Financial Aid

If a Student's Parents Do Not Claim Them as a Dependent on their Income Tax Returns, Will the Student Get More Financial Aid?

The Fastweb Team

February 07, 2023

If a Student's Parents Do Not Claim Them as a Dependent on their Income Tax Returns, Will the Student Get More Financial Aid?
Whether or not a student is claimed as an exemption on his parents' federal income tax returns has no impact on the student's eligibility for financial aid and scholarships.
Although the word dependent is used on both the federal income tax returns and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), one has nothing to do with the other. The word dependent for federal student aid purposes is defined by the Higher Education Act, while the definition used for federal income tax purposes is based on the Internal Revenue Code of 1986. The statutory definition of an independent student for federal student aid purposes, is: Any student who does not satisfy the criteria for independent student status is considered to be a dependent student, even if the student is financially self-sufficient, does not live with his parents and claims himself as an exemption on his own federal income tax return.
The FAFSA currently includes ten questions that are used to determine whether the student satisfies the statutory requirements to be considered an independent student. These criteria include whether the student is over age 24, is married, has dependents other than a spouse, is in graduate school or is a veteran. All other students are dependent. The current set of rules concerning independent student status were designed to prevent the student's parents from manipulating the student's status to qualify for more financial aid. The federal government considers the student and the student's parents as having the primary responsibility to pay for the student's college education. The federal government provides financial aid only to the extent that the family is unable to pay for college. College financial aid administrators can override a student's dependency status from dependent to independent in unusual circumstances. Unusual circumstances might include an abusive family environment (e.g., court protection from abuse orders against the parents), abandonment by both parents, or when both parents are incarcerated, institutionalized, or otherwise incapacitated.
However, college financial aid administrators are not permitted to grant a dependency override just because the student is self-sufficient, the parents do not claim the student as an exemption on their income tax returns, the parents refuse to complete the FAFSA or the parents refuse to contribute to the student's college education.

Criteria for Independent Student Status

Below is a list of rules to be considered an independent student on the FAFSA:
  • A student who will be 24-years old or older by January 1 of the school year for which they’re applying for financial aid.
  • A married student.
  • A student who is or will be enrolled in graduate school. This includes students who are pursuing a master's degree, MBA, MSW, MD, JD, Ph.D., or another doctorate program.
  • A student who is currently serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Space Force) for purposes other than training.
  • A student who is (or will be by the start of the award year) a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces after serving at least one day on active duty other than for training purposes is an independent student if the student was released from service under a condition other than "dishonorable" in Box 24 of the DD214. Similar rules apply to students who served on active duty with the National Guard or Reserves for purposes other than state or training purposes or who were a cadet or midshipman at one of the service academies.
  • A student who has one or more children (including unborn children who will be born during the award year) who receive more than half their support from the student and who will continue to receive more than half their support from the student throughout the award year is independent. The children do not need to live with the student, so long as they satisfy the support test. Support includes money, gifts and loans, as well as payments on behalf of the student for food, clothing, housing, transportation, medical and dental care, insurance and college costs.
  • Support provided by the student includes any support received from anyone other than the student's parents, such as money from government benefit programs and child support from the student's boyfriend/girlfriend. The support must be reported on the FAFSA.
  • A student who has one or more dependents, other than children or a spouse, who receives more than half their support from the student and who will continue to receive more than half their support from the student throughout the award year.
  • A student who, at any time after turning age 13, was an orphan (no living biological or adoptive parents), in foster care or a ward or dependent of the court.
  • A student who is or was an emancipated minor or in a legal guardianship as determined by a court.
  • A student who was determined to be an unaccompanied homeless youth and at risk of being homeless.
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