Who Completes the FAFSA?

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The first issue to resolve in getting ready to complete the 2017-18 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that’ll be available October 1 is to figure out who needs to put their information on it.

Of course, the FAFSA always requires the student’s data. Things get a bit complicated after that; but that’s because there are so many different family circumstances in today’s American society. Essentially, questions about who completes the FAFSA are determined by the student’s dependency upon mom and dad and by mom and dad’s marital situation and living arrangements.

Dependent Students

In general, undergraduates younger than 24 are considered “dependent” students for theuntitled purposes of student financial aid. On the 2017-18 FAFSA, any student born after 1993 is a dependent student unless that students fits one of the other conditions that define “Independent Students” (see below). Such a student’s FAFSA must include data from the student’s parent(s).

Legal Parents of Dependent Students: The FAFSA requires data about both of the student’s “legal” parents if they’re married or unmarried. A legal parent who’s widowed or who never married must list only his or her data must on the FAFSA.

What’s a legal parent? It’s the student’s adoptive parent, biological parent, or parent as defined by state law. This means no data are required for foster parents, grandparents, legal guardians, and other relatives who house and/or support a student.

Custodial Parents of Dependent Students: If the student’s parents are legally separated or divorced and not living together, data for the “custodial” parent should go on the FAFSA. This is whichever parent the student lived most during the last 12 months. If that’s a tie, the custodial parent is then the one who provided more financial support to the student during the last 12 month period in which the student received money from mom and/or dad.

If legally separated or divorced parents are living together, both their data need to go on the FAFSA. And if a divorced custodial parent gets married again, his or her new spouse is considered a stepparent. Stepparent data must also go on the FAFSA.

Same-Sex Parents: Under a recent Supreme Court decision, same sex couples legally married in a state or foreign country are considered legal parents regardless of where they now live or their student goes to college. Likewise, a new same-sex spouse who’s legally married to a divorced parent is considered a stepparent. Both same-sex parents and stepparents in legal marriages must report their data on the FAFSA.

Independent Students

Besides being born after 1993, a student reaches “independent” status, and no parental data need be on his or her FAFSA, if the student is:

  • Going to be a graduate or professional student when academic year 2017-18 begins; or
  • As of the date his or her FAFSA is submitted:wedding-young-marrieds
    • Married (in which case the spouse’s data must be put on the FAFSA with the student’s data); or
    • Someone who, from July 2017 through June 2018, will supply over half the support to his or her children, spouse, or someone else who lives with him of her; or
    • On active duty with the U.S. armed forces (including national guard and reserve enlistees) for purposes other than training; or
    • A veteran of the U.S. armed forces.

Under certain conditions, the FAFSA also treats a student as independent if he or she is a dependent or ward of the court, in foster care, an emancipated minor, under a legal guardianship, a homeless unaccompanied youth, or a self-supporting youth at risk of being homeless.

The Federal Student Aid Information Center is open 7 days a week to help you if you have questions related to the 2017-18 FAFSA.

Coming September 22 – “What’s Needed to Complete the FAFSA?”

College Affordability Solutions can also help you with FAFSA questions. Call (512) 366-5354 or email collegeafford@gmail.com if you need help.

Hey Graduate! What’s Next for Your Student Loans?

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College commencement was fun, wasn’t it? It’s the only time in higher education when we celebrate academic achievement with all the gusto of a football victory. But if you borrowed while getting that degree, it was also when your student loan repayment process commenced. So, what happens next?

(1)  When does your repayment obligation begin? You get a full six-month “grace period” to find a job and get yourself established financially before you’re required to start repaying your federal student loans. A loan servicer hired by the government to collect your loans will contact you during this period to share vitally important information with you. This includes the exact date your first payment is due — generally within 60 days of the end of your grace period.

Private educational loans may or may not have grace periods. Review the “promissory note” you entered into with your private loan provider for anything you need to know about repayment including your first payment due date. If what you’re looking for isn’t there, contact your loan provider and ask.

(2)  When do your payments start? Virtually all student loans require once-a-month payments on the same date of each month. If the repayment date assigned to you doesn’t work, contact your loan servicer. Servicers will usually renegotiate this date upon request.

(3)  What do you need to do? Any time you move to a new address, or begin using a new email service, provide your loan servicer with your new contact information. Otherwise, information you need to repay your debt won’t reach you. But that won’t absolve you of your payment obligation and, if you begin missing payments, bad things happen to you!

(4)  What decisions do you face? Your biggest decision is your choice of repayment plans. The government offers six options. Its standard plan is the quickest and least expensive way to eliminate college debt. It requires you to repay your loan in 120 equal monthly installments. But what if those monthly payments are too high early in your career, when you’ll probably earn the least you’ll ever earn? Then you should request one of the income-driven repayment plans that limit your monthly payments to a small percentage of your earnings. Such a plan will cost you more in the long run, but it’ll minimize your monthly payments early on. And remember, you can change your repayment plan whenever you want.

You may also need to consider whether you want to consolidate your federal loans in order to qualify for the lowest possible payments and the longest possible repayment period. This can be especially helpful if you are interested in having what’s left of your debt forgiven after 10 or 20 years.

There’ll be more on repayment plans and loan consolidation in the future. For now, congratulations on earning that degree and getting on the road to jettisoning your educational indebtedness!

Up next — how to get your federal student loans forgiven.

College Affordability Solutions has 40 years’ experience in advising borrowers on how to manage their parent and student loans. Call (512) 366-5354 or email collegeafford@gmail.com for help.