After moving out 2 years ago, my son has finally decided that he wants to go to college so began applying for Federal Student Aid. The application seems to consider him a "dependent" though. I've not claimed him as a dependent on my tax return, and he's paid his own way for these past two years.

Why would FAFSA consider him a dependent? Are there too many 19 - 24 year-olds who actually live with their parents but claim that they do not?

  • Yes, of course. Anything to gain the system. IIRC marriage or enlistment will allow your son to stand on his own for financial aid.
    – Pete B.
    Jan 3, 2017 at 14:19
  • 3
    FAFSA rules are FAFSA rules, they don't particularly make a lot of sense. In the case of divorce and remarriage, they get downright weird.
    – zeta-band
    Jan 3, 2017 at 17:43

1 Answer 1


You are legally a dependent until the academic year following your 25th birthday, regardless of whether the child has even had any communications with the parent during the entire year. The intent is to prevent adult children from claiming to be poor when they have parents who could contribute. If the parents refuse to provide information, the student is locked out of the American system until they turn 25 or get married. Enlistment may also create independence. There was a time, about thirty years ago, when kids would get married in college just to improve their financial aid, and/or divorce and claim to be poor because they were now independent. Congress clamped down and basically required parental participation. This does create problems where there is a history of child abuse.

The dependency status is totally separate from the tax status.

  • I think you should clarify what you mean by "dependent". There is also a notion of "dependent" for taxes, and that is obviously not separate from tax status. I think what you mean is that the FAFSA "dependent student" designation is separate from the income tax notion of "dependent".
    – BrenBarn
    Jan 4, 2017 at 6:34
  • I can accept this, because it answers my specific question, but it still sticks in my craw. My son is poor, and just because someone else can contribute does not make him any less poor.
    – Michael J.
    Jan 4, 2017 at 18:07
  • Also, if you are a graduate student (as opposed to undergrad), you can be independent even if you are under 24.
    – user102008
    Jan 4, 2017 at 19:35

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