Financial Aid

Defining Assets on Financial Aid Applications

Learn what assets you don't have to report on the FAFSA (primary home, retirement savings, life insurance, a small family business) as well as what assets you do have to report (savings and checking accounts, investments, other property owned), as well as details on what to report on the CSS Profile.
A parent filling out a financial aid form

When it comes to applying for financial aid, parents and students tend to worry about their assets. We sometimes hear, "If I have some money saved, will colleges deny me financial aid? If I own my home or have saved for college, does that mean that colleges will take away my scholarships?" Luckily for those worried, I can say in response to these questions: no, probably not.

In general, the financial aid formula that gauges how much families can afford to pay for college is heavily weighted towards income and not assets. Only a small percentage (about 5%) of parent savings and assets reported on the financial aid applications are taken into account when determining the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), the amount that schools expect a family to absorb in college costs for a year.

Every college requires the FAFSA as the main application for financial aid, and it's important to note that the FAFSA only asks you to report certain assets.

Here's what you don't report on the FAFSA

  • Your primary home: The FAFSA doesn't expect you to list the value of your primary home as an asset that can help pay for college. Second properties, including time shares, rental homes, and vacation properties, do need to be listed.
  • Your retirement savings: The FAFSA doesn't ask you to list the balance of 401Ks, IRAs, pensions, or other retirement funds. However, any tax-free contributions to such plans in the income year reported will need to be listed as untaxed income.
  • The value of life insurance
  • The value of a small family business: If a business is owned more than 50% by family members of the student, and employs fewer than 100 full-time employees, the value should not be reported as an asset on the FAFSA.

With those savings not considered as assets in the federal formula, it's worth noting what actually does count as an asset on the FAFSA.

Here's what you do report on the FAFSA

  • Savings and checking accounts
  • Investments including stocks, CDs, mutual funds, and 529 plans and other college savings vehicles for all children in the family
  • Any other property owned

What about the CSS ProfileTM?

Just under 200 colleges and universities require submission of the CSS Profile, in addition to the FAFSA, to apply for financial aid. The Profile requires more information than the FAFSA, and you'll need to pretty much report every asset on the Profile.  So even those assets that you left off the FAFSA will be asked about should you need to complete the Profile.

If you have further questions about assets or any other topic related to the financial aid process, please contact us at or (800) 449-MEFA (6332). You can also learn more about financial aid by watching one of our recorded webinars. Check out Financial Aid 101, Understanding the FAFSA, or What to Know about the CSS Profile anytime.