daughter on your income tax returns or not; it will not affect her eligibility for federal student aid. The IRS and the US Department of Education use different definitions of dependency. The IRS definition is based on support. The US Department of Education definition is based on the student’s age, marital status and other qualitative factors. Unless your daughter gets married, has dependents other than a spouse or joins the military, she will continue to be considered a dependent student for federal student aid purposes until she becomes 24 years old.

Don’t forget to claim the Hope Scholarship tax credit (also known as the American Opportunity tax credit) on your federal income tax return based on amounts you paid for her tuition, fees and course materials.

I recently moved away from home. I’m working a part time job and am enrolled in college as a full time student. My mother is not really supporting me on going to school and our relationship isn’t good. I moved out of her home and receive no help from her or my father. I’m living with a friend now and pay rent. When I apply next year for financial aid do I file as dependent or independent? — Andrew A.

Ask the financial aid administrator at your college for a dependency override. Bring copies of letters from social workers, clergy and other people familiar with your situation.

Colleges cannot grant a dependency override merely because the parents refuse to contribute to the student’s college costs or to complete the FAFSA or verification. The student’s self-sufficiency also isn’t sufficient grounds for a dependency override.

But sometimes there are circumstances underlying the parental refusal to help that can support a request for dependency override. For example, colleges can grant a dependency override if there is a hostile or abusive family environment that would make it unsafe for the student to have further contact with his parents.

If a student doesn’t qualify for a dependency override, but the parents have cut off all financial support and refuse to complete the FAFSA, the most a college financial aid administrator can do is allow the student to borrow from the unsubsidized Stafford loan program.

I am currently a college freshman. I am 18 years of age and I moved out of my home in June. I currently pay rent among my other car, phone and living expenses. I rent a room from a family in my city, work 30 hours a week and have 5 classes on my schedule. Is there ANY financial aid or help I can get from anywhere? I’ve been told that its not possible and I find it rather upsetting that a self-supporting 18 year old student cannot get financial aid when they need it most, considering their other financial responsibilities. — Madison B.

A student’s financial self-sufficiency is not enough for the student to qualify for a dependency override. Until you reach age 24, you are considered to be a dependent student and your parents must complete the FAFSA. If you have a good relationship with your parents, ask them to complete the FAFSA. Tell them that it does not obligate them to pay for your college education, but will enable you to get financial aid such as student loans and grants.


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