Graduate Student still resident "at home"? Driver's license, car registration/insurance, nexus, voting,…

For college students, the answer seemed simple - while being away in college, you were still presumed to “live at home” as far as your state of residence.

Things seem to get murky for full-time Graduate Students, who don’t have summer breaks, no lengthy winter breaks and in practical terms live “away” full-time for 5 or more years. But technically they still only are away while “attending university”, just that school is year-round (with maybe a week or two between the trimesters).

One issue is car ownership - younger graduate students (a 22 YO, fresh out of college) might still drive the car they got in high-school, owned and insured by their parents. Yes, the insurer has to be advised on the car’s most-frequent location, but may not require anything else.

There is the question of tax residency (for a non-funded graduate student), whose parents will still claim as a dependent in their household.

And from there potentially deriving a requirement (or not?) to register as a resident in the University’s state.

My auto insurance said that D could remain on my auto insurance as long as she was a FT student, and Graduate degrees count, as does living at/on the Grad campus.

Not a tax expert, but I believe tax dependency will be determined if you continue to provide over half of her support. (Note, if she is living off of Grad loans, that does not count as your support.)

One advantage to reregister in Grad state is the possibility of in-state tuition. For example, California residency for tuition purposes is extremely difficult to obtain for undergrads, but is really easy for Grad students after one year. So, if Grad state has a break for instate tuition, officially relocating might be worth doing.

Residency for all of the following may differ:

  • Tuition at state colleges and universities
  • State income tax
  • Driver’s license
  • Car registration
  • Voter registration
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Yes, with respect to car insurance, I get the same sense.

And as far as claiming her as a dependent, at least for the first years, seems to be permissible (she is full-pay, no loans, grants, or other sweet deals).

In-state tuition is also not a factor, so there are no obvious benefits from registering away.

That leaves the question of trying to figure out the correct interpretation when someone needs to transfer their driver’s license. Any language/FAQs I’ve found was written strictly with college students in mind.

The verbiage is open to much more interpretation when viewed from the perspective of graduate students. There are exceptions for full-time college students (no less than x months), outside of that exception, it reverts to a definition of where one lives most of the time, how many days of the year.

I’ve even found texts that suggested that you MUST leave college during summer breaks, because staying for summer internship, etc., would be outside the aforementioned college exception!

On the other hand, there are some interpretations that the days “living” for two semesters at college maybe be counted as if living at home - yet, Grad School is not “college” and there is no substantial “going home” between periods.

My daughter is still a resident of her home state. Son, who is working in the same state as daughter, is also talking graduate level classes at same school where daughter is in grad school (different graduate programs though). Son qualifies for in-state tuition because he initially moved to the state for a job. Daughter moved to the state for grad school and as such, she will be a non-resident for all of grad school.

Insurance company told us to have son’s car titled in state where he lives with in-state plates. Daughter’s car still titled (and licensed) in home state. Insurance company was fine with that. She still has her home state driver’s license. Son got one for his new state.

Example - you have obtain a GA driver’s license within 90 days of “becoming a resident”:

But I can’t find anyplace that defines at what point someone DOES implicitly become a GA resident (want or not), especially as a full-time student, who is not just a college student.

The only thing that’s frequently covered is what someone must do to PROVE intentional residency for in-state tuition purposes.

From Georgia:

Not required to obtain a Georgia driver’s license/permit:

[quote] * A nonresident of Georgia who is attending a school in this state, as long as:

  1. He or she is at least 16 years of age and has in his or her immediate possession a valid license issued to him or her in his or her home state or country and a valid international driving permit if the license is in a language other than English; provided, however, that any restrictions which would apply to a Georgia driver’s license apply to the privileges given to this person; and

  2. He or she is currently enrolled or was enrolled during the immediately preceding period of enrollment in a school in this state, has paid the tuition charged by the school to nonresidents of Georgia for the current or immediately preceding period of enrollment, and has in his or her possession proof of payment of such tuition paid for the current or immediately preceding period of enrollment.[/quote]

License Requirements & Restrictions | Georgia Drivers Manual | eDriverManuals | eDriverManuals)%3A

Typically residency carries with it an intent to remain. I don’t view grad students as having that intent.

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Many of these issues also have rules that vary by state, and vary for each situation within the state. So check with the relevant state government entities (DMV, voter registration (and any voter ID requirements when voting separate from registration), income tax, etc.) in each state.

Thank you for taking the time to look up and citing that quote.

Of course, it is all conditioned on the interpretation of the controlling condition:

I have yet to find the clause that lays out what actually makes someone a resident or non-resident in Georgia, for the purpose of drivers licensing.
I do follow your common sense logic on this topic - but common sense does not necessarily always apply with respect to laws and agencies.

My kid was in another state for professional school for five years. Kid needed health insurance in that state and needed to demonstrate residency to get it on that state exchange. So…kid got a drivers license, had an apartment lease, registered to vote, etc. That kid had a car that was titled to the kid.

Other kid was in grad school OOS for 2 years, before ACA. So…just kept the PPO plan here, and “borrowed” our car. We did have to let the insurance company know the car was being used OOS.

If you are that uncomfortable with it, I would suggest either talking with Georgia DMV (or having your daughter do that) or just have her obtain a Georgia license/establish residency.

Would think that the risk of someone raising the issue is very small. And if it is raised, I would expect a good faith defense of “she thought as a student she was not a resident and thus doesn’t need to get a license” – note language that I cited just mentions “school” not “college” – would avoid any significant consequences (other than being told you have x days to get a GA license).

