I have been financially independent from my parents since I was 19. I'm 23 now. I've been working two jobs and taking 12 hours in school. My school says that I cannot file a FAFSA without my parents' information. My parents will not give me their tax information or even fill it out online. I don't have the stamina to work this much and go to school at the same time any more. I've been diagnosed with a genetic illness, and I need to change my lifestyle to address that. I've been pursuing private loans, but they all want a cosigner. My parents won't sign, and I don't have anyone to ask that doesn't already have student loans. There has to be a way to get federal aid, but I can't find the answers anywhere. Any information you can provide me with, would be much appreciated. Thank you! — Sarah N.The requirements for being considered a FAFSA independent student are very strict. Because of your circumstances, you would likely only qualify as an independent student once you reach age 24. If you will be 24 as of December 31 of the award year, you can go ahead and apply as an independent student. Otherwise, you will find yourself in a position that thousands of students are in each year. Though they are completely independent of their parents, they are still considered dependent for financial aid purposes. What you may be able to do is petition for more financial aid. You can contact your college’s financial aid administrator and explain your situation. Either they can convince your parents to complete the FAFSA, explaining the filling out the form in no way obligates them to pay for your education, or they can come up with some alternative financial aid options.If there is anything unusual about your relationship with your parents, such as a history of abuse or a hostile home environment, you would want to bring that to the attention of the financial aid administrator. Sometimes, these circumstances can result in a dependency override, which would make you an independent student on the FAFSA. The college will need to see documentation to prove your claim. This could be anything form a court document to a letter from a social worker, guidance counselor, teacher, or clergy member. If your parents still refuse to complete the FAFSA, the college can make you eligible for an unsubsidized Stafford loan. While you still won’t be eligible for work-study, it’s still something.We do hope you continue to pursue your college education even through your difficult circumstances. Undoubtedly, you are juggling a lot. However, you will soon be 24 and will be able to qualify for financial aid on your own. You’ve accomplished so much without your parents’ help already – keep it up. I am planning on entering a graduate program this summer. As a newlywed and homeowner I will be needing more financial assistance than the average student. My college's financial aid adviser does not think I need a private student loan on top of the Stafford and Grad PLUS loans. According to my calculations I will. How should I approach this situation? — Elizabeth K. Graduate and professional students are eligible to borrow up to $20,500 per year with an unsubsidized Stafford loan. With the Grad PLUS loan, graduate students can borrow up to the full cost of attendance (minus any financial aid received). Cost of attendance includes allowances for room and board in addition to tuition, fees, and other direct educational costs. Borrowing a private student loan on top of this would be in excess of the cost of attendance and would then be considered a resource on the FAFSA. As a result, your federal student loan eligibility would be reduced. When it comes to student loans for paying for college or graduate school, you always want to borrow federal first because these loans have the lowest interest rates. Outside of dependent care costs or help with health care insurance, colleges will not make an adjustment to the cost of attendance in order to increase your loan limits. It is not uncommon for nontraditional, independent students to have higher than average living expenses, but the current law does not allow student aid to be used to cover these costs. In general, it’s a bad idea to use education debt to make payments on your mortgage. Ultimately, you would be borrowing money to pay the interest on your debt, which would cause your debt to increase at an exponential rate. Your debt at graduation could be so excessive that you would default on your loans and ruin your credit. A good rule of thumb to follow instead? Live like a student while you are in school so that you don’t have to live like a student after you graduate.
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