The significance of your marital status in the financial aid process has a lot to do with whether or not you can claim dependent or independent status on the FAFSA.
If you are married, regardless of age, you will have independent status when the government calculates your ability to afford college. Below you'll see situations in which marriage can have a positive or a negative effect on your financial aid:
Situations in which Marriage Improves Your Financial Aid Eligibility
- Marriage will usually have a positive impact on your financial aid eligibility if you are under 24 years of age and your spouse does not have high income. This is because you can then claim independent status, and your parents' income and assets will not be considered in your financial aid calculations. Your spouse's income, however, will be considered.
- If you are 24 years of age or older, you will have independent status whether married or not. Here again, your marital status will be a benefit assuming your spouse's income is relatively low.
Situations in Which Marriage Lessens Your Financial Aid Eligibility
- Marriage will often have a negative impact on your financial aid reward if you are 24 or over and your spouse has significant income. The reasons for this are two-fold: if you are 24 or over, you are considered to have independent status for financial aid. Thus, only your own income and assets are used to calculate your financial aid eligibility. If, however, you are married, your spouse's income will be part of the calculations.
- If you are under 24 and from a family with modest income, your spouse's income will determine whether or not marrying helps or hurts you. In general, the higher your spouse's income, the less aid you will receive.
- If your parents don't have high income and they are supporting several other dependents, it is quite possible that your financial aid eligibility will actually decrease when you get married. This is especially true if you have brothers or sisters who are also in college. In a situation such as this, your parents qualify for significant financial aid, and that could actually decrease if you have independent status. This can be true even if your spouse doesn't have high income.
More Issues to Consider Related to Marital Status
- If you submit your FAFSA when you are single but then you marry, you can submit an update to the form so that your ability to pay for college is accurately reflected by the government calculations.
- You can submit a change to your FAFSA should you or your spouse lose your income or have a reduction in income during the academic year.
- You need to report your financial information and your spouses information on the FAFSA even if you file taxes separately.
- Keep in mind that you and your spouse's assets, not just your income, are used to calculate your aid eligibility. Thus, even if you and your spouse have low income, you might find that your expected contribution is high if you or your spouse has significant savings, real estate holdings, investments, or other assets.