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Dad Died, Mom Remarried; Grandma Moved In. How do These Changes Affect My FAFSA?

Mark Kantrowitz

November 16, 2009

We recently had an addition in the family. Not a new sibling, but my mother’s mom is now living with us. She’s great and we love having her, but she’s not free. Should I change any info on my FAFSA because of this? — Sana B.

If your grandmother lives with and receives more than half her support from your parents, she can be included in household size. Increasing household size may decrease your expected family contribution by up to $2,000.

If your grandmother receives more than half her support from your parents, but lives in a nursing home, ask the college to conduct a professional judgment review. The college could decide to include her in household size even though she doesn’t live with your parents or they could decide to reduce income by the amount of the eldercare expenses. Usually the latter results in a greater reduction in the expected family contribution.

If this change in household size occurred after the FAFSA was submitted, household size can and must be updated only if your FAFSA is selected for verification. If your grandmother joined your household before the FAFSA was submitted, you can correct the error online.

Incidentally, unborn children count in household size so long as the child will be born during the academic year and will receive more than half support from the parents from birth through the end of the award year.

Foster children do not count in household size because they are supported by the government, not the family. Foster care payments received by the family are not reported as income on the FAFSA either.

My first husband is dead and I have remarried. So when the FAFSA asks for my son’s father do I put biological father (deceased) or stepfather? Also he receives Social Security benefits until May when he graduates. Where do I put this tax exempt income on the form? Is it reported as his income or mine? — Veronica E.

If the parent responsible for completing the FAFSA has remarried as of the date the FAFSA was submitted, the stepparent’s income and assets must be reported and the stepparent is included in household size. All of the stepparent’s income from the prior tax year must be reported on the FAFSA even if the marriage occurred in the middle of the year or after the end of the year. The inclusion of the stepparent’s income and assets is a statutory requirement and supersedes any prenuptial agreements. (The relevant reference is section 475(f) of the Higher Education Act of 1965.)

Untaxed Social Security benefits are no longer reported on the FAFSA due to a change enacted by the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 that went into effect for the 2009-10 academic year.


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