Have you ever wondered if you really need to include your parent’s information in your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)? What about which parent’s information you must include? You’re not alone. Knowing when to use parent information and who is considered a parent on the FAFSA is not as clear cut as many might think. What if you live with extended family and not your birth parents? What if you have children of your own but still live with your parents? What if your parents don’t provide any financial help to you whatsoever? In this article, we hope to bring some clarity about when you must include parental information and when you do not need to.

Do I need to include my parents’ information?

According to Federal Student Aid, you would need to consider these questions:

• Will you be 24 or older by Dec. 31 of the school year for which you are applying for financial aid?

• Will you be working toward a master’s or doctorate degree (such as M.A., M.B.A., M.D., J.D., Ph.D., Ed.D., etc.)?

• Are you married or separated but not divorced?

• Do you have children who receive more than half of their support from you?

• Do you have dependents (other than children or a spouse) who live with you and receive more than half of their support from you?

• At any time since you turned age 13, were both of your parents deceased, were you in foster care, or were you a ward or dependent of the court?

• Are you an emancipated minor or are you in a legal guardianship as determined by a court?

• Are you an unaccompanied youth who is homeless or self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?

• Are you currently serving on active duty in the U.S. armed forces for purposes other than training?

• Are you a veteran of the U.S. armed forces?

If you answer no to all of these questions, you are a dependent student, meaning you depend on your parents and must include their income information on your FAFSA. Even if your parents do not provide financial support to you but you can answer no to all of these questions, their assets and income will need to be included on the FAFSA. Answering yes to any one of them means you can be considered an independent student.

Who is a parent on the FAFSA?

Your parent is either your biological or adoptive parent or one of the people listed as your parent on your birth certificate. Grandparents, legal guardians, foster parents, other relatives or widowed stepparents are not considered parents for the FAFSA unless they’ve legally adopted you. If you do not have parents or adoptive parents, you would be considered an independent student and don’t need to include parental information.

Which parent’s information should I use?

Which parent did you live with for the year prior to filling out the FAFSA? That’s whose information you should use. If your parents are separated and you lived with each one for equal lengths of time, use information from the parent that gave you more financial support.

What if I can’t get my parents’ information?

In special circumstances, you can get an exception from having to provide your parents’ information on the FAFSA, such as leaving home because of abuse, a parent is incarcerated, not knowing where your parents are and being under 24, unaccompanied and at risk of being homeless. Talk with the financial aid officer at your school and make sure to have documentation available. Documentation would include any written material that explains the circumstances like a letter from clergy or social worker.

If you can’t get your parents’ information but don’t meet the special circumstances, notify your financial aid office. FA staff do have some leeway in awarding financial aid through unsubsidized student loans and their goal is to help students.

Whether you’ll be using your parents’ information or not, it’s best to plan ahead. Gather the information you can. And don’t be afraid to ask for help.