What to Do When Your Parents Refuse to Fill Out the FAFSA

Parents or guardians must submit documentation with the FAFSA. Here's what to do when they refuse to help.
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  • Get clear on FAFSA documentation requirements to share with your parents or guardians.
  • Students can't apply for the FAFSA without parents or guardians until they're 24 years old.
  • In extreme situations, it's possible to receive a dependency override.

Figuring out how to pay for your college education can be tough. And it's even harder when your parents or guardians won't help with your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Follow these tips on how to apply for the FAFSA without parents.

1. Understand Why Your Parents Refuse to Fill Out the FAFSA

Everyone has a different relationship with their parents or guardians. But no matter how well you communicate with each other, it's important to understand why your parents or guardians refuse to fill out the FAFSA form. Some reasons might be understandable, and some may even be solvable.

Some parents or guardians may simply be uncomfortable sharing their financial situation with their kids. Others might be concerned about revealing those details with a divorced spouse. Parents or guardians who have immigrated to the U.S. may be worried about their legal residency status in the country.

Another common reason some parents or guardians may not want to fill out the FAFSA is that the previous year's tax return is required, and they may not have filed yet.

2. Gather Information to Ease Their Concerns

Parents or guardians may not understand that their participation is almost always required in the federal financial aid application process. Do the legwork on what documentation they'll need to complete the process and let them know it may not be as hard as they think.

Here's what you'll need from your parents or guardians:

  • Your social security number (if you don't already know it)
  • Income tax return (2020 tax year for the 2022-2023 school year)
  • Untaxed income records (like interest income or child support)
  • Records of other assets (like investment accounts and real estate)

3. Present the Information in a Non-Judgmental Way

Once you've identified your parents' or guardians' primary worry about helping with your application, you can share potential solutions.

For instance, even if they're going through a divorce, the information in the FAFSA stays private. And if they're worried about deportation due to their residency status, you can tell them that immigration questions are not included on the FAFSA.

Improve your odds of success by avoiding any judgment or anger during the conversation. Stick to the facts and provide as much information as you can to help soothe their concerns.

4. Talk to Your Financial Aid Office

If you've already been accepted to a school and are trying to figure out how to fill out the FAFSA without your parents or guardians, your financial aid office may be able to help convince them. Ask for resources on how to explain the FAFSA or any other tips and tricks.

Your college financial aid office can also help you identify other options to pay for school, like private scholarships or unsubsidized student loans. Keep reading for more details on those resources.

5. Get a Dependency Override

A student may already be financially independent, but they're not considered legally independent for the FAFSA until they reach 24 years old — unless they qualify for a dependency override.

In that case, you can fill out the FAFSA without your parents' or guardians' financial information.

What Qualifies for a Dependency Override?

You may qualify for a dependency override in certain situations. But this doesn't apply when it's just a mere unwillingness of your parents or guardians to help. There must be an extenuating circumstance in the family to fill out the FAFSA without your parents or guardians. Examples include:

  • A history of abuse or a hostile relationship
  • A parent or guardian is incarcerated
  • A parent or guardian is physically or mentally incapacitated and unable to provide the information

What Doesn't Qualify for a Dependency Override?

Unfortunately, you can't qualify for a dependency override just because your parents or guardians don't financially support you. The following situations do not qualify you for the override:

  • Your parents or guardians refuse to contribute to your college education.
  • Your parents or guardians refuse to fill out or verify information on the FAFSA.
  • Your parents or guardians don't claim you as a tax dependent.
  • You are completely self-sufficient.

Applying for a dependency override involves selecting the option on the FAFSA that states, "I am unable to provide information about my parent(s)." After that, it is up to your school's financial aid office to determine if you can still get an unsubsidized direct loan. Even if you think you might not qualify for a dependency override, you should still talk to your financial aid office about your options.

6. Apply for an Unsubsidized Loan

Suppose you don't qualify for a dependency override. In that case, you may be able to work with your college's financial aid office to qualify for an unsubsidized direct loan, which doesn't require you to demonstrate financial need. To qualify, you'll need to supply documentation signed by your parents or guardians stating they refuse to fill out the FAFSA and don't plan to provide you with any financial assistance.

If your parents or guardians refuse to provide this document, you can get a third party to confirm this, such as a teacher or counselor.

7. Take Out a Private Student Loan

It can be tricky to get a private student loan without a parent or guardian, but it is possible. One option is to ask a friend or relative to be a cosigner if they have established credit and income. Just make sure that they understand that they're equally responsible for repaying the loan, and any late payments or default will hurt their credit and yours.

You may also find lenders that don't require a cosigner but instead look at things like your GPA and program of study. Alternatively, if you're already financially independent and have consistent income, you may qualify for a traditional private student loan on your own.

8. Save Up for College

Studying and staying on top of your grades takes up a lot of time, but you can save up for your college expenses by working part time during the school year and even full time during breaks.

Also, consider saving some or all of any gift or prize money you receive. Open a free student savings account at a bank or credit union, especially if you find one offering interest on your balance.

9. Get Private Scholarships and Grants

Even if you have trouble filing the FAFSA without your parents or guardians, you can apply for private scholarships and grants yourself. The great thing about these two options is that both provide free money — unlike student loans, they don't require repayment.

Search online and talk to your school counselor about programs you're eligible for. Even small grants and scholarships can save you money and reduce the amount you need to save or borrow.

10. Wait Until You're an Independent Student

Once you reach 24 years old, you're considered an independent student and can fill out your own FAFSA. This process can delay your college experience, but it could be the better solution in the long run because you can qualify for aid rather than accrue excessive high-interest debt.

Another option is to start off at a community college, which is much more affordable than a four-year institution. You can then transfer your credits and finish at the four-year school for your final two years.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute professional financial advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only. Readers of this website should contact a professional advisor before making decisions about financial issues.