Here is language from TurboTax:

To me, grad students (as well as undergrads) intend to be there temporarily.

Thanks - I already have it on my list to see how much (or not) the PPO plan is covering Georgia, or whether it makes sense to use the University’s plan (if offered). We used to opt out during college years.

Yes, I too had run into the TurboTax and similar sites offering a generalized opinion, including the section you pointed out:

and yes, my default is to interpret “in my favor” and use the “good faith” defense.

But being the perfectionist, I had started looking for the authoritative answer being spelled out, and realized that having a copy of a citable statute x, paragraph y is far from anyone’s fingertips.

Of course I could call DMV, but then I’m relying on whatever answer that person happens to come up with that day. It might just be the office wisdom/policy handed down to them from some co-worker, who also never actually looked it up.

Having dealt with enough “experts” at regulators, agencies, etc. in my lifetime to know that there is about a 50/50 chance of getting the correct answer to anything but the most basic questions.

There are some things that make it easier to just register the car in the college state. If you live in a state that requires an inspection every year or two to register, it is a pain to get the car back to the state for that inspection. If you live in a state without a lot of OOS license plates, your car becomes a target for traffic or parking tickets. It’s easier to figure out the insurance. Sometimes you can’t get a benefit only available to locals, like a beach parking sticker. Minor inconveniences, but they add up.

In the south, there are a ton of OOS plates all the time because there are so many military people who are residents of other states, plus snowbirds. A friend in Florida had Alaska plates and she hadn’t lived there in almost 20 years. In a place with a lot of college kids, an OOS plate may not stand out that much.

My daughter, grad student, did become a resident of Wyoming. She gets instate tuition (hers is paid for, but this summer she had to pay for a class/trip and it was $299 for 3 credits! some of he non-res friends paid $1000+), there is no instate income tax so she’s not taxed on either her Starbucks salary or her TA stipend, and doesn’t have to pay income tax for income earned OOS in my state. She got a good scholarship for this summer, and it helped that she’s a resident.

Her car with her OOS plates is sitting in front of my house right now as she’s on her trip. I have to remember to move it occasionally so she doesn’t get a ticket HERE! I think she has the wrong address on her insurance and it will probably be cheaper to insure the car at her Wyo address.

Honestly, if she’s going to live there 5 years, just rip the band-aid off and become a resident of the new state. For one year it wouldn’t be worth it, but 5 years? At some point she’ll earn enough that you won’t be able to take her as a dependent, and now claiming college kids as dependents is not as advantageous as it once was. And you can still claim her as a dependent if she meets all the requirements even if she is a resident of another state. That is not one of the tests for the IRS.

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Thank you - VERY good point!

I have to check her registration sticker. If anything I might see how things “shake down” in the first year and prepare to make the switch soon after.

Didn’t think of it - but I can definitely imagine that. In fact, seeing it (in reverse) being done in OUR area to out-of-state cars…

Much appreciate you relaying this!

Check your state’s emissions rules. My state allows vehicles that are out of state to be tested at any US EPA approved location. About 30 states have emissions requirements. Not sure how many allow testing in other states though.

From what I have read, I live in the state with the highest percentage of drivers with a speeding ticket. So my risk supposedly is lower anywhere I go (even with out of state plates). LOL

At this point, plan is for my daughter to remain resident of her home state throughout grad school. If the state wants to argue she is a resident, that is fine though she is getting in-state tuition at that point and saving $20k/year. Confident the state isn’t going to take that stance. Its made very clear she will not qualify for in-state tuition. 3 more years to go. She keeps adding park/parking stickers to her windshield so it doesn’t appear they are limited to locals.

Good lucking dealing with governmental agencies. LOL

Ultimately though guess I would suggest trying it out a year to see how it works. If there are issues without a local license/local plates, get them. If not, no need to do so. Presumably that experience will vary by person and where they are in grad school.

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My daughter became a resident of the state where her grad (state) university is located, but she does not have a car.

My D’s graduate studies (MFA) were funded by her university (private). Similarly, the university my son-in-law attended for graduate funded his program. The university (state flagship) required him to become a state resident. He got a driver’s license and registered to vote. That satisfied the university.

D18 became a resident of her college’s state as an undergrad, which in practice meant registering to vote and (somewhat later) getting a driver’s license. This was largely done for tax reasons, because she didn’t want the taxable (room and board) part of her scholarship to be taxed in CA (which has a low exemption and would generate significant kiddie tax liabilities). We lost the $500 dependent tax credit but she got far more than that in pandemic tax relief.

As far as the car was concerned, it was still owned by us and remained registered in CA without any problem (there was a specific exemption in her state for cars owned by students paying OOS fees) and CA exempts you from smog tests if the car is OOS so long as you certify you will do it when the car is brought back to CA.

For a grad student I see little reason not to consider that you are moving to the new state and establishing residency. The most obvious transition (for tax purposes) is registering to vote there, but getting a driver’s license is another step that counts towards demonstrating that intention. If you earn money as a grad student at a level which requires tax to be paid then your life will get more complicated if you have to file tax returns in multiple states. For the parents, the $500 dependent tax credit is lost through a combination of the kid not living at home and earning more than about $4500 (including any taxable scholarships).

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If student plans to live and work elsewhere after graduation, not sure I see a value in the hassle to establish domicile in state where Grad school is located, unless required by the state (unlikely). This would be particularly true for a 1-2 year Master’s program. (I gotta believe very few students establish new residency where they attend MBA or law school.)