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Parents refuse to file the FAFSA: What should I do?

Parents are sometimes unwilling to submit the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and/or other financial aid forms. But, parental information is required on the FAFSA of a dependent student, so a dependent student will not be able to qualify for need-based federal student aid without his or her parent’s help.

There are many reasons why a parent may be unwilling to complete the FAFSA. Some of the most common reasons include:

  • Concerns about privacy, especially if the parents are going through a divorce. Some parents feel uncomfortable discussing family finances with their children. The FAFSA asks questions about income and assets, which can be a sensitive issue for some parents. A federal law, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA), safeguards the privacy of educational records, including applications for financial aid. In particular, FERPA precludes sharing parent financial information with the student. Only the parent who provided the parent financial information has access to that information.
  • One or both parents are undocumented. Students who are U.S. citizens, permanent residents or eligible non-citizens are eligible for federal student financial aid even if their parents are undocumented. Completing the FAFSA will not cause the parents to be deported.
  • The student’s parents are divorced and the stepparent is unwilling to help his or her stepchild. If a student’s custodial parent has remarried as of the date the FAFSA is filed, the stepparent’s information must be included on the FAFSA, per section 475(f)(3) of the Higher Education Act of 1965. Prenuptial agreements do not affect this federal statutory requirement and are ignored. There are no exceptions. Note that completing the FAFSA does not obligate the stepparent to pay for the stepchild’s college education, although it will affect the amount of financial aid the stepchild may receive.
  • Parents have not filed federal income tax returns for several years. The FAFSA is based on the prior year’s income and tax information. If the parent income exceeds the IRS filing thresholds, a federal income tax return must be filed for the student to qualify for federal student aid.
  • The student no longer lives in the household, is self-supporting and/or has reached the age of majority. A student is considered to be a dependent student for federal student aid purposes until he or she reaches age 24, gets married or satisfies other criteria for independent student status. Parent information is still required even if the parents do not claim the student as an exemption on their federal income tax returns and do not support the student. Financial self-sufficiency is not sufficient grounds for the college to perform a dependency override.
  • The student’s parents believe they cannot afford college, do not want to pay for college, or don’t want to borrow. The information on the FAFSA is used only to calculate a student’s eligibility for federal student aid. It does not obligate the parents to pay for college, to borrow from education loan programs or to assume any other financial obligation. Refusing to file the FAFSA, on the other hand, will prevent the student from receiving most forms of student financial aid.

If a student’s parents refuse to file the FAFSA, the student should talk with the college’s financial aid administrator about the circumstances surrounding the parents’ unwillingness to complete the form. Sometimes, financial aid administrators are able to address the parent’s concerns and convince them to complete the form.

If the student does not qualify for a dependency override but is unable to provide parental information because the student’s parents refuse to complete the FAFSA and have cut off all financial support, the college’s financial aid administrator can allow the student to borrow from the Direct Unsubsidized Loan program. Such a student, however, is not eligible for other forms of federal student aid, such as the Federal Pell Grant, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), Perkins Loan, Direct Subsidized Loan, and Federal Work-Study.

Otherwise, the only other option is for the student to wait until he or she reaches age 24 and to reapply for financial aid as an independent student.