The University Network

Am I A Dependent Or Independent Student For FAFSA Purposes?

*Updated May 2, 2019

Your dependency status in your completed FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form will be a big difference to you financially. Students who are deemed to be dependent will have their parents’ financial information factored into their financial aid analysis. The more Expected Family Contribution (EFC) that a student is deemed to have available, the less they will get in the form of grants, work-study programs, federal student loans, or state and school financial aid awards.

It is, therefore, crucial that you get it right when completing the FAFSA form. And a major part of it involves sorting out your status as a “dependent” or “independent” student.

Why is it so important to know if you are a dependent or independent student for FAFSA purposes?

It is important because the FAFSA form requires different information based on your status. If you’re a dependent student, you will be asked to submit your parents’ information in addition to yours. If you’re an independent student, you only have to submit your own information, unless you’re married, in which case you have to submit your spouse’s information as well.

Here is what you need to know to determine your dependency status.

FAFSA - Dependent or Independent Status

1. How can I determine if I’m a dependent student?

You are deemed dependent if you answer “NO” to all 10 of the questions below:

1. Will you be 24 or older by Jan. 1 of the school year for which you are applying for financial aid? — For example, if you plan to start school in August 2019 for the 2019–20 school year, will you be 24 by Jan. 1, 2019 (i.e., were you born before Jan. 1, 1996)?

____ Yes   ____No

2. Are you married or separated but not divorced?

____ Yes   ____No

3. Will you be working toward a master’s or doctorate degree (such as M.A., MBA, M.D., J.D., Ph.D., Ed.D., etc.)?

____ Yes   ____No

4. Do you have children who receive more than half of their support from you?

____ Yes   ____No

5. Do you have dependents (other than children or a spouse) who live with you and receive more than half of their support from you?

____ Yes   ____No

6. Are you currently serving on active duty in the U.S. armed forces for purposes other than training?

____ Yes   ____No

7. Are you a veteran of the U.S. armed forces?

____ Yes   ____No

Answer “Yes” to this question only if you satisfy two tests, or can satisfy these tests by June 30 of the school year for which you seek financial aid (i.e., June 30, 2020 for the 2019-20 school year).

  • You had been in active duty (including basic training) in the U.S. armed forces (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard), or you are a National Guard or Reserves enlistee who was called to active duty for other than state or training purposes, or you were a cadet or midshipman at one of the service academies; AND
  • Your release was NOT dishonorable.

Answer “No” if you don’t meet the above conditions. Also answer “No” if you’re serving in the U.S. armed forces at the time of completing the FAFSA form and will continue to serve through June 30, 2020.

8. At any time since you turned age 13, were both of your parents deceased, were you in foster care, or were you a ward or dependent of the court?

____ Yes   ____No

9. Are you an emancipated minor or are you in a legal guardianship as determined by a court?

____ Yes   ____No

10. Are you an unaccompanied youth who is homeless or self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?

____ Yes   ____No

Answer “No” if you have not received a homeless youth determination, even if you believe you are an unaccompanied youth who is homeless or self-supporting and at risk of being homeless. To be “unaccompanied,” you must not be living in the physical custody of your parent or legal guardian. You are “homeless” if you lack “fixed, regular and adequate housing.” You may be considered homeless if you are living in shelters, parks, motels, hotels, public spaces, camping grounds, cars, abandoned buildings, or temporarily living with other people because you have nowhere else to go.

Note: If you believe Question 10 applies to you, call the financial aid office at your college and explain why you think so. You should also check with your high school or school district homeless liaison, the director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and/or the director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program to see if they can provide you with the homeless youth determination you need.

If you answered “No” to ALL 10 questions, you are deemed a dependent student, even if you’re not living with your parents, they don’t claim you as a dependent on their tax forms, or you’re paying your own expenses, including educational expenses.

You are considered an independent student if your answer is “YES” to ANY one of the 10 questions, in which case you may not be required to provide parent information on your FAFSA form.

Note: If you are unclear about any of these questions (or have any questions during the application process), don’t hesitate to ask your college’s financial aid office.

2. What documents do I need for FAFSA if I’m a dependent student?

The documents or information you actually need as a “dependent” student will depend on your U.S. citizenship and the tax forms you and your parents used. If you need help figuring out who your parents are for FAFSA purposes — the picture is not as clear as you may think — check here.

  • U.S. citizen → PROCEED to “A” below
  • Non-U.S. citizen → PROCEED to “B” below

A. If you’re a U.S. citizen, you will need:

  • Your Social Security card or number
  • Your parents’ Social Security numbers and birthdates
  • Your driver’s license (if you have one)
  • Your income tax returns + your parents’ returns
    • IRS Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ
    • Foreign tax return, if any
    • Tax return for Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, or Palau

FAFSA uses financial information from two years before the school year in question.

2019-20 school year → 2017 tax returns

2020-21 school year → 2018 tax returns

  • Your IRS W-2 form + your parents’ W-2s — like the federal income tax returns, these should be from two years before the school year in question.

2019-20 school year → 2017 W-2s

2020-21 school year → 2018 W-2s

  • Records of your untaxed income + your parents’ untaxed income — such as child support received, interest income, and veterans noneducation benefits, etc.
  • Your cash information and savings and checking balances (from bank statements) + your parents’ cash info and bank balances
  • Your investments information + your parent’s investments — such as real estate (excluding the home you live in), stocks and bonds, business and farm assets, etc.

B. If you’re a non-U.S. citizen, you will need:

  • Your Social Security card or number
  • Your parents’ Social Security numbers and birthdates
  • Your driver’s license (if you have one)
  • Your Alien Registration number
  • Your income tax returns + your parents’ returns
    • IRS Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ
    • Foreign tax return, if any
    • Tax return for Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, or Palau

FAFSA uses financial information from two years before the school year in question.

2019-20 school year → 2017 tax returns

2020-21 school year → 2018 tax returns

  • Your IRS W-2 form + your parents’ W-2s — like the federal income tax returns, these should be from two years before the school year in question.

2019-20 school year → 2017 W-2s

2020-21 school year → 2018 W-2s

  • Records of your untaxed income + your parents’ untaxed income — such as child support received, interest income, and veterans noneducation benefits, etc.
  • Your cash information and savings and checking balances (from bank statements) + your parents’ cash info and bank balances
  • Your investments information + your parent’s investments — such as real estate (excluding the home you live in), stocks and bonds, business and farm assets, etc.

You can fill out the parent section or have your parents complete the section. An easy way to complete the financial section is to select the Internal Revenue Service Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT), so the tax information is automatically transferred to your FAFSA form. You can check here to find out when your tax return information will likely be available via IRS DRT.

Note: If your parents are filling out the parent section, the easiest way to ensure that all of you have access to your FAFSA form is to create a temporary password — a “Save Key” — almost right away when you start your FAFSA form and share it with your parents. The “Save Key” also allows you to save your FAFSA form without finishing it and return to it later.

Start collecting the documents you need to support your application before you and your parents actually sit down to fill out the FAFSA form. Organize them by category and have them handy.

If the financial situation has changed significantly since you and your parent(s) filed taxes for the year in question, simply answer the FAFSA questions as required, submit the FAFSA form, and then call the financial aid office at your college to explain your situation.

Note: While the FAFSA form requires parent information from dependent students, there are exceptions involving special circumstances or parents who refuse to provide their information. Check here for details on how your special circumstance, or your parents’ refusal to provide information, impacts your FAFSA application.

3. What documents do I need for FAFSA if I’m an independent student?

The documents or information you need as an “independent” student will depend on your status as single or married, U.S. citizenship, and the tax forms you (and your spouse) used. To make it easier for you, the documents you need have been organized into four distinct categories:

  • Single and a U.S. citizen → PROCEED to “A” below
  • Single and a non-U.S. citizen → PROCEED to “B” below
  • Married and a U.S. citizen → PROCEED to “C” below
  • Married and a non-U.S. citizen → PROCEED to “D” below

A. If you’re SINGLE and a U.S. citizen, you will need:

  • Your Social Security card or number
  • Your driver’s license (if you have one)
  • Your income tax returns:
    • IRS Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ
    • Foreign tax return, if any
    • Tax return for Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, or Palau

FAFSA uses financial information from two years before the school year in question.

2019-20 school year → 2017 tax returns

2020-21 school year → 2018 tax returns

  • Your IRS W-2 form — like the federal income tax returns, these should be from two years before the school year in question.

2019-20 school year → 2017 W-2s

2020-21 school year → 2018 W-2s

  • Records of your untaxed income — such as child support received, interest income, and veterans noneducation benefits, etc.
  • Your cash information and savings and checking balances (from bank statements)
  • Your investments information — such as real estate (excluding the home you live in), stocks and bonds, business and farm assets, etc.

B. If you’re SINGLE and a non-U.S. citizen, you will need:

  • Your Social Security card or number
  • Your driver’s license (if you have one)
  • Your Alien Registration number
  • Your income tax returns
    • IRS Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ
    • Foreign tax return, if any
    • Tax return for Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, or Palau

FAFSA uses financial information from two years before the school year in question.

2019-20 school year → 2017 tax returns

2020-21 school year → 2018 tax returns

  • Your IRS W-2 form — like the federal income tax returns, these should be from two years before the school year in question.

2019-20 school year → 2017 W-2s

2020-21 school year → 2018 W-2s

  • Records of your untaxed income — such as child support received, interest income, and veterans noneducation benefits, etc.
  • Your cash information and savings and checking balances (from bank statements)
  • Your investments information — such as real estate (excluding the home you live in), stocks and bonds, business and farm assets, etc.

C. If you’re MARRIED and a U.S. citizen, you will need:

  • Your Social Security card or number
  • Your spouse’s Social Security number and birthdate
  • Your driver’s license (if you have one)
  • Your income tax returns + your spouse’s returns
    • IRS Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ
    • Foreign tax return, if any
    • Tax return for Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, or Palau

FAFSA uses financial information from two years before the school year in question.

2019-20 school year → 2017 tax returns

2020-21 school year → 2018 tax returns

  • Your IRS W-2 form + your spouse’s W-2s — like the federal income tax returns, these should be from two years before the school year in question.

2019-20 school year → 2017 W-2s

2020-21 school year → 2018 W-2s

  • Records of your untaxed income + your spouse’s untaxed income — such as child support received, interest income, and veterans noneducation benefits, etc.
  • Your cash information and savings and checking balances (from bank statements) + your spouse’s cash info and bank balances
  • Your investments information + your spouse’s investments — such as real estate (excluding the home you live in), stocks and bonds, business and farm assets, etc.

D. If you’re MARRIED and a non-U.S. citizen, you will need:

  • Your Social Security card or number
  • Your spouse’s Social Security number and birthdate
  • Your driver’s license (if you have one)
  • Your Alien Registration number
  • Your income tax returns + your spouse’s returns
    • IRS Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ
    • Foreign tax return, if any
    • Tax return for Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, or Palau

FAFSA uses financial information from two years before the school year in question.

2019-20 school year → 2017 tax returns

2020-21 school year → 2018 tax returns

  • Your IRS W-2 form + your spouse’s W-2s — like the federal income tax returns, these should be from two years before the school year in question.

2019-20 school year → 2017 W-2s

2020-21 school year → 2018 W-2s

  • Records of your untaxed income + your spouse’s untaxed income — such as child support received, interest income, and veterans noneducation benefits, etc.
  • Your cash information and savings and checking balances (from bank statements) + your spouse’s cash info and bank balances
  • Your investments information + your spouse’s investments — such as real estate (excluding the home you live in), stocks and bonds, business and farm assets, etc.

An easy way to complete the financial section is to select the Internal Revenue Service Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT), so your tax information (and that of our spouse) is automatically transferred to your FAFSA form. You can check here to find out when the tax return information will likely be available via IRS DRT.

Pro Tip: Start collecting the documents you need to support your application before you actually sit down to fill out the FAFSA form. Organize them by category and have them handy.

If your financial situation has changed significantly since you (and your spouse) filed taxes for the year in question, simply answer the FAFSA questions as required, submit the FAFSA form, and then call the financial aid office at your college to explain your situation.

The bottom line

The FAFSA form is your gateway to financial aid, so be sure to get your dependency status right and provide the required information. For more tips on how to complete your FAFSA form correctly and on time, check this FAFSA complete guide.