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.
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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
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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.