Can an independent student be counted in household size on a sibling's FAFSA?

Question:

Can we count our 23-year-old son as a member of the household on his sister’s FAFSA, even though he doesn’t live at home, works a small part-time job and isn’t claimed as an exemption on our federal income tax return? We do provide more than half of his support and will continue to provide more than half his support throughout the academic year.

Answer:

A 23-year-old child is considered to be an independent student on the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) if he will reach age 24 by December 31 of the academic year. Otherwise, he is considered to be a dependent student, assuming that he doesn’t satisfy any of the other criteria for independent student status.

A child who would be deemed to be a dependent student when filing his own FAFSA is automatically counted in household size on the FAFSA of a sibling who is a dependent student. This child does not need to be a student nor to apply for financial aid to be counted in household size on the sibling’s FAFSA. If he will be enrolled in an eligible college on at least a half-time basis, however, he may also be counted in the number of children in college.

A child who would be considered an independent student may also be counted in household size on a sibling’s FAFSA if he will receive more than half of his support from the parents during the academic year. He does not need to live in the home to be counted in household size. He also does not need to be a student nor to apply for financial aid to be counted in household size on the sibling’s FAFSA. But, if he will be enrolled at least half-time in an eligible college, he can also be counted in the number in college.

The FAFSA uses a support test for siblings instead of a residency test because it is common for a parent to support a child that does not live with the parent. This includes situations in which the parent is divorced or separated and situations in which the parent supports an adult child who is a graduate or professional school student.

Who claims the 23-year-old son as an exemption on their federal income tax returns is irrelevant, as the rules for federal student aid are based on the Higher Education Act of 1965, not the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.