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Filing Financial Aid Forms with Divorced or Separated Parents

Host Jonathan Hughes breaks down how to complete these forms, including maintaining confidentiality between parents, which parent completes the forms, how to determine the custodial parent, and how to keep the financial aid office involved. Jonathan is joined by Susan Beard of Wheaton College.

If you’re divorced or separated, you may have questions about completing financial aid forms. On this episode of The MEFA Podcast, MEFA's Associate Director of College Planning Jonathan Hughes breaks down how to complete these forms, including maintaining confidentiality between parents, which parent completes the forms, how to determine the custodial parent, and how to keep the financial aid office involved. Jonathan also answers listener’s questions about changes to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, adding additional colleges to the FAFSA, and applying your student loan when you transfer schools. Jonathan is joined by MEFA's Director of College Planning, Julie Shields-Rutyna, and Wheaton College’s Director of Student Financial Services, Susan Beard.

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Resources Mentioned in this Episode

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

FAFSA

MEFA Loans

The College Board

Applying for Financial Aid When Parents Are Divorced





Transcript

Jonathan Hughes: [00:00:00] Hi, everyone. Welcome back to MEFA’s podcast. My name is Jonathan Hughes and I am the host of the MEFA podcast. And again with me today is Julie Shields-Rutyna. Hello, Julie.
Julie Shields-Rutyna: [00:00:16] Hi, Jonathan.
Jonathan Hughes: [00:00:18] Hi everyone. So today we're really excited about this episode. This is one, the one we were planning for a long time.
Um, this topic drives a lot of questions every year from parents. And this is how you file financial aid forms if you are a divorced or separated parents, and to help us with this conversation, we have Susan Beard, who is the director of student financial services at Wheaton College in Norton and she and Julie and I will discuss that topic.
But later on you hear that conversation. But first we have a few things to do, of course, before we get there. And the first thing that we want to do as usual is checking in with Julie, who's going to fill you in on [00:01:00] some news. Since that, that transpired since last time that we talked to you and, um, once again, it's, it's good news this week.
We try to keep it to good news. So we have a little bit more good news. Um, so Julie, you want to take us through what that piece of good news is?
Julie Shields-Rutyna: [00:01:16] Oh, sure. Well, so this is good news for federal student loan borrowers. Um, and there's been a change, uh, and some flexibility, um, for the public service loan forgiveness option.
And that is one of the repayment options. Uh, for a federal student loans and all of the federal student loans are run by the federal student aid department. And the nice thing about federal student loans is that they do have a range of repayment, options, and benefits for students. Now the change to the public service loan option, and I'll explain it, is that lump sum payments and prepayments will now be counted as eligible [00:02:00] consecutive payments for the public service loan forgiveness option. So I guess, let me explain what that means. Um, it means that if, um, if a student's payment is a hundred dollars a month, and at one point they paid $500 a month.
Then that $500 payment can count out as the a hundred dollars payment for the next five months. Whereas the way it used to be is if a student made a $500 payment in that situation, then. It would be nice. They made that $500 payment and the extra would go towards principal, but they would still be expected to make that hundred dollars payment the next month to keep it, you know, keep them eligible for that public service loan forgiveness option.
But now there's more flexibility and this should make it easier for borrowers who are trying to do the right thing, to be able to continue to be eligible and receive that public [00:03:00] service loan forgiveness benefit. And I'll talk about what that benefit is. So that benefit is that if a student, um, when a student graduates, if they choose the public service loan, forgiveness option, um, what they do is they, um, choose the Income-based repayment plan when they graduate.
And, you know, that will probably stretch out the term for repaying that loan, but allows them to make a, um, in manageable payment. And then if they work at a qualified 503c and non-profit organization, and they continue to just pay every month. Um, then after 10 years of payments, um, they can apply to have the balance of the loan forgiven.
So. That is a really good option for, for students, but there had been some, some misunderstanding and some strictness about the way that the [00:04:00] eligibility had been applied in the past. And so students and others, um, who are helping students in the community have really tried to be vocal about the fact that, that there needed to be, um, a little leniency and a little, um, better communication about, um, about how to be eligible for this program.
And so people think that this added flexibility with this change will do that. So that's good news. I guess what I would say is, um, for lots of information about this program, uh, students should go to, uh, federalstudentaid.gov and they can learn all about this process and this, uh, loan repayment.
Jonathan Hughes: [00:04:49] Thank you. Thank you very much for bringing us that decent news. Now it's time to open up the MEFA mailbag, where we answer some actual questions that have come into us recently, [00:05:00] popular questions that we think some of you may be asking out there. So remember, if you want to reach out to us with any questions, please, please do collegeplanning@mefa.org.
