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How Your College Financial Aid Could Change if You Marry

Jan 5, 2011 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Most advice for students on filling out the FAFSA assumes that you’re a dependent of your parents—and unmarried. But if you’re planning to get married during the school year, this could dramatically change your student aid eligibility.

The students who display the most need on the FAFSA are eligible for the most federal student aid—in grants and subsidized or unsubsidized low-interest loans. Whether you’ll be eligible for more or less student aid if you’re married, however, depends on your situation. Here’s an overview of things to consider—and things that may change—when you file for federal aid as a husband or wife.

Your tuition probably won’t be affected in the current school year

The FAFSA generally asks “as of today, what is your marital status?” If you’re engaged at the moment but plan to get married at some point in the school year, then your answer as far as the FAFSA is concerned is “single.” If you are getting married after you file the FAFSA for the coming school year—even if it’s just a couple of days afterward—you cannot change your answer once the FAFSA is filed. So your marriage won’t affect your current student aid status.
If you decide that you’re likely to get a better deal on student aid if you file as married,
then file your FAFSA after the wedding—not before.

Wedding - Financial Aid

If you’re planning to get married during
the school year, this could
dramatically change your
student aid eligibility.



Your income and your spouse’s will be counted together

Students who appear to be more financially needy recieve more federal benefits. You will have to indicate your spouse’s income as well as your own on your FAFSA once you’re married. If you were an independent single student before getting married—with no support from your family—you may see your eligibility for federal student aid decrease.

You may or may not also be a dependent of your parents

Most of the time, however, students who are married are automatically considered independent from their parents, which means you won’t have to list your parents’ income on your FAFSA. In this case, you might even gain some eligibility if your parents had more net worth than you and your spouse do together. Bear in mind that if your parents are still providing some support—paying your rent, utilities, or car insurance, for example—you may need to report that on your FAFSA.

Waiting isn’t always a good idea

You can file your FAFSA as early as January 1 for that coming school year. You may decide you want to wait longer to file your FAFSA until after your wedding if you feel you’ll get a better deal on financial aid by filing as a married student. But waiting to file your FAFSA can cause its own problems. Many federal aid programs are given out on a first-come, first-served basis—so you may collect less aid if you wait longer. And if you wait too long, your aid could not come in time to pay tuition bills and other costs. Even if it comes later, you could be stuck putting college bills on your credit card or getting a private loan to cover expenses until federal aid comes in—leaving you paying more in interest.

Talk to someone to decide what’s best for you

Deciding to file your FAFSA as a single or married student can make a huge difference for your federal aid. Before you decide, make an appointment with your financial aid counselor to go over your specific situation.

There are a few tools you can use to determine your possible financial aid award online as well. At the Department of Education website, you can complete the FAFSA4caster tool as both a single and married student and get a sense of what your award would be. It’s important to bear in mind, however, that online tools only provide estimates—and it’s still a good idea to meet with a financial aid counselor to make sure you’re making the right decision.



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