Often I hear from parents who say they’ve figured out the way they are going to cope with college costs. Their plan is to no longer claim their child as a dependent on income taxes with the belief this means the parent income will not be considered for financial aid. If this is your plan, think again…
The federal government considers the family to have the primarily responsibility for paying for college. Even if the parents decide they won’t or can’t pay for college this remains true. Whether you claim your child as a dependent for tax purposes does not change this primary responsibility. Your income is still required to be listed on the FAFSA and it will be used for calculating your student’s eligibility for financial aid.
There are some specific circumstances that allow a student to move from being a dependent to independent for financial aid purposes. In order to be declared independent for financial aid purposes at least one of these must be true:
- The student is 24 year of age or older by December 31 of the award year.
- The student is an orphan or ward of the court or was a ward of the court until the student reached the age of 18.
- The student is a veteran of the Armed Forces of the United States.
- The student is a graduate or professional student.
- The student is married.
- The student has legal dependents other than a spouse. (Dependent means receiving more than half the individual’s support from the student.)
There are sometimes other exceptional circumstances that don’t fit neatly into the rulebooks. For example, a parent may have kicked their child out of the house or the parent may be missing and presumed dead. Students in this sort of situation should consider setting up an appointment with the financial aid officer at the college to talk about what, if anything, can be done to move the student to independent status.