Or you can call us. Now our first question comes to us from Angelina and she writes. I'm in my process of applying for colleges, I have not applied to any yet. And recently I just added a few more colleges on the common app. I also filled out my FAFSA a while ago, which means that colleges that I just added, uh, haven't received a FAFSA turn.
Is, is there a way I can add these new colleges on the FAFSA? And if so, how can I do that? Uh, very much appreciate your help. So, um, What do you think about how you answer that one, Julie?
Julie Shields-Rutyna: [00:05:50] Well, yeah. Yes. And it's very easy to add colleges to the FAFSA. So basically you go back into your FAFSA, fafsa.gov, and it will [00:06:00] give you the option to start a new FAFSA or to make changes to your current FAFSA.
And they should just choose make changes to your current FAFSA and then go into the section where they'll add schools and they'll be able to add, and they can always have 10 schools listed there at once. So, um, they can go in and add the new schools if by chance they go over 10, then they should just submit the FAFSA with the 10 and then wait three to five days until they received the acknowledgement that says your FAFSA has been sent to, and it will list all the schools. And once they receive that, they know they can go back in again, take one off, put a new one on all of that, but they should always just wait for that acknowledgement so that they can see that their data was sent to each specific school.
Jonathan Hughes: [00:06:58] And, and the other [00:07:00] piece of this I think is interesting. And I wonder if you can answer this question because it's something that people ask a lot. Does a college have to have your common application before they get your FAFSA or your application for admission, whatever it may be before they get the financial aid forms?
Julie Shields-Rutyna: [00:07:16] Oh, such a great question. People ask it all the time about the timing, which comes first. It doesn't matter. So you have your list of schools you're going to apply to, you can apply to them through the admissions process and through common app, and then you can submit your FAFSA and send it to the schools as well.
And it all just sits there until it gets matched up at the college at the time that you're admitted and they want to do a financial aid award for you. So timing doesn't matter. Um, just make sure you get it all done. What does matter is that there's sometimes different deadlines for the admissions application and the financial aid application.
So just make sure you know, those deadlines and [00:08:00] submit each of those by the appropriate deadlines. Oh, yeah. Just also make sure these new colleges that you're applying to make sure, um, that the FAFSA is the only form that they require, or they may require the other form called the CSS profile form. And if so, then make sure you do that form as well.
Jonathan Hughes: [00:08:25] I'm going to throw one more thing and they had, and I wonder if you could, I'm going to ask you something, cause I wonder if it's still accurate. Um, but you mentioned the acknowledgement that you get that's the student aid report, correct? Yes. Okay. And that is, so the student aid report is your sort of the, as you said, that the receipt that, that your colleges have received it have received the FAFSA and you can go on and, and make those, um, substitutions and resubmit, uh, is that still emailed to the students email address on the FAFSA?
[00:09:00] Julie Shields-Rutyna: [00:09:00] It is, but what is nice and talking about the federal student aid and, and improvements. Um, if the parent puts an email address, it's also emailed to the parent so they could keep track of my daughter's FAFSA. And they're even, they give you even better communication these days where they say your FAFSA has been submitted, your FAFSA is being processed.
Or in my case, it will say daughter's name. FAFSA is being processed. Daughter's name FAFSA is being, um, you know, has been sent. So they keep you up to date all the way along, um, both to the student email address and the parent email address. So important to have a good email address there and important to pay attention and look at it.
Jonathan Hughes: [00:09:53] Right. Second question comes to us from Abby and she writes, this is on the left. Given the time of [00:10:00] year in between semesters, we're seeing a lot of, and she writes, hello. I had a question about my loan. I'm transferring right after Christmas. Is there anything I need to do on my end to get my loan distributed?
Uh, or is that all on the school? Thank you very much. Do you mind? I can take this one? Um, because typically when people apply for a loan they do it for the full academic year. So that's the fall semester. And then the spring semester. And what colleges typically do is they tell us because, you know, you applied through us, we say, yes, we're now in.
And then let the college know. And assuming that there's a loan approval, they say, okay, send us the first disbursement in the fall and the second disbursement in the spring. So we'll split it. You know, per semester and you pay us by semester. So if a college, if a, the student is transferring colleges and they've had that first fall disbursement and [00:11:00] they're transferring colleges, um, what they actually have to do is cancel the loan that they have, or the upcoming disbursement.
Um, cause we don't want that being sent out to the college that you're not attending to. So call us at MEFA where you can talk to the college and the college can do it. However, whatever comes into us, either from the student or from the college, uh, the request to cancel alone will be, uh, honor to cancel it.
