One common misconception is that young people who marry are no longer eligible for financial aid. In fact, some couples may benefit from getting married because their combined incomes will be lower than their parents’. To qualify for financial aid as a married person, you must provide different information than you would if you were single.
Basics of Financial Aid
Before understanding how marriage will affect your eligibility for financial aid, you should understand the types of aid and sources of aid that are available. Generally, the question involves federal government aid. The federal government provides several grant programs, including the Pell Grant, the TEACH grant and the ACG grant. These funds do not have to be paid back. Through the government, you can also receive Stafford loans and work study funds. Of all these options, only the Stafford loan can be obtained regardless of your income level.
Decisions about your qualifications for federal financial aid are based on your EFC (Estimated Family Contribution). Basically, when you complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the income information you provide will determine how much your family should be able to pay toward your college education. If you are a dependent student, your parents' income must be provided and used to determine your EFC. If you are an independent student, you do not have to include your parents' finances. In most cases, the EFC is going to be lower without your parents’ incomes. Unfortunately, being recognized as an independent student is not that easy.
Dependent Vs. Independent
Just because you are away from home, you are not automatically considered independent by the government’s standards for financial aid. Most college students do not live with their parents while in school but still receive financial support from those families. To be classified as truly independent, you must meet specific criteria such as having your own dependent, being at least 24 years old or being married. If you are legally married, you only have to claim the finances of you and your spouse. From this perspective, being married will often help you lower your EFC and receive more financial aid.
When Marriage Is Not Going to Help
Although marriage is not going to prevent you from getting financial aid on those grounds alone, it can sometimes be a detriment. For example, if you get married while you are already in school, you cannot adjust your status from dependent to independent midway through an award year. Instead, you will have to wait until the beginning of the next year when you complete the FAFSA. Marriage might also be detrimental if you already are considered an independent student. Adding a second income to your EFC could actually reduce the aid you receive. Marriage may also end up costing you more on campus. A growing number of colleges are providing special campus housing for married couples and families -- but because these units are not shared with other students, the rental prices are higher. This may mean you need more financial aid.
One Advantage of Being a Dependent Student
Although being an independent student might help lower your EFC and increase your financial aid award, that status also means your parents are not eligible for PLUS loans. These are loans through the federal government taken out by parents to pay for their child’s college education. Like student loans, these parent loans have a fixed interest rate. Unlike student loans, your parents’ credit history is a factor in getting approval for these loans. If you are married, this financial aid option is not going to be available to you.
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