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Should You Claim Your Independence?

You've just been accepted to your top school, Extremely Expensive University, and the financial aid package is not what you'd hoped. Lamenting to your friends, someone suggests you claim yourself as an independent on your FAFSA form to get more aid. Should you? Could you? CB Teen spoke with Michael O'Brien, CEO of FinancialAid.com, for the lowdown on whether or not you should assert your financial independence.

CB Teen: What makes a student 'dependent' or 'independent'?
O'Brien: Dependent means you receive family benefit as a family member, and that you are not on your own from a tax standpoint. To be considered an independent, you have to be either emancipated from your parents [such as being an orphan or ward of the court until the age of 18, or if your parents are deceased], at least 24 years old, a veteran of the Armed Forces, or married.

CB Teen: So claiming yourself independent from your parents isn't as easy as moving out of the house?
O'Brien: It's kind of an urban myth. You have to go before a judge and say why you're an emancipated youth, and the judge makes a decision. If you try to claim independence and you don't meet any of the above criteria, generally what you're doing is trying to get around the system. I'm not in favor of anything that is manipulative.

CB Teen: What if a legitimate family strife occurs while you're in college? Should you claim independence then?
O'Brien: [Independence] is a life change and you can't go back. But if you aren't receiving any benefits from your parents, it may be a situation where that isn't a bad thing to do.

CB Teen: Should students include parents' tax information on their FAFSA forms? O'Brien: You have to. If you don't, then [the form] is considered incomplete.

CB Teen: Aside from scholarships, what other options do students have to get more financial aid?
O'Brien: Become a resident advisor [RA]. Appeal to financial aid administrators and tell them your situation. The college or university doesn't want you to not go to school. If you're short [on loan money], you can ask for higher loan awards. If you argue you need more money, there's a potential they'll increase your Stafford loan.


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