I got an email over the weekend from a dad named Dan, who is darn proud of himself for making his children pay for their own college education.
I don’t think he should be congratulating himself. In fact, he should be worried that the federal government will discover what his family is doing to get taxpayers to underwrite his children’s college degrees.
Dan was reacting to a 2010 post on my college blog that discussed the plight of students whose parents refuse to pay for college even if they can afford to help. The post mentioned parents who made $130,000, but who had saved just $8,000 for college so their twins were going to have to pick up the rest of the cost. Here is that post:
I don’t know how much Dan makes, but he believes his kids — he’s got seven!! – should pick up their own tab. Here is part of his note:
Wah, wah, wah. The youngsters today expect everything and cry if they don’t get it. I expect my children to pay for their own college just like I did. Suck it up babies, you are not getting a free ride to college, you will actually need to work your way through. “Work”, what a concept, you don’t know what it means yet, but you will. And if you are paying for the books and the tuition maybe you will realize that spending hard earned money on beer parties isn’t smart, LOL.
Dan then goes on to say that two of his children are in college right now and they successfully claimed independent status. He had them work for one year after high school, live at a different address and then apply as independent students.
Here is what Dan wrote about his strategy:
It’s not difficult or impossible for an 18 year old to be declared an independent as Lynn O’Shaughnessy, the author of that ridiculous article, has indicated. If you are out of high school, all you have to do is “work” for minimum wage for one year and have a physical address in your name for that year and your parents can’t have claimed you on their taxes. The FASFA and pin is exclusive to the 18 year old who has been independent for the last 12 months. The 18 year old will start college when he or she is 19 after having worked in the real world for one year. The reason I know this, is because I have 2 of my seven children in college right now as independents and that is how it works. Lynn is giving inaccurate information, which is making all the youngsters cry. Shame on you Lynn
It’s Not Easy to Become an Independent Student
When filling out the FAFSA, the federal form asks numerous questions to determine if a child should be classified as an independent or dependent student. If the child isn’t 24, married or a military veteran, the chances of being an independent student is just about nil. Moving out of the house and living independently, as Dan’s children are doing, is irrelevant. It also doesn’t matter if the parents stopped claiming the students on their income tax form. They are still dependents. It is a federal crime, by the way, to lie on the FAFSA.
If becoming an independent student was as easy as packing up the car, moving into an apartment and supporting him or herself for a year, I’m sure millions of students would try the same thing. Of course, if that happened taxpayers like us would be footing the bill for deadbeat parents, who want others to pay for their children’s college degree.
Qualifying as an independent student means that taxpayers are underwriting the college degree for Dan’s children. Students who are considered independent only have to use their own income to qualify for financial aid and most of the time that’s going to be quite low. Low enough to qualify for federal and state grants and possibly institutional money from the schools themselves.
What It Takes to Qualify as an Independent Person
I’ve actually gotten three emails in the last few days from people who wondered if certain students could qualify as independent. One came from a sister and her husband who took in her 20-year-old brother after the parents, who earn a good living, refused to help with college. They were wondering if the young man would qualify as independent since he is living with them or if the student could use their lower earnings for financial aid purposes. Sorry, but that won’t work.
How to Qualify As an Independent Student
You have to answer “yes” to at least one of these question to be considered an independent student:
- Are you at least 24 years old?
- As of today, are you married?
- At the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year, will you be working on a master’s or doctorate program (such as an MA, MBA, MD, JD, PhD, EdD, or graduate certificate, etc.)?
- Are you currently serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces for purposes other than training?
- Are you a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces?
- Do you have children who will receive more than half of their support from you between July 1, 2009, and June 30, 2010?
- Do you have dependents (other than your children or spouse) who live with you and who receive more than half of their support from you, now and through June 30, 2010?
- At any time since you turned age 13, were both your parents deceased, were you in foster care or were you a dependent or ward of the court?
- Are you, or were you an emancipated minor as determined by a court in your state of legal residence?
- Are you, or were you in legal guardianship as determined by a court in your state of legal residence?
- At any time on or after July 1, 2008, did your high school or school district homeless liaison determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless?
- At any time on or after July 1, 2008, did the director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless?
- At any time on or after July 1, 2008, did the director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless.
Lynn O’Shaughnessy, a nationally recognized college expert, is the author of the second edition of The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price.