The federal government requires that students fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to qualify for any type of federal financial aid. Schools also use the data on the FAFSA to provide institutional aid. In most cases, you have to report your parents' income on the FAFSA because the government considers it part of your financial support for college.
The federal government expects that your parents will provide financial support to you while you are in college. Therefore, the FAFSA requires that you include your parents' financial information, including their income. When the government calculates the expected family contribution, it assumes your parents will be contributing part of their income and assets. The government also collects information on your income and assets and assumes you will contribute a higher percentage of yours than your parents will of theirs.
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Definition of Parent
For the purposes of the FAFSA, you need to provide information only on your legal parents, either by birth, adoption or remarriage. If your parents are married, you need to provide information on both their incomes. If they are divorced, you only need the information from the parent with whom you lived most during the previous 12 months. If this parent is remarried, you must include your stepparent's income as well. You do not need to report income of other relatives with whom you live, foster parents or legal guardians.
You do not have to report your parents' income on the FAFSA if you are an independent student in the eyes of the federal government. This does not relate to whether your parents claimed you as a dependent on your taxes. For the 2011 to 2012 school year, you are considered independent if you were born before Jan. 1, 1988, are currently married, are enrolling in a master's or doctorate program, are on active duty or a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces, have children or dependents who will receive more than half of their support from you during the school year, have been in foster care as a teenager, have been an emancipated minor, have had a legal guardian, or have been a homeless unaccompanied youth at any time since July 1, 2010. You only need to meet one of the conditions to qualify as independent.
In a few extreme cases, you might not have to provide your parents income on the FAFSA, even if you are considered dependent based on the above conditions. Contact the financial aid administrator at your school to determine whether your situation allows you to skip the parent information. Some examples include your parents both being in jail, you left home because of abusive relationships or you do not know where your parents are and cannot get in touch with them.