The number of dependents you have affects how much financial aid you receive for school. If you are an independent student filling out a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), the more dependents you have (meaning, children who you support financially), the greater aid you will receive. In addition, if you are a dependent -- meaning that your parents financially support more than half of your income, or you are under 24 years of age -- then the more dependents your parents have, the more aid you are likely to receive.
Definition of Dependent
Some people erroneously believe that only children can be your dependent. In truth, a dependent is anyone who receives more than half of his support from you. Support includes money, housing, food, clothes, and medical and dental care. In order to claim someone as a dependent, you must list their relationship to you, their age, where they live, and how you provide more than 50 percent of your dependents' support.
A student's dependents are their children or anyone else who receives more than half of their financial support from the student. A person does not have to live with the student to be claimed as a dependent. If a student lives independently and supports himself rather than being supported by his parents, or if he is a graduate or professional student, then he is classified as an independent. His financial aid is determined by referencing how many dependents he supports (along with his other expenses such as child support) and comparing it to his income and other forms of financial assistance, such as food stamps, child support that he receives, housing costs, day-care costs, and other expenses.
Student's Parents' Dependents
A dependent student is still supported financially by his parents. The more dependents his parents have, the more likely a student is to receive greater financial aid. A parents' dependents are children under 24, and anyone who lives with his parents and receives more than half of his financial support from his parents.
Dependent Status for FAFSA Differs from IRS
It is important to note that dependent status, for FAFSA purposes, does not perfectly match the IRS' definition of dependent status. There are slightly different requirements for both. FAFSA does not require that the parents' children live with them to be dependents, and government assistance is considered part of a child's support. Also, whether a divorced or separated parent claims a child as a dependent on a tax return does not impact FAFSA's designation. Finally, the IRS does not require that a parent provide more than half of a child's support in order for the child to be claimed as a dependent. Rather, it only requires that the child didn't provide more than half of his own support.
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