When a student applies for federal student aid, the answers to certain questions will determine whether the student is considered dependent on their parents or whether the student is considered independent. A dependent student must report the parents' income and assets as well as the student's income and assets. An independent student must report only the student's own income and assets (and those of the student's spouse, if married).
A student is considered independent if at least one of the following applies to the student:
- the student was born before January 1, 1988;
- the student is married;
- the student has children or legal dependent(s) (other than a spouse) who receive more than half of their support from the student;
- at any time since the student turned age 13, both of the student's parents are deceased, the student was in foster care, or the student was a ward of the court ;
- the student is currently serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces for purposes other than training;
- the student is a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces;
- the student is an emancipated minor as determined by a court in the student's state of legal residence;
- the student is in legal guardianship as determined by a court in the student's state of legal residence;
- at any time on or after July 1, 2010, the student's high school or school district homeless liaison, or director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determined that the student was an unaccompanied youth who was homeless; or
- at any time on or after July 1, 2010, the director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program determined that the student was an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or was self-supporting and at risk of being homeless.
If a student cannot answer "yes" to one of the above questions, the student is dependent and parental information must be reported.