What will college expect me to pay as a parent's partner?
December 7, 2013 1:43 PM   Subscribe

What is a college financial aid office likely to ask me to contribute, if I am living with one of the student’s parents and have income and assets greater than either parent?

Earlier this year, I moved in with my partner, who has two children: one in college and one finishing high school. The child in college (private, costs roughly $50K/year) receives significant financial aid. Neither my partner nor the or the other parent has much in the way of savings, so the parental contribution has been based on my partner’s income (the other parent can be assumed to be contributing nothing). I have a much higher income than my partner, and savings in a brokerage account. Basically, I could pay for the child’s college expenses in full for a couple of years, and then I’d be flat broke (just when the second child was ready to enter college). Both my partner and I would like to avoid this outcome.

We are not married. Mine is the only name on the mortgage, and my partner is currently unemployed, so I have been providing the sole support for the household. All the information we have been able to find is directed toward parents who have remarried, but surely this situation comes up with some frequency. I’m hoping someone has been in this situation and can give us some idea of what the financial aid office is likely to expect from me.

I’m trying to provide all the relevant information without creating a wall of text, so I’m going to stop there. The questions we have are:
1) Are we required to list my income and assets on the FAFSA/school’s financial aid form?
2) If we do include my information, what is a private college likely to ask for from my income and assets?
3) Is there any way to present the change in my partner’s circumstances (unemployment, living with me) that would be to our advantage?
I’m not interested in hiding my assets or avoiding having to pay anything - the kids are great and they deserve a great education. I’d just like to have some of my savings left for retirement when it’s all over. Questions/clarifications to fafsaihardlyknowa@gmail.com.
posted by anonymous to Education (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
IANAL. If you are not legally related to these people, I believe that you could probably be considered a roommate. I don't think you have to include your income/assets on the child's FAFSA documents.

Consult a lawyer, though.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:47 PM on December 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Have you called the college'a financial aid office? You're right that this can't be the first time this has come up, so I bet they have an answer.

If you are unrelated by blood or marriage to the child or their mother, then you may not "count" at all. Call and ask.
posted by rtha at 1:50 PM on December 7, 2013

As a point of language, a boyfriend/girlfriend is perceived differently from a partner. By scaling back your language when you talk to the financial aid office, it might reduce the probability that they would expect anything from you. Are you legally a "domestic partner" for health insurance purposes or on any other forms?
posted by aimedwander at 1:55 PM on December 7, 2013 [6 favorites]

Do you file your taxes together?
posted by fancyoats at 1:59 PM on December 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

As far as I am aware, the person who claims the child in college as a dependent on their taxes is the person who is responsible for contributing to that child's college expenses. If you are not legally married and you are not claiming the children as your dependents (and getting the child tax credit) then you do not count for financial aid purposes.

Speaking from experience, many divorced parents give the child tax credit/dependency to the parent with less income so that they are the parent who is on the FAFSA and therefore more student need is demonstrated and more aid given. The parent with the higher income therefore has less to pay. Memail me if you want to know more about my experience. This was several years ago, so it may have changed, but in general, federal student aid is based on who the child is the dependent of in terms of taxes, because that person is presumed to be paying the child's way in all things.

Private colleges may vary in who they count in terms of financial aid given from their own resources; speak to your financial aid office and ask who specifically should be reported. They may still need some legal relationship to prove you're supporting the student, so you may be off the hook.
posted by blnkfrnk at 2:52 PM on December 7, 2013

I was in this EXACT situation as a college student and think that I/we played it PERFECTLY. Please MeFi mail me and I will gladly transfer wisdom.

There are a number of perfectly legal things you can do to make this work to your advantage. This meant about $150k to me and my family... All the difference in the world.
posted by milqman at 3:14 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I was dealing with the FAFSA (the last time was in 2011 for me), I don't believe there was any way to report a non-related adult's income or assets. You did have to report non-custodial parent income. Colleges can request other information in addition to the FAFSA for determining aid they offer directly, such as grants, and they could conceivably ask for the information of any adult living in the child's household, but I don't think it's the norm. You should definitely ask the specific college in question's financial aid office for clarification, and then be careful interpreting the language when you're filling out the forms for next year.
posted by MadamM at 3:46 PM on December 7, 2013

Nthing everyone who says that if you aren't married/don't have joint assets, it will not come up on the FAFSA. I was in this position (well, as the kid) for several years. I was the one who took care of the FAFSA filing, and I only ever needed my dad's tax return to fill it out.

I can't know what the school will ask of you, though, and neither can anyone else here.
posted by kagredon at 5:34 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you aren't married to the student's parent, and/or you and the parent file your tax returns separately, you aren't financially obligated under FAFSA.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:46 AM on December 8, 2013

What everyone else said, but if you're looking at private colleges that award significant financial aid, be aware that FAFSA is only the beginning. There's also the CSS PROFILE and then maybe a college-specific supplemental form. But if you are not legally connected to your partner (girlfriend/boyfriend is the right terminology to use if you call) then I doubt that you will have to report anything to the FA office.
posted by serelliya at 9:19 AM on December 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Please contact the financial aid office and find out exactly how this will affect aid. I discovered that as long as my fiance and I don't get married while my kids are in college, we file taxes separately and we don't note on the CSS that we live together, then aid is unaffected.

If we live together and note that on the CSS, then my kids' aid goes dramatically down. So we don't live together as far as college is concerned, and we maintain separate abodes as far as they're concerned.

The financial aid department was incredibly sympathetic towards my, "But we want to get married!" plight but they made it very clear that my kids would lose a lot of aid because my new-husband's (current fiance/partner-if-he-lived-with-me) income would absolutely count as potential college money for my kids.
posted by kinetic at 12:30 PM on December 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

« Older Understated holiday cards   |   Logo no-go? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.