You can stop including your parents' income on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) when you are eligible to apply for federal aid as an independent student. Being 24 years old at the time you fill out your FAFSA, or being in the process of earning a graduate degree, automatically qualifies you for independent student status. However, simply living on your own and supporting yourself does not automatically qualify you for that status.
Getting married qualifies you for independent status on your FAFSA application. If you have a child for whose support you provide more than 50 percent -- or if you have a dependent who is not your child, such as step-sibling, niece or nephew for whose support you provide more than 50 percent -- you also qualify for independent status. If you meet any one of these qualifications, you no longer have to include your parents' income and asset information on your FAFSA.
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If both of your parents have died before you turn in your FAFSA application, the U.S. Department of Education will consider you an independent student. This also applies if you were a ward of the court prior to turning 18 or a foster child when you were 13 and older. If you are homeless either by choice or by circumstance, you are also an independent student. If you no longer have contact with your parents, you must speak with your school's financial advisor to determine your dependency status.
If you are currently a member of the U.S. military or a military veteran, the U.S. Department of Education considers you an independent student. If you are a Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) student, you do not qualify for independent status. National Guard members and military reservist who do not deploy for active duty and are only called up for military training also do not qualify for independent status using the military service criteria. You may, however, qualify for independent status under other criteria.
Aside from not having to include your parents' income and assets on your FAFSA, the major benefit to having independent student status is that it may qualify you for additional federal aid. For example, the lifetime loan limits for both subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford student loans from the U.S. Department of Education for independent students is $61,500. For dependent students the limit is $31,000. Having independent student status may also help you qualify for additional federal grants and school grants.