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What do I do if my parents refuse to fill out the FAFSA?

parents wont complete fafsa or pay for schoolThe scenario is more common than you think. It happens a lot, for different reasons, experts say.

But a recent change to the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form may make it easier for students who are in this situation. Students now are allowed to submit the form without their parents' income information, instead of having no option, in the past, if parents refused to fill out the FAFSA.

"The student can go through the process so that some of the financial information will be seen," says Cheryl Maplethorpe, director of the Student Financial Aid Division for the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. "It will let that information go to the financial aid office of the school, but it will be marked in such a way that the financial aid administrator knows that he or she needs to talk to that student about the situation."

Here's a look at cases in which parents may not agree to fill out the FAFSA and want to do if it happens to you.

1.    You Are Responsible for Paying

One common reason is that parents are telling their children they're not going to pay for college, says Marcia E. Weston, director of College Goal Sunday, a YMCA of the USA volunteer program that provides free information and assistance to students and families who are applying for financial aid for post-secondary education.

Either they paid for college themselves, or maybe they don't think college is worthwhile and they're not going to spend their money on your college education. The issue is that families don't recognize the premise behind the FAFSA and how it can help pay for higher education expenses, she says.

Parents think if they give their information and sign the FAFSA that they are committing to or promising to support their child in college, Maplethorpe says. She's heard that some parents have even been concerned that if they go through the process of applying for federal financial aid, some amount will be taken out of their paycheck in the form of taxes to go to college expenses.

"They're just giving information so the students' financial situation can be evaluated. They're not signing up for additional taxes," she says.

2. You Don't Talk to Your Parents

We're not talking about being upset at mom and dad and giving them the silent treatment, or vice versa, but the situations in which students are homeless or in foster care or even living with a friend's family and have zero contact with parents.

"Students who are in bad family situations don't necessarily want all their friends to know that and don't want their teachers to know it. They want to pretend their normal and that everything is just hunky-dory," Maplethorpe says. "The student wants to go to college. If he doesn't explain something to the financial aid administrator, he won't be able to go to college. The ones that are too shy about this are the ones that do not go to college until perhaps later, until they're 24 and can be technically independent."

3.    Your Parents Don't Want Their Income Disclosed

People are reluctant these days to share financial information, especially online, because of concerns about identify theft and other factors. Some parents don't want to disclose their income because they're worried that it won't be kept private, Maplethorpe says.

"They're thinking that if they put their income and the details of their financial life into the Internet that somehow other people would be able to see that," she says. The information is kept private.


Be encouraged because many financial aid administrators say that once they talk to the parents and answer their questions, the parents are wiling to complete the form, Maplethorpe says.

For that to happen, students need to talk to someone, either a high school guidance counselor, a teacher or a college financial aid administrator.

 "The financial aid administrator and student now, to actually get the money in the account, they have to talk to each other," Maplethorpe says.

If there are dire circumstances, expect to be asked to find someone, like another family member or a friend of the family, who will verify the severity of your situation in writing. That will help the financial aid administrator to make you independent, which means your parents' information will not be required on the FAFSA.

"Financial aid administrators are hesitant to do that," Maplethorpe says. "The reason is that basically they don't want to transfer the burden of funding the student over to the taxpayers just because the parent doesn't want to contribute. If the parent has some financial resources, they should be contributing to their child's education before the taxpayers should be picking that up. It's got to be an actual broken family situation before they will do that."