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How to Report Stocks on the FAFSA

Mark Kantrowitz

March 15, 2010

I am a single mom and my son will be entering his freshman year in college this fall. The FAFSA application asks for the gross income from last year’s tax return. My W-2 total includes not only my salary but also stock grants that were given to me by my employer. This total in no way reflects the amount I lived on last year. The stock grants haven’t even vested yet and so I couldn’t access them even if I wanted. Am I required to show this entire amount from my W-2 or can I reduce the gross earnings by the total amount of the stock grants? — Linn Y.

If the stock grants will be included in adjusted gross income on your federal income tax return, they must be reported on the FAFSA. Stock grants that are reported in box 1 of your W-2 will be reported on line 7 of IRS Form 1040 or 1040A (or line 1 of IRS Form 1040EZ) and ultimately included in adjusted gross income.

Generally, if you receive a restricted stock grant, the shares will be included in your gross income only as they vest. Shares that have not yet vested are not included in gross income. The figures reported on your W-2 should reflect this. (IRC Section 83(b) permits taxpayers to elect to treat restricted stock grants as though they were fully vested for income tax purposes. This is optional.)

So the amounts reported on your W-2 are probably vested and you could sell them if you wanted to. But if there’s something unusual about your stock grants that causes them to be reported as income even though they haven’t vested, ask the college’s financial aid administrator for a professional judgment review. They will want to see the documents relating to the grant award and the vesting schedule.

Since the status of unvested stock grants is not determinate (i.e., you could lose them if you leave the company), they are not reported as an asset on the FAFSA.

I have not filed my taxes yet. Should I hurry and complete the FAFSA to the best of my knowledge even if I am unsure of some of the information, or should I wait until I have filed my taxes and know the information is correct? — Donna C.

Complete the FAFSA now. Do not wait until you file your federal income tax returns or your child has been admitted. File the FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1.

It is ok to estimate the information on the FAFSA. Use your W-2 and 1099 statements and the last pay stubs of the year to complete the FAFSA. It’s a good idea to compare the information with previous year’s federal income tax returns to make sure you aren’t omitting anything important, such as interest and dividends or other income or above-the-line exclusions from income. You will have an opportunity to correct any errors later.

A Direct PLUS loan was included on my financial aid award letter. But my parent has to apply for this loan, and she does not have a Social Security number. Therefore I cannot receive this loan. How do I get this money? — Julie H.

Students who are US citizens or permanent residents are eligible for federal student aid even if their parents are not. However, parents who are not US citizens or permanent residents are not eligible to borrow from the PLUS loan program. In such a circumstance a dependent student is eligible for the higher unsubsidized Stafford loan limits for independent students, namely an additional $4,000 per year during the freshman and sophomore years and an additional $5,000 per year during the junior and senior years. Talk to your college’s financial aid administrator to get approved for the higher loan limits. This falls within the scope of the regulations at 34 CFR 682.201(a)(3) and 34 CFR 685.203(c)(1).


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