Will a single parent selling a home that has appreciated a lot and that has a very low mortgage payment, then buying a much more expensive house with all of the proceeds help make the child more (or less) eligible for financial aid (not loans) for college?
posted by Corky to human relations (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My SO and his ex are the parents of a 17 year old girl, junior in high school. College plans are being discussed by everyone, although the parents haven't had a sit-down to talk about particulars since last summer. Each is obligated by divorce decree to pay for 1/2 of in-state tuition for the state college (in this case U of MD). FAFSA forms have not been completed, primarily due to a reluctance on the part of the ex to disclose her substantial income. (This came out in the only talk the two parents had on the subject, sometime last summer.) Mom did hire a college financial aid "expert" last summer. His suggestions included having the kid move in with Dad because Dad makes less money, and "goggling" for scholarships. (He really did misspell Google!) That was $500 thrown down the toilet, but I'm not sure that Mom isn't getting equally bad advice from someone else. Here's why...
Very recently, the ex put her house on the market. She and the daughter went house-shopping, and when we saw the girl next she was absolutely thrilled with the prospect of moving into a beautiful new home near her school. The new home would be in the $1,000,000 range... which nearly made me choke. The house the ex is selling is on the market for $619,000. The daughter wasn't supposed to share these details with me, but we're very close. She slipped up in her glee and when I asked her why they were thinking of moving, she said "Mommy thinks it would be bad for financial aid for her to have a really low mortgage payment and a large income."
I did some research, and I'm still confused. It appears that the income from my SO is not counted toward family ability to pay. It also appears that FAFSA doesn't take into consideration what they call "lifestyle choices" against a parents ability to pay. Several articles I read said that it is a choice to live in a nicer neighborhood or drive a newer car, and that those choices are not reasons to qualify for more aid.
My SO fully intends to help his daughter in every way, but we're limited by our not-substantial incomes. We own a modest townhouse, he drives a six year old Honda, we don't take expensive vacations or spend a lot of money on ourselves. We carry our lunches to work. A big night for us is a movie date in front of our tv. Plus, neither of us has any real money set aside for retirement. Our retirement plan is to pay off our house by the time he retires. Mom, on the other hand, drives a new Lexus SUV, has a timeshare in the Bahamas, takes vacations each year to Sonoma AZ, and other resorts, and has expensive tastes. She's passed some of these tastes on to the daughter, who wants to attend a presigious school. Columbia is at the top of the daughter's wish list. Columbia is very, very expensive. Mom is pushing for Columbia, among other pricey schools.
My SO and I still hope that she would decide to attend U of MD and perhaps get merit scholarships (she will graduate from an IB school with honors, has taken AP tests and scored 5s, and just took her SATs... no surprise that she has an excellent score). If she was able to finish her undergrad schooling without incurring a ton of debt, that would be great. Her dad would still set aside in her 529 plan any money he didn't have to pay for undergrad years. This would go toward her grad school costs. We have heard no such plans from her mother, and my SO hasn't yet asked her what her plan would be. We don't think she has any plans to set aside money for college out of the proceeds from selling her house... the daughter told us that "Mom is going to put it all on the downpayment so she can afford the monthly payment, but it will still be a lot more than she pays now."
It's a touchy subject. He doesn't know how much money she makes, and has never asked; she doesn't have a clue how much (or how little) he makes, and she's fiercely independant. Aside from this potential tension, we all get along fine. Really. We actually like each other.
So. For any of you who have faced anything similar, can you shed some light? I'm primarily concerned that the daughter isn't somehow penalized in the financial aid department because her mom is receiving lousy advice. If this new home purchase is being made to make the ex look poor on paper and it backfires, the daughter will have to pay the price. That price might mean taking out student loans, or attending a less expensive school. While a less expensive school is not the end of the world, I would hate to see this child saddled with a huge debt burden, while her mom gets to live in a $1,000,000 house and plead poverty. We've already told the daughter that the ultimate choice about where to go will be hers - her first adult decision. If she decides to be prudent and not go into debt, that will be a good thing. If she is forced to take out many thousands of dollars in loans because her Mom made a mistake... well, it's not too late to have that discussion and at least give Mom a contrarian opinion.
Grasshopper and Ant.