What is FAFSA Dependency Replacement?

When you complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you will be considered a dependent student or an independent student, which determines whether your parent’s income and assets are considered in calculating your financial aid. Students under the age of 24 are generally considered dependent, which means parents’ financial details will be taken into account – but there are certain situations where students can apply for a dependency waiver to be considered independent students. This can open up more opportunities for financial aid.

Dependent vs Independent Students on the FAFSA

The FAFSA considers you an independent student if you answer “yes” to any of the questions outlined in section three of the application:

  1. Will you be 24 or older on January 1 of the school year for which you are applying for financial aid?
  2. Are you married or separated but not divorced?
  3. Are you going to work towards a master’s or a doctorate?
  4. Do you have children who will receive more than half of their support from you during the school year for which you are requesting financial aid?
  5. Do you have dependents (other than children or a spouse) living with you who will receive more than half of their support from you during the school year for which you are requesting financial aid?
  6. Are you currently on active duty in the United States Armed Forces for purposes other than training?
  7. Are you a veteran of the United States Armed Forces?
  8. At any time since you turned 13, were both of your parents deceased, were you in foster care, or were you a ward or dependent of the court?
  9. Are you an emancipated minor as determined by a court?
  10. Are you under legal guardianship as determined by a court?
  11. Are you an unaccompanied homeless or self-reliant youth at risk of homelessness, as determined by a School District Homelessness Liaison, an emergency shelter funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and urban development or a grassroots center for homeless youth?

Answering yes to any of these questions makes you self-employed, which means you will only use your income and assets on the FAFSA, not your parents’.

If you answered “no” to all of these questions, you are considered an addict and will need to complete the parent information sections of the FAFSA, unless you qualify for an addiction waiver.

What is dependency override?

A dependency waiver is a status granted by a school’s financial aid office that allows you to exclude your parents’ information from your FAFSA even if you are initially considered dependent. This may entitle you to much greater financial assistance if your parents have income and assets that would make you ineligible.

Who qualifies for a dependency waiver?

The conditions required to benefit from a dependency exemption are very strict. A dependency waiver may be granted if:

  • Your parents are incarcerated.
  • You left home due to an abusive home environment.
  • You don’t know where your parents are (and you weren’t adopted).
  • You are homeless or at risk of homelessness and are between the ages of 21 and 24.

Your situation will need to be verified and approved by your school’s financial aid office; the school’s decision is final and cannot be appealed.

How to Get a Dependency Replacement for the FAFSA

To get a dependency replacement for the FAFSA, you’ll complete the form as usual, but skip steps four and five. Once submitted, your FAFSA will not be processed; you should contact your school’s financial aid office immediately to begin the addiction waiver application process.

Each school has its own documentation requirements and application steps. The documentation you may need to provide depends on the reason for your dependency override:

  • Incarcerated parents: Documentation of the parents’ incarceration, such as prison records, sentencing hearing documents, or an inmate log.
  • Location unknown to parents: Police reports, missing person’s reports, and signed statements from a professional third party such as a landlord or former employer stating that they cannot locate your parents.
  • Roaming between 21 and 24 years old: Records from homeless shelters, help from a program like Section 8, food stamps you received based on experiencing homelessness, and signed statements from professionals such as counselors and teachers who can verify that you are homeless. Remember, if a school district homelessness liaison, emergency shelter funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or grassroots homeless youth center has determined that you are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, you can qualify as an independent student without applying for a dependency replacement.
  • Abusive family: Court records, medical records, child protection records, police reports, and signed statements from professionals like former teachers, social workers, and counselors. Remember that if you were in homestay even one day after turning 13, you may be considered an independent student without a dependency waiver.

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