How Marriage Affects Eligibility for Pell Grant

July 20, 2012

If you recently got married or you're thinking about getting married while in school, you may have some tough choices to make when it comes to financial aid. Unfortunately, couples don't really get any help from financial aid if they are hitched up. However, there is some form of aid still available, and you may be able to qualify for aid programs like the Pell Grant. In some cases, it does work out for the best because you are no longer a dependent on your parents, which can increase your aid chances. These tips can help you figure out exactly how your marital status affects your financial aid package.

What Programs are Available?

Mostly, people think of Pell Grant when they talk about federal aid programs. You need to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in order to be eligible for this program as well as other aid programs, whether you're married or single. The information that you report on FAFSA is used to decide an expected family contribution number or EFC. This number will determine where you fall on the financial need scale, and hopefully it's low enough that you qualify for somewhere between $1,000 and $5,500 in federal aid.

Independent Status

You are not independent just because you live away from home. What's the big deal? Independent persons don't have to report parental income on FAFSA, which is a determining factor in how much aid you'll receive. If you're over the age of 24, you're considered to be independent. Otherwise, you still have to report your parental income, unless you're married, in which case you are also considered independent. However, if you are legally married, then you only need to claim the income that you and your spouse make. In some cases, being married will allow you to lower your EFC, but only if you and your spouse are making very little money or are currently unemployed.

When Marriage Won't Work

If you are in the midst of a school year, getting married won't get you more financial aid, because your status will still be the same until the next school year. In addition, you are adding a second income once you get married, so if your spouse makes a considerable sum of money, your income and that income will be added together. If you are married, housing and college costs will also increase, thus adding to the financial problems, but both of your financial aid awards may be reduced because you are both going to school and paying for the same living expenses.

It's best to weigh the outcomes and really ensure that you want to get married while in school but also that it won't make things more difficult. Financial constraints are cited as one of the main reasons for divorce.

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