– Paige Clark, intern at the Indianapolis Business Journal
Figuring out financial aid can be confusing. Figuring out financial aid with two divorced people can be more confusing than imaginary numbers in trigonometry.
Although almost everyone does, or should, apply for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, it’s still very confusing and no one seems to have all the answers, especially when dealing with two incomes, homes, tax returns, etc.
Which was really surprising – I’ve seen the marriage statistics for this country.
And after phone calls and meetings, I hammered out my packet, but it was stressful.
Lucky for my parents, I was the oldest, so by the time my sister was applying for her financial aid, it went a little smoother. But, there are other first scholars struggling with the same questions I was.
First, you, the student, should fill out the FASFA, for several reasons. The first and quite obvious is it’s your financial aid, for you to go to school. Not your parents.
It makes sense you should dot the “I’s” and cross the “t’s” on your contract for state funded money. And, college is about becoming independent and adult-like and other naggy phrases our parents and teachers use when we forgot to feed the dog or page two of that math homework assignment.
Also, since FASFA is an online application, you need to create an account and password. If you create the account and password you will know the account and password. That way when you have to make a change (and you will always have to make a change) or update your application, you can do that easily. If not, you’ll end up panicking because it’s due in 3 hours and your parents can’t find that one sticky note they swear they wrote it down on.
Once you create an account, you just go through step-by-step, page-by-page, filling in the blanks. You will need your personal information – birthdate, social – your parent’s personal information and both, yours and your parents tax returns from the previous year.
That led me to some big questions. Which parent’s tax return do I need? Or do I need both? What if they’re remarried? Do I need my stepparents information too?
Before answering those questions, you need to answers others first.
The FAQ section of finaid.org says “If your parents are separated or divorced, the custodial parent is responsible for filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The custodial parent for federal student aid purposes is the parent with whom you lived the most during the past 12 months.”
If only one of your parents has sole custody, then you go with their information, as the website instructs.
But, if you are a child of join custody, it gets a little trickier. The rule of thumb is to file your packet with the parent who claims you on their taxes.
Another option is to assess your parent’s incomes. Financial aid is designed to give lower income families more money than families with higher incomes. Therefore, the parent with the lower annual income could potentially yield more aid than the other, and financially, could be wise to use their information.
But what if your parents remarried?
On the FASFA form it asks for your second parent’s information. Input your stepparent’s information here, not your other actual parent’s.
The FASFA application requires your parent’s tax returns, and since most married couples file together, the tax return will include both your parent’s and step parent’s information.
Inputting your other parent’s information instead of your stepparents can cause a delay in your application, because they do not file together.
After filling out the FASFA and receiving financial aid, paying for college can become an issue if both parents are helping foot the bill for your education.
If this is your case, talk to your school’s business office. Many schools allow students and parents to pay bills online – both parents can access an account and help pay your balance. This is also beneficial is students and parents are splitting the cost.
If your school does not offer this online service, again talk to the business office. Believe it or not, the school wants you (and your money) there, and will often help accommodate you and your needs financially.
One of the biggest pieces of advice I can offer is to ask questions and more questions and take advantage of any extra help you can get. If you understand the Free Application for Federal Student Aid packet, it makes the process so much easier. Especially since you have to resubmit your application every year.