When you’re filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, some of the questions can be a bit confusing—and if you put in the wrong information, it can affect your financial aid. It’s important to get the information correct; not only can it limit or even eliminate your financial aid eligibility, but it can also cause a lot more headache in the form of additional paperwork and delays.

One of the questions that confuses many students is about residency. The FAFSA asks, “What is your parents’ state of legal residence?”

Different situations require a different answer to this question, and where you live may dictate whether or not you’re eligible for financial aid at all. When it comes to what your legal residence is, the key all comes down to where your parents live.

Your Parents’ Address Matters Most

For the purposes of the FAFSA, legal residency is defined by your parents’ permanent home. It doesn’t matter if you live with your grandparents, foster parents, or even legal guardians in some cases unless they have legally adopted you. As far as the federal government is concerned, you are a legal resident of the same place where your parents reside.

If your parents live in different states, then your legal residency is based upon whichever parent you lived with for the most time during the previous year. If you’ve spent equal time with each parent, then residency is based upon whichever parent provided the most financial support over the past year—or during the most recent year that you received any financial support.

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If your mother lives in Minnesota, for instance, but your father lives in California, then your residency is based upon whichever parent you live with the most. An arrangement where you lived in one location for the school year and another for the summers would result in your legal residency being the state where you spent the school year—a longer time period.

Since your parents’ legal residence is what determines your own for the purposes of the FAFSA, if your parents’ home is in a foreign country, that could affect your financial aid eligibility.

Emancipated Minors

If you have been deemed an emancipated minor by a court of law, you may be able to claim your own residency, as opposed to relying on your parents’ address. It does, however, require a specific set of paperwork and has a separate process; you may need to provide a copy of the court’s decision in order to prove your status.

You can find more information about how to complete the FAFSA if you’re an emancipated minor at the FAFSA help site.

Bottom Line

It’s critical that you understand what your legal residency is—before you start filling out the FAFSA. If you have a complicated situation, make sure you understand how it all works and how it can affect you. If you need help determining what your residency is, you can contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center via email, live chat, or phone.