FAFSA Guide

FAFSA Guide

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Filling Out the FAFSA: I Live With Legal Guardians or Foster Parents

Sept. 20, 2019
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Filling Out the FAFSA: I Live With Legal Guardians or Foster Parents

Sept. 20, 2019
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The FAFSA can be difficult for non-traditional families to navigate. Neither legal guardians nor foster parents are considered parents by the FAFSA, so you do not have to list their income and household size information on your FAFSA.

Unless your legal guardian or foster parents have legally adopted you, the FAFSA does not consider them to be your parents on the form. If they have legally adopted you, they are considered to be your parents, and you should include their information on the form.

If your parents are deceased, you have been legally emancipated, or you were a ward of the court at any time after the age of 13, the FAFSA considers you to be an independent student. You are likely to be considered an independent student if you live with legal guardians or foster parents.
Any support received from legal guardians or foster parents should be reported on Worksheet B as income for the student.

» MORE: FAFSA checklist

Steps for filling out the FAFSA if you live with legal guardians or foster parents

  1. In Step 3 (Student), check “yes” for any applicable questions, which are likely to be numbers 52 (At any time since you turned age 13, were both of your parents deceased, were you in foster care or were you a dependent or ward of the court) or 54 (As determined by a court in your state of legal residence, are you or were you in a legal guardianship?).
  2. Skip all of Step 4 (Parent).
  3. Include your personal income and assets on the FAFSA.
  4. Report any financial support received from legal guardians or foster parents on Worksheet B as personal income.
  5. Contact your university’s financial aid office and explain your situation; see if they have university-specific advice or protocols.

» MORE: How to take out student loans without your parents


Advice from University Financial Aid Officers

If you can’t provide information about your parents on the FAFSA, then please skip Steps 4 and 5, and go to Step 6. You can still submit your application without your parent’s information. Call the Financial Aid Office at the school you plan to attend once you submit the application and they will be happy to help you.
— Marco Siliezar

Financial Aid Analyst at California State University’s California Maritime Academy
The following people are not your parents unless they have adopted you: grandparents, foster parents, legal guardians, older brothers or sisters, and uncles or aunts.

— Department of Education

» MORE: Here are private student loans you can get without a co-signer

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FAFSA Guide

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Filling Out the FAFSA: My Parents Were Never Married

Sept. 20, 2019
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Filling Out the FAFSA: My Parents Were Never Married

Sept. 20, 2019
Loans, Student Loans

Biological parents who were never married and don’t live together are treated similarly to parents that have been divorced. One parent, referred to as the “custodial parent”, will complete the FAFSA. The custodial parent is the parent you have lived with the most in the past 12 months.

If your custodial parent receives child support or alimony, you must list that as income on the FAFSA.

If your parents were never married but live together, then you must provide information for both parents.

» MORE: FAFSA checklist

Steps for Filling Out the FAFSA if your parents were never married

  1. In Step 4 (Parent), state that your parents’ marital status is “single.”
  2. Determine which of your parents is your “custodial parent.” The custodial parent is likely to be the higher earner.
  3. Fill out the FAFSA with your custodial parent’s income and assets.
  4. Do not include your “non-custodial” parent in your reported household size unless they live with you and receive more than 50% of their financial support from your custodial parent.
  5. Report financial support you receive from your “non-custodial” parent under the category of untaxed income.
  6. Contact your university’s financial aid office and explain your situation; see if they have university-specific advice or protocols. They may ask you to fill out a non-custodial parent form.

» MORE: 5 FAFSA tips to save you time when applying


Advice from University Financial Aid Officers

The custodial parent for federal student aid purposes is the parent with whom you lived the most during the past 12 months. If your parent is widowed or was never married, answer the questions about that parent.

— Department of Education

>>MORE: Learn about the best student loans for parents

Go back to the FAFSA guide

FAFSA Guide

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Filling Out the FAFSA: My Parents are Divorced

Sept. 20, 2019
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At NerdWallet, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. However, this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.
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Filling Out the FAFSA: My Parents are Divorced

Sept. 20, 2019
Loans, Student Loans

The FAFSA treats divorced parents differently than married parents. If you have divorced parents, you should list the financial information for the parent you have lived with most in the past 12 months. This parent is known as your “custodial parent”.

If your custodial parent is remarried as of when you submit your FAFSA, include your stepparent’s financial information as well.

» MORE: FAFSA checklist

Steps for filling out the FAFSA for students with divorced parents

  1. Determine which parent is your custodial parent. If your parents have joint custody of you, the custodial parent is the parent you have spent the most time living with in the past 12 months.
  2. Fill out the FAFSA with your custodial parent’s information and your stepparent, if you have one.
  3. Include any child support or alimony paid to your custodial parent.
  4. When the FAFSA asks about your parents’ education level, they want you to answer for your birth parents or adoptive parents. Your stepparent is not considered your parent for these two questions.

» MORE: 5 FAFSA tips to save you time when applying


Advice from University Financial Aid Officers

If your parents are divorced or separated, answer the questions about the parent with whom you lived more during the past 12 months. If this parent is remarried as of today, answer the questions on the FAFSA about that parent and the person whom your parent married (your stepparent). If you lived the same amount of time with each divorced parent, give answers about the parent who provided more financial support during the past 12 months or during the most recent 12 months that you actually received support from a parent.

— Department of Education

>>MORE: Learn about the best student loans for parents

Go back to the FAFSA guide

FAFSA Guide

Advertiser Disclosure

Filling Out the FAFSA: My Parents are Married

Sept. 20, 2019
Loans, Student Loans
At NerdWallet, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. However, this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.
Advertiser Disclosure

Filling Out the FAFSA: My Parents are Married

Sept. 20, 2019
Loans, Student Loans

If your parents are married, you should submit financial information for both of them to the FAFSA. If your parents refuse to pay for college or submit information for the FAFSA, you can’t be considered independent of your parents, and you still have to submit their information. There are very few situations in which you can get a dependency override, such as situations of abuse, neglect, incarceration or unknown whereabouts.

» MORE: FAFSA checklist

Steps for filling out the FAFSA for students with married parents

  1. In Step 4 (Parent), state that your parents’ marital status is “married.”
  2. Fill out the FAFSA with both parents’ income and assets.

» MORE: What are the FAFSA requirements?


Advice from University Financial Aid Officers

Although some schools don’t like to say “contact the financial aid office for more info” (because of the volume of questions) I feel that this is the only real way to judge a single student’s situation and give advice accordingly. For this reason, I would just tell a student to submit their application as best they can and contact their school’s office. A lot of students think that not fully completing the FAFSA is the same as not turning it in, but it’s not! It’s best to submit it, even if some questions were skipped or financial figures were estimated.

— Marco Siliezar, Financial Aid Analyst at California State University’s California Maritime Academy

>>MORE: Learn about the best student loans for parents

Go back to the FAFSA guide