This person will be honored and we'll cancel it. Um, and then what you actually have to do as a student or as a parent is fill out a new loan application with the new college for the upcoming semester. Um, so, uh, this is not the school, it's very much on you as a student or as a parent to, uh, to reach out and to start that new loan application.
Um, so it's a new college new application and it will be the same process. Again, essentially, you know, you fill out the application credit check as being run, um, [00:12:00] paperwork needs to be signed. New college needs to tell us what to send them the funds. Um, so if you haven't started that, and this is your situation, you want to make sure that you do that and you can apply online um, or you can apply over the phone. However is more convenient to you. Um, but that is something that's coming up quite a bit these days. Yeah. As you might imagine, students transfer between semesters all the time. So, um, you know, your loan isn't necessarily gonna follow you.
Well, it, isn't going to follow you to your new school. You have to, you have to make sure that, that second, this person doesn't go out and then start the process to get a new loan for the new college. Um, so that would be my answer for that question. Remember, if you have any questions one more time, I'll say, make sure to reach out to us at collegeplanning@mefa.org by phone at 1-800-449-MEFA.
Or you can reach us on social media too. You can message us [00:13:00] on Facebook and on Twitter @mefatweets, but then any questions that you may have, but we're going to close up our mailbag now. And we're heading to our prerecorded discussion with Susan Beard from Wheaton College, which we're very excited, Julie, you know, we've been planning this for a long time and we always get questions about it.
And I thought it was a really great discussion and I think people will get a lot out of it. So, um, we're going to go now to our conversation on how to file financial aid forms. Uh, in the case of divorced or separated parents with Julie, myself, and Susan Beard, director of student financial services at Wheaton College.
Welcome to the MEFA podcast. Today, we're going to have a special segment devoted to the very meaty topic of financial aid and the financial aid process for divorced and separated parents. This is something that we hear over and over again. [00:14:00] Um, questions from parents who are divorced or separated. And that just adds an extra layer of anxiety and sort of uncertainty to a topic that is already kind of fraught to begin with for most folks.
So, uh, with us here to talk about this topic is the director of college planning, Julie Shields-Rutyna and the director of student financial services at Wheaton College, Susan Beard, who is a frequent collaborator and friend of ours. So it's always nice to see Susan. Hello everyone. How are you?
Julie Shields-Rutyna: [00:14:38] Hello, Jonathan
Susan Beard: [00:14:38] Hi Jonathan. Thanks for having me today.
Jonathan Hughes: [00:14:42] I’m excited to be here because, uh, it's something that we've talked about doing for a little while now. We've seen the need of it. Every time we do a financial aid presentation, there are always questions about what if the student's parents are separated or what if they're divorced, who fills out financial [00:15:00] aid forms?
So let's just get right into it. Then if there is something that you want divorced, separated parents to understand. Even before we get into forms or anything like that. Um, what would it be about this process?
Julie Shields-Rutyna: [00:15:19] Jonathan? I'll just, I'll mention two things that I say to, to people all the time, um, is that, you know, people are anxious about the financial aid process anyway, and then when people are divorced, they really think this is going to be terrible.
But I just like to say some things are the same, no matter what. And one is two, it's really going to be helpful if you learn and educate yourself about the financial aid process as early as possible, I guess, in the case of divorced or separated parents, if both parties do that and hopefully MEFA can help with that.
And this might help with that. But I think that's really key and that's true for everyone, whether [00:16:00] you're married or you're divorced or separated. And then the second piece is that communication is super important. I know that can be more difficult, um, in a family. With divorced or separated parents, but the key is even, even married parents sometimes think differently about what higher education should look like for their students.
You know, maybe one parent went to a public institution and thinks that's exactly what I want my son or daughter to do. And the other parent wants a different experience. And so I think all of those things need to be talked about. And again, as early as possible, no matter what the status, the marital status of the family is.
Susan Beard: [00:16:42] Yeah. And Julie, I'd like to add to that. Um, parents, uh, that are divorced or separated are sometimes a little, uh, fearful that their information may be shared with the other parent when applying for financial aid. And, [00:17:00] um, you know, I would just assure them that colleges are quite adept at handling information from a custodial parent and the non-custodial parent.
And never the two shall meet, um, or be exchanged, uh, and the student, um, the student will maybe be privy to both sets of information, but, um, everything is quite confidential. And I think we, you know, all of us as financial aid, administrators are always aware of the dynamics, um, and, and use extra care when, when families are faced with a different situation.
Jonathan Hughes: [00:17:38] Then I guess let's go to the first question that people typically have, which is in the cases of divorced, separated parents who fills out the financial aid forms. Uh, and there's a, there's a multi-level answer to this. I don't know if you want to get started on that, Susan.
