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  • A student’s dependency status can have a big impact on what type of financial aid they will be eligible for.
  • Regardless of whether a parent claims you as a dependent on their IRS tax form, most students will be considered dependent on the FAFSA.
  • Even if a student is considered dependent, there are a few special circumstances where they can seek a dependency override.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the most important resource for any student seeking financial aid for college. A student’s dependency status is especially critical as it’s a key driver in determining how much aid they’ll qualify for. In many cases, a student will be considered dependent, meaning they will need to provide financial information for one or both of their parents. If a student is considered independent, they will need to provide information about their own financial situation.

What’s my dependency status?

First things first: Whether your parents claim you on their taxes has no bearing on your FAFSA dependency status. Though they may seem similar, the two are not connected.

The FAFSA asks a series of 10 questions to determine whether a student is dependent or independent. Not sure of your dependency status? If you answer no to all of the questions below, your status is likely dependent.

  1. Will you be 24 or older by January 1 of the school year for which you are applying for financial aid?
  2. Are you married?
  3. Will you be working toward a master’s or doctorate degree?
  4. Do you have children who receive more than half of their support from you?
  5. Do you have dependents–other than your children or spouse–who will receive more than half of their support from you?
  6. Are you currently serving on active duty in the US armed forces?
  7. Are you a veteran of the US armed forces?
  8. At any time since you turned 13, were both your parents deceased, were you in foster care, or were you a dependent or ward of the court?
  9. As determined by a court in your state of legal residence, are you or were you an emancipated minor?
  10. Are you an unaccompanied youth who is unhoused or self-supporting and at risk of becoming unhoused?

FAFSA dependent vs. independent

A student's dependency status on the FAFSA can affect the amount and types of financial aid available. In most cases, independent students will qualify for more financial aid since their parents' financial information is not taken into account.

See the table below to understand how dependency status affects what forms you need to submit with your FAFSA and eligibility for certain federal loans.

  FAFSA dependent student FAFSA independent students
Required financial information
  • Tax records for the student and one or both parents
  • Records of untaxed income for the student and one or both parents (e.g., child support, interest income)
  • Records of assets for the student and one or both parents
  • Tax records for the student and spouse (if applicable)
  • Record of untaxed income for the student
  • Record of assets for the student
Direct Loan eligibility Dependent students are eligible, but their loan limits are lower than for independent students. Independent students are eligible, and their loan limits are higher than for dependent students. 

Direct PLUS Loan eligibility


Parents of dependent students can apply for a Parent PLUS Loan to help cover costs. Independent students are not eligible to take out a Direct Plus Loan for their undergraduate studies. However, they are eligible for grad PLUS loans.

Can my parents opt out of claiming me on their tax return so I can get a larger aid package?

Parents cannot opt out of claiming you on their tax return to get a larger financial aid package. Even if a student files their taxes separately from their parents, they may still be considered dependent on the FAFSA.

Which parent should I include on the FAFSA?

If your parents are married or unmarried yet still living together, use the financial information for both parents on the FAFSA. If your parents are divorced or separated and living apart, provide information on the parent that you lived with the most during the past 12 months. If you split time equally between two households, the parent who provided the most financial support during the last 12 months will need to include their information on the FAFSA.

What if my parents refuse to provide information for the FAFSA?

For a variety of reasons, parents occasionally refuse to provide information to complete the FAFSA, but this does not mean the student is independent. Students should check the box on the FAFSA that says they don't have access to their parents' information, and talk with the financial aid offices for each school they’re applying to about their options. There are special circumstances that schools take into consideration, such as incarcerated parents or students who left home because of an abusive situation.

What is a FAFSA dependency override, and how do I qualify?

Even if you’re considered dependent on the FAFSA, there may be instances in which you’re unable to provide information about your parents. If this is the case, you can apply for a dependency override, which is a status granted by a school’s financial aid office that allows you to exclude your parents’ information from the FAFSA.

To qualify for a dependency override, you need to meet certain criteria, and have the documentation to back up your claim. Keep in mind each school likely has its own documentation requirements and application process.

Dependency override eligibility and documentation

Situation Examples of documents needed
Parents are incarcerated Jail records, sentence hearings, or an inmate registry
Parents’ whereabouts are unknown Police reports, missing person reports, and/or signed letters from a third party (e.g., a landlord, former employer) verifying they don’t know your parents whereabouts

Homelessness between age 21 and 24

Records from homeless shelters and/or signed statements from professionals (e.g., teachers, counselors) who can verify that you’re experiencing homelessness

History of abuse

Court records, medical records, child welfare records, police reports, and signed statements from professionals (e.g., former teachers, social workers, counselors)

Need more help in determining your dependency status? Answer a few questions in this interactive FAFSA assistant to help you get ready to complete the application.

FAFSA® is a registered trademark of the US Department of Education and is not affiliated with Discover® Student Loans.

We are unable to provide tax advice, so please see or ask a tax professional if you have questions.

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