Dependent vs. Independent Status – What’s the Difference?
There are a number of reasons why students choose to declare independent status when filling out their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Some students may not receive any monetary support from one or both parents, others are married and/or have children, and still others are orphans or wards of the court. According to the FAFSA, when applying for financial aid there are specific criteria which determine whether you will be considered a dependent or independent student. Dependent students are required to report their parents’ income and assets as well as their own. Independent students are required only to report their own income and assets (and those of their spouse, if married).
The idea behind classifying students in this manner is based on the premise that students and their parents have the primary responsibility for paying for education costs.
The following criteria, which are available on the FAFSA, are used to determine whether or not you can be considered independent:
- Are you 24 years of age or older?
- Are you enrolled in a graduate or professional degree program?
- Are you married?
- Do you have children for whom you contribute more than half of their support? (includes children who may not physically live with you)
- Are you an orphan or ward of the court or were you a ward of the court until age 18?
- Are you a veteran of the U.S. armed forces?
If you answered “no” to all of the questions, you are qualified as a dependent student. Dependent students must report their parents’ income and assets in addition to their own. Parents of a dependent student are expected to contribute to the cost of the student’s education.
Dependent students are eligible for all federal financial aid programs. There are limits to the amount of money dependent students can borrow under the Federal Stafford Loan Program. Dependent students are usually limited to subsidized loan amounts. If a gap in the student’s financial need exists, parents are expected to apply for a Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS) to help meet the costs of attendance.
Answering “yes” to any of the above questions automatically qualifies the student as independent. Independent students report only their own income and assets (and their spouse’s, if applicable). A school’s financial aid office may ask for proof of the student’s independent status-such as a birth certificate, marriage certificate, or service discharge papers.
Independent students are eligible for all federal financial aid programs. They do not need a parental source to help meet the costs of attendance, and may qualify for the maximum subsidized and unsubsidized loan amounts to compensate for this lack of financial assistance.