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Senior Citizens and the FAFSA: Getting Federal Aid When You're Over 60

Sep 17, 2012 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Going back to school takes courage—especially when you’re a senior citizen. It also takes money—sometimes a lot of money. Still, as a senior citizen, you can qualify for federal financial aid—and you shouldn’t skip the step of filling out the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. And there are both benefits and drawbacks to your age in applying for federal student aid. Here are a few things you should know as a senior citizen filling out the FAFSA.

You are eligible for federal aid no matter your age

Some scholarships and grant programs are designed with traditional students in mind—and have an age limit. This isn’t true for the federal student aid program. You can apply for—and qualify for—federal aid regardless of your age. However, the federal aid program does have certain restrictions that can make it harder for older adults, as a whole, to qualify for aid. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

See Also: Online Colleges and Universities

You’re independent from your own parents—but not always from your spouse

Senior in School

It’s not easy going back to school. And for some, it’s not easy qualifying for federal student aid.

Traditional students have to include their parents’ financial information when filling out the FAFSA. However, that’s only required until you are 24—in which case you are considered independent of your parents. However, if you’re married, you may have to include your spouse’s income on the FAFSA. If you are divorced or separated, your ex’s financial information is usually not included—except for any money or property you received in the settlement, if applicable.

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Your dependents may help you qualify for more federal aid

If you have dependents yourself, on the other hand—such as children who live with you or a spouse you support financially—it could make you eligible for more in student aid.

The FAFSA is designed to help people in financial need

As an older adult, you’ve had more time to establish yourself than a younger student. While this isn’t true of all older adults, for many, qualifying for the best federal aid—like PELL grants and Stafford loans—can be difficult. The less money and property you have, the more federal aid you qualify for. That said, it’s still valuable to fill out your FAFSA regardless of your financial situation. That’s because you may still qualify for some government loans that will offer better interest rates and terms than private loans, regardless of your income.

As a non-traditional student, the rules are slightly different

For instance, you may be eligible to take out more in subsidized Stafford loans as an independent student than a traditional student would. Subsidized loans are the best kind of federal loans to get, because the interest does not accumulate while you are in school—meaning your financial aid burden will be smaller when you graduate.

The FAFSA can be hard on non-traditional students who work

That’s because it counts your income in the prior year when assessing how much federal aid you’re eligible for. This can be problematic for nontraditional students, because you may have to leave work—or scale back on hours—to go to school. Or your recent retirement may have changed your income situation between then and now.

In some cases, you may not have as much money coming in while you’re in school, and may not be able to afford the same level of tuition you could have while working full-time. If this is your situation, it may be a good idea to talk to your school’s financial aid office and ask to have your income adjusted from the prior tax year on the FAFSA.

The FAFSA does not take your retirement money into account

The FAFSA does not ask about your retirement account, although if you are attending a college that uses the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE, you might see the question asked. However, colleges rarely will make you pay more because of your retirement account.

You can protect some non-retirement assets

The FAFSA includes a feature called an “asset protection allowance,” which allows you to shield a certain amount of money that is not in a retirement account. It’s designed to protect the assets of older students and older parents. So the older you are—and the closer you are to retirement age—the more money you can shield from consideration this way. The money protected through the allowance could be held in a 529 savings plan, as well as a taxable savings, checking, or brokerage account.

It’s not easy going back to school. And for some, it’s not easy qualifying for federal student aid. However, it’s always worth it to fill out the FAFSA—because federal loans will have better terms and interest rates than private loans, and are nearly always a better deal.


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