The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the big, bad form that most colleges in the US use as a basis for financial aid. One of the key points of a the FAFSA is that if you are under 24 years old, you’re pretty much required to include the financial information of one (or both) parents. This is a feature of the FAFSA that really bothers me.
There are a lot of reasons and situations that make this feature of the FAFSA unbearable for some students. In the past, if you could not get the financial information of your custodial parent (for whatever reason), you were out of luck with the FAFSA – you couldn’t even submit it. For many colleges, this meant no chance of aid at all. If you couldn’t pay out of pocket, you couldn’t go at all.
The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (HEOA) changed that, starting with the 2009-2010 school year. However, this change comes with a lot of caveats and addendums (also known as “bobby traps and catches”) that you should know about before you file a FAFSA without filling out the “parent” section.
Filing Without Parental Information Barely Helps
According to the 2009-2010 Federal Student Aid Handbook:
Although students whose parents refuse support are not eligible
for a dependency override, the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (HEOA) granted that such students may receive unsubsidized Stafford loans only.
(page 32 of the handbook)
What this means is that students in this situation go from receiving no aid at all to only being eligible for unsubsidized Stafford loans. You can’t get the Pell grant, Perkins loans, or subsidized Stafford loans – all of which are better options than unsubsidized Stafford loans. Unsubsidized Stafford loans are also limited by grade level, and you will not be eligible for the “extra” unsubsidized Stafford loans that students can get when their parents are denied a PLUS loan.
However, this only covers what aid the government will give you. The pure fact that you can now submit a FAFSA means you may be eligible for the aid that your school might provide you. Which brings me to my next point about this new provision:
You’ll Need the Help of Your College’s Financial Aid Officer
Even though you can now submit the FAFSA without parental information, you can’t do it alone. Most of things needed to make this work have to be done by, or with the help of, a college financial aid officer. Additionally, these things must be done by the financial aid officer of the college you’re going to attend.
This means that if you are a potential freshman, you pretty much have to pick the college you want to go to, before you even fill out your financial aid paperwork. That’s a big decision, and normally one you shouldn’t make without seeing the results of your financial aid application. Your best bet is a pick a college that really wants you, and do everything you can to befriend the financial aid officer. You’re going to need them if your parents refuse to fill out the FAFSA or support you.
If you go ahead with filing out the FAFSA by yourself, you’ll need to provide documentation that your parents refuse to both provide information for the FAFSA and refuse to provide any financial support to you. If your parents won’t sign this statement, you’ll need the signature of a third party, such as a teacher, counselor, cleric, or the court.
After you’ve done this, the financial aid officer at your college can then look at your situation and then decide whether to award you unsubsidized Stafford loans, or not. As you can see, it’s not exactly cut-and-dried, or easy, and it certainly requires the assistance of the financial aid officer.
Before You Do This, Make Sure You Really Need To
The absolute best option is to get your parents to provide their information for the FAFSA. You will still be eligible for those unsubsidized Stafford loans, no matter how much your parents make or how much money they have. So it can only help you to have their information.
If you’re having trouble getting their information for the FAFSA, remind them that providing it does not put them under any legal obligation to support you, or to pay a single dime toward your education. In some situations, this may help to coax the information out to them. Still, there are a lot of situations where the parents just can’t be convinced. Or you may not be on speaking terms with them at all.
One last thing to consider is whether you truly are still considered a dependent. If you aren’t, you can fill out the FAFSA as an independent student, and you won’t need their information at all to get the full aid you qualify for. The FAFSA website provides a form to determine whether you are dependent or not.
It may seem unconventional, but for some people, there are ways to become independent. The first is quite simply to join the military. Active duty personnel and veterans are automatically considered independent. The other option is to get married. No, you shouldn’t get married just to get financial aid, but if you are already engaged, you might consider applying for your marriage license early. Just being married on paper is enough to grant you the status of “independent” on the FAFSA – you can have a proper wedding ceremony whenever you want.
If you can’t get the information you need from your parents, and you can’t qualify to file as “independent,” then it’s time to talk to the financial aid officer at the college about filing as a dependent without parental information. I’m sorry that there aren’t more options for you, but hopefully this will help you make things work.
Many thanks to Suddenly Human and NotAnyoneYouKnow from the Financial Aid category at Yahoo! Answers. They brought this financial aid development to my attention and helped me find the source I needed to write this article.