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What happens if my parents won't complete the FAFSA?

What happens if my parents won't complete the FAFSA?

Zina Kumok

Zina Kumok is a personal finance writer and speaker with a background in financial literacy, student loans, credit scores, and investing. She's a three-time nominee and finalist for Best Personal Finance Contributor at the Plutus Awards. Zina paid off $28,000 in student loans in three years. Holding a bachelor's degree in journalism from Indiana University, she has worked for newspapers, magazines, and wire services. Her byline has appeared in Indianapolis Monthly, the Commercial Appeal, and the Associated Press, and as an expert, she's been featured in the Washington Post, Forbes, Fox Business, and Time. Additionally, Zina is a Certified Financial Health Counselor and Student Loan Counselor.

Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is crucial to getting financial aid.

But every year, there are countless students whose parents won’t help them apply to college or complete the FAFSA.

This presents a major roadblock to students who want to attend college and need to borrow money. Fortunately, the Department of Education is aware that this situation exists and has a process in place for these students.

Keep reading to understand what to do if your parents won’t complete the FAFSA - and why you should still submit the form.

What to do if your parents won’t submit the FAFSA

Ask them why

There are many reasons why parents don't want to complete the FAFSA. One of the biggest is that they don’t think it will help their child qualify for more financial aid. Unfortunately, that’s one of the most harmful myths.

Explain to your parents that filling out the FAFSA will actually make you more eligible for financial aid, even if you come from a wealthy background. For example, many schools won’t award internal scholarships unless you have submitted the FAFSA. And even if you don’t qualify for need-based aid, you will still be eligible for federal student loans, which are a better option than private student loans.

Many parents also believe that completing the FAFSA means they are cosigning on your student loans. You should explain that submitting the FAFSA does not come with a legal obligation to pay for your student loans, even if you die or default.

In some cases, you can have your parents submit a letter saying that they are not willing to provide information for the FAFSA and will not be supporting you in college. You can have this sent to your college’s financial aid department for their consideration.

Submit the FAFSA by yourself

Fortunately, you can still submit the FAFSA even without your parent’s information. Go to the official Student Aid website and create your Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID to start the FAFSA process.

When you arrive at the section that asks for parental information, you can check “I am unable to provide information about my parent(s).” You may be asked to provide a reason, which can include:

  • Your parents are incarcerated
  • You left an abusive household
  • You cannot find your parents
  • You are between 21 and 24 and are currently homeless or at risk of becoming homeless

You will usually have to provide more detailed information that will be sent to the colleges on your FAFSA list. The colleges will then individually decide what kind of financial aid you qualify for.

The good news is that you are still technically eligible for Direct Unsubsidized Loans even if your parents don’t fill out the FAFSA.

One of the most common questions the students have is if they are eligible for more financial aid if their parents won't help with the FAFSA and aren't paying for college.

Unfortunately, those factors aren’t what the federal government uses when deciding how much aid you qualify for. If you don’t have your parents’ financial information, you won’t be able to qualify for need-based aid like Direct Subsidized Loans, Pell Grants or work-study.

When you apply for financial aid via the FAFSA, the federal government will designate you as a dependent or independent student. Dependent students have their parent’s income counted toward their Student Aid Index (SAI), which is the number used to determine your need eligibility. Independent students will only have their own income and assets counted toward the FAFSA.

Unfortunately, dependent students also qualify for lower student loan amounts than independent students. For example, independent students can receive up to $57,500 in federal student loans compared to $31,000 for dependent students.

To qualify as an independent student, you must meet the following criteria:

  • 24 or older
  • Married
  • Attending a professional or graduate school
  • Veteran or current member of the military
  • Orphan or a ward of the court
  • Have legal dependents other than a spouse
  • Emancipated minor
  • Homeless or at risk of becoming homeless

Apply for grants and scholarships

Thankfully, you can still apply for grants and scholarships without your parent’s help. In fact, since you can only qualify for Direct Unsubsidized Loans, you should try to prioritize scholarship applications. Unlike loans, scholarships do not have to be paid back, so they’re the best source of financial aid.

Try to apply for as many scholarships as possible and don't just focus on the big awards. Small scholarships can add up quickly and may have fewer applicants than major scholarships. Use our Scholarship Directory at to find potential scholarships.

Use private loans as a last resort

Unfortunately, if your parents are unwilling to complete the FAFSA, you may not receive enough financial aid to pay for school. If you have already applied for scholarships and grants, you may resort to private student loans to fill the gaps.

However, be wary of how much you borrow. In general, you should never take out more in loans than you’ll earn in your first year out of college.

Contact the school’s financial aid department

If you submit the FAFSA without your parent’s financial status, you will have to contact each school’s financial aid department and explain your personal circumstances. Make sure to write out your situation in detail.

In some cases, the school can classify you as an independent student so you’ll receive more financial aid.


My parents won’t submit the FAFSA - does that make me eligible for more financial aid?

Not having your parents' information on your FAFSA does not necessarily make you an independent student and qualify you for more financial aid.

You may still be considered a dependent student even if your parents don’t provide financial support and won’t complete the FAFSA.

I’m having trouble filling out the FAFSA. Who can help me?

Completing the FAFSA can be a confusing process, especially if you don’t have all the necessary information. If you're having trouble with the FAFSA, you can reach out to the official helpline at 1-800-433-3243. You can also send them an email or use the live chat feature, both available here.

Your school may also have a counselor who can help you complete it or direct you to more resources. If you're already in college and completing the FAFSA, talk to your school’s financial aid department.

We make it simple and match you to college scholarships you qualify for.