Household Size on the FAFSA

on February 1, 2017

Household size on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) affects the income protection allowance, which corresponds to a family’s basic living expenses. It is subtracted from total income, along with other allowances, to yield a figure for available income. A portion of available income is assessed to determine the expected family contribution (EFC).


Who is Counted in Household Size?


Household size always includes the student, even if the student does not or will not live with his or her parents. Other people counted in household size include:

  • The student’s spouse, if the student is married
  • The student’s children (including stepchildren) and other dependents
  • If the student is dependent, the student’s parents (including a stepparent), the parents’ other children and the parents’ other dependents. Do not count a parent who is not living in the household because of death, separation or divorce.

To be counted in household size,

  • Children, stepchildren and other dependents must receive more than half their support from the student/parents, as applicable, and continue to receive more than half support until the end of the award year.
  • Children and stepchildren do not need to live with the student/parents, as applicable, but other dependents must living with the student/parents.

Household size includes unborn children who will be born before the end of the award year and receive more than half support from the student or the student’s parents, as applicable.


Graduate students in medical school and law school can be counted in household size — even though they don’t live with their parents — if the parents provide more than half their support. Graduate students often receive more than half their support from their parents if their parents are paying for their college costs.


Any child who would be deemed a dependent student on the child’s own FAFSA should be counted in household size on a sibling’s or parent’s FAFSA.


Definition of Support


Support includes payment of living expenses and college costs in addition to financial support. Living expenses include food, clothing, housing, transportation, medical care, dental care and insurance.


Half support is measured against the entire academic year even if the support started midyear.


A student is considered as providing more than half support if the support from non-parental sources exceeds support received directly or indirectly from the student’s parents. Support from the student includes child support, support from a boyfriend/girlfriend, student financial aid and government assistance programs like TANF, SNAP and WIC.


This support should be reported as untaxed income to the student on the FAFSA. Thus, it is possible for both the student and the student’s girlfriend/boyfriend to be counted as providing more than half support on their respective FAFSAs.


If the student and the student’s child are living with the student’s parents, the rebuttable presumption is that the student is dependent. The parents are providing the student and the student’s child with housing, which can be a significant source of support. But, if the home is owned or rented by the student, then it is possible that the parents are receiving more than half their support from the student.


Who is Not Counted in Household Size?


Foster children are not counted in household size since their costs are covered by foster care payments. Foster care payments are excluded from income. The main exception is children in kinship foster care, for who no foster care payments are provided. Children in kinship foster care can be counted in household size.


Household Size vs. Number of Exemptions


Household size is not necessarily the same as the number of exemptions claimed on federal income tax returns. A taxpayer is not required to claim an exemption for a child to be providing more than half support to the child for federal student aid purposes.


For example, multiple support agreements let divorced parents control which parent gets to claim a child on federal income tax returns, regardless of which parent provided more support, but not the FAFSA. The FAFSA also has a different definition of support than federal income tax returns.


Consequences of Household Size


In addition to affecting the income protection allowance, household size also affects whether child support paid is reported on the FAFSA.


Any child who is included in household size can be counted in the number of children in college figure if they are enrolled in college on at least a half-time basis and seeking a degree or certificate. The number in college can have a big impact on eligibility for need-based aid, as the parent contribution is divided by the number of children in college.


Child support paid is reported on the FAFSA if, and only if, the child is not reported in household size (i.e., if the parent provides less than half support). Child support paid is subtracted from total income.


If a stepparent’s children from previous marriages receive more than half support from the stepparent, they are counted in household size, even if they don’t live with the stepparent. If one or more of these children are enrolled in college, the reduction in the EFC from a higher number in college usually exceeds the increase in the EFC from a lower income protection allowance.

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