ASK KIM


Divorce and the FAFSA

Kimberly Lankford

The federal college aid formula considers only the finances of the custodial parent.



My parents are divorced, and I am wondering who should file the FAFSA financial-aid forms. My primary address is with my mother, but she only makes $15,000 a year and receives $20,000 a year in child support. My father and stepmom make $170,000 per year. Should my mom file the FAFSA, even though my dad says he is paying for my college? If my dad and stepmom file, won't this hurt my chances of receiving financial aid because of their income? How does this work with divorced parents who are remarried?

It looks like you're in luck: The federal aid formula considers only the finances of the custodial parent (the parent you lived with the most in the past 12 months). If the custodial parent is remarried, the stepparent's income and assets are considered, too.

But the federal formula doesn't include the financial resources of the noncustodial parent -- regardless of any agreements the parents have made about who will pay for college. State aid formulas are generally the same.

Some private colleges, however, do ask about the noncustodial parent's income and assets on their own aid forms and consider the resources of both parents -- as well as the custodial parent's spouse. But they generally don't consider the income and assets of the noncustodial parent's spouse.

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A few colleges use the income and assets of both natural parents without asking for any information from the stepparents when calculating financial aid. It's a good idea to ask up front about the school's financial-aid formula, which could make a big difference in the amount of aid you could receive.

For more information about qualifying for financial aid and filing the aid forms, which you can do any time after January 1, see Everything You Need to Know About Financial Aid. For more information about financial aid for divorced families, see FinAid.org's Divorce and Financial Aid page.

Got a question? Ask Kim at askkim@kiplinger.com.




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