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Filing FAFSA® as Head of Household: Qualifications and Errors

How to Pay for College > How do I Apply? > Filling Out FAFSA® > Filing FAFSA® as Head of Household: Qualifications and Errors

Qualifying as head of household for FAFSA® is determined by IRS federal income tax filing status and your parents marital status. Incorrectly filing as head of household is a common error. Other errors include incorrectly accounting for stepparents and stepchildren or explaining special circumstances to the financial aid office.

What is the FAFSA®?

FAFSA® is the key to obtaining student aid. It’s imperative you fill out the form correctly and on time; otherwise, you may be missing out on important financial aid. While it seems straightforward, FAFSA® forms can be confusing. The New York Times estimates that about 25 percent of forms are abandoned during the process every year, resulting in billions of unclaimed dollars.

FAFSA® is now open for 2020, file in less than 5 minutes!

Who is the “head of household” according to the IRS?

Head of household filing status applies to single or unmarried taxpayers. Tax benefits make this a desirable filing status. However, the IRS mandates you meet certain requirements for head of household:

  • Pay for over 50 percent of household expenses
  • Be unmarried for the tax year in question
  • Have a qualifying dependent or child

Household expenses typically include all bills like mortgage/rent, utilities, insurance, taxes, groceries, and any other expenses that go towards home maintenance.

Being unmarried in the eyes of the IRS means:

  • You’ve never been married
  • You’re legally separated or divorced
  • You’ve lived apart from your spouse for at least the last six months of the tax year
  • Your spouse is a non-resident alien and your qualifying child lived with you more than half the year

For dependent qualification, the IRS allows a stepchild, foster, or sibling. The important thing is whether or not this child lived with you for the allotted time in the tax year, is under 19 (non-student) or 24 (full-time student), and the child cannot have paid for more than half of their living expenses.

FAFSA®’s definition of “head of household” is a little different.

FAFSA® treats the head of household definition slightly different. The IRS considers an informal separation as still being legally married, whereas FAFSA® allows for informal separations to be treated as separated status. However, if you claim this, you will likely need to show proof to the financial aid office of the school.