College Students With Unmarried Parents May Qualify for Less Aid in 2014

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Next year, federal financial aid forms will allow students with cohabiting parents to include both their incomes, even if they're unmarried or are the same sex.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as FAFSA, will get a makeover next year.

For the first time, it will “collect income and other information from a dependent student’s legal parents regardless of the parents’ marital status or gender, if those parents live together,” the U.S. Department of Education says.

For needy students with unmarried parents or same-sex parents (the federal government doesn’t recognize the legality of same-sex marriages), the current form can be confusing. It only allows the reporting of income from both parents if those parents are married and heterosexual. Such students should be listing only the income of one parent on the current form, but they might list both anyway, and mistakes can disqualify them from aid.

The modified forms will avoid gender-specific language like “mother” and “father” and spell out more options with terms such as “Parent 1 (father/mother/stepparent)” and “Parent 2 (father/mother/stepparent).”

The Department of Education says “most students will be unaffected” by these changes, but they could have three new impacts depending on the parents’ incomes.

  • Fewer students will be disqualified for providing incorrect information.
  • Students with nontraditional living situations could end up receiving less aid because they will be reporting the incomes of two parents, rather than one.
  • However, those students could qualify for more aid if the second parent earns little income. The calculation for aid includes an offset for an additional parent, and if they make less than the government threshold, the math would work in the student’s favor.

The changes will not affect students whose parents are divorced. That group will still only be able to include the income of the parent (and stepparent) they lived with longer in the past year.

Stacy Johnson

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