One of the biggest factors in determining how much aid each student is eligible for is their relationship with their parents. Because independent students are considered responsible for all of their education costs, they are often eligible for more financial aid than dependent students and the borrowing limits for federal loans are higher.
Many students applying for financial aid are considered financially dependent, meaning that they are dependent on their parents for most of their financial needs and are most likely listed as a dependent on their parents' tax return.
In order to be considered an "independent" student, one or more of the following characteristics must apply:
If you do not meet any of these criteria, you must list your parent's financial information on their FAFSA form. Schools and the government assume that it is the parents' role to support dependent children in their education.
For financial aid purposes, a parent cannot simply say "no" to helping with college expenses, nor can they withhold tax information as a way of raising their child's eligibility for financial aid - that does not work. In fact, withholding parental income information makes the student ineligible for subsidized loans and federal grants.
The reality for some students, however, is that they really are financially independent but do not qualify for official independent student status. If you are classified as a dependent student but your parents refuse to help with college expenses, you should talk with a financial aid administrator for suggestions on how to deal with your specific family situation. For some situations, there are options for overriding dependent student status, but such overrides are rare and involve verification by the aid administrator that the parent refuses to provide the required financial information.