Susan Beard: [00:17:56] Sure. I'll dive right in. So, um, [00:18:00] the custodial parent. Is the parent responsible for billing out the financial aid applications. Um, and that may be just the FAFSA. The free application for federal student aid or colleges may also require either the CSS Profile or their own institutional application for institutional financial aid backing up to the FAFSA.
The custodial parent will complete that form and also include any information if they have been, um, if they're remarried. So their new spouse or the step parent has also got to be included on the FAFSA in the case of a CSS profile or private schools, own financial aid application. Um, the custodial parent will also fill out that form along with the step parent if that's applicable.
Then the non-custodial parent may sometimes [00:19:00] be invited to the party at that point, and also have to do a non-custodial parents profile or institutional aid application. And just like with the custodial parent, if the non-custodial parent has been remarried, then they also need to include their new spouse's information.
So in, in effect, some students may have just a custodial parent filling out a FAFSA form. The other end of the spectrum would be custodial parent and new spouse, non-custodial parent and new spouse all filling out profile. So it does, like you said, it gets very. It's multilayered.
Julie Shields-Rutyna: [00:19:45] Now can I add one piece to that too?
Because it's a question I get often. I'm sure we all do, that people will say to me, who is the non-custodial parent. And so the definition, uh, especially the federal definition, uh, is [00:20:00] the parent that the student lived with more in the last calendar year. Um, but then I many times get a follow-up question to that, of what if the students live, lived equally in a joint custody situation.
And so the second layer of that is the parent who provided more support. If that's also equal, then they really just need to pick a parent who will be the custodial parent for the college process. Is that when you would say Susan?
Susan Beard: [00:20:29] I was going to say that. Exactly. It's really, um, it's very critical actually, that, that once the custodial parent is established, the student should also use that, make sure that that parent's address and their home address is consistent on the admission applications too. Um, that can create a little bit of, um, confusion at a college in general. If the student is listing more than one home address, Julia was going to add a third [00:21:00] layer though to the, who is the custodial parent.
Um, one of the questions that we've both gotten is, well, I don't, I don't claim my child on my tax return. Um, my ex spouse does. And that really doesn't matter in terms of filing for financial aid. Um, you may never be claiming your child for whatever reason or agreement that you reached with your, with your ex spouse, but, um, the tax status in this case does not matter in terms of defining the custodial.
Jonathan Hughes: [00:21:31] So, yeah, that's a great point. And I want to make sure that people understand too, that the thing that determines whether or not you just have to file a FAFSA, or if you have to file more financial aid forms are the colleges that you're applying to. So some colleges, a lot of colleges are only going to require a FAFSA, which is the free application for federal student aid.
But a lot of colleges also want the CSS profile, for example, or a different form. So, um, so that [00:22:00] is, you know, how many parents need to file depends on sort of on where you're applying. So when we talk about FAFSA, then it's, it's a bit easier as in all things, right? Because it's cut and dried. Non-custodial parent doesn't have anything to do with filing a FAFSA. In the cases of CSS profile though, can you just walk me through a little bit?
Susan Beard: [00:22:21] Sure. Um, so the student will usually have a College Board account. Um, especially if they've done SATs or taken the SATs or use some of the College Boards products, um, college search product products. Um, they will log into their College Board account and create, um, and complete, a CSS profile using the custodial parents information.
There is an opportunity at that point for the student to indicate that their parents, their biological parents are divorced or separated or never married. And, um, they have the option of [00:23:00] asking the college board to send a link to their non-custodial parents, email address with instructions on, on how to proceed.
Um, I think that's a really nice tool that the College Board has built in. For a number of reasons. Um, it sort of removes the custodial parent and the student from, from asking the non-custodial parent to do a form. Um, but then it also, and it, I think it also would emphasizes that it is a confidential process.
That non-custodial information doesn't have to be submitted through the custodial parents portal or anything like that. They have their very own application. So, so there'll be instructed by the College Boards, um, email, uh, on how to actually link to the College Board and fill out their own non-custodial parent profile using the students name and account.
I know from [00:24:00] experience that it, it, it can feel a little convoluted because when you're asking that it asks for the student's information, you create a student account, but then put the parent information. Um, and I, I always tell parents to utilize the College Boards help functions and, um, you know, look at the FAQ's and, and they do do a pretty good job of explaining, you know, going through the process on what has to happen in which order.
Um, but I don't, what I fear is that it gets a little too involved or complicated and parents give up and we certainly don't want that to happen.
Julie Shields-Rutyna: [00:24:38] No, that's great. And I think we, you know, I experienