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The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) asks a set of 13 questions to determine whether a student is a dependent student or an independent student.
Parent information is required on the FAFSA of a dependent student but not on the FAFSA of an independent student.
The student's dependency status may affect the amount of financial aid for which the student is eligible. In most cases, an independent student will qualify for more financial aid. However, if a student is independent because he or she is married, the FAFSA will substitute the financial and demographic information of the student's spouse for the financial and demographic information of the student's parents. This can sometimes result in less financial aid.
Dependency status on the FAFSA is different than dependency status on federal income tax returns. FAFSA dependency status is defined by the Higher Education Act of 1965, while dependency status on IRS tax forms is defined by the Internal Revenue Code of 1986. The definitions are different.
Whether the parents claim the student as a dependent (exemption) on their federal income tax return does not affect whether the student is considered a dependent for federal student aid purposes (or vice versa). The age thresholds, residency requirements and support tests all differ for the two definitions . A student could be financially self-sufficient and file his or her own federal income tax returns yet still be considered a dependent student for federal student aid purposes.
A student who answers "no" to all 13 of these dependency status questions is considered to be a dependent student, even if the student is financially self-sufficient and does not live with his or her parents. A student who answers "yes" to at least one of the FAFSA dependency status questions is considered to be an independent student. Effectively, a student is dependent if the student is not considered to be independent.
In unusual circumstances, dependent students may be treated as independent students if their college or university's financial aid administrator performs a dependency override.
The order of the dependency status questions on the online version of the FAFSA is designed to reduce the number of questions that must be answered by independent students. The most general questions are listed first. These are the questions that are most likely to get a "yes" answer from an independent student. As soon as an independent student answers "yes" to one of the questions, the remaining questions are skipped (except for questions about marital status, children/dependents and military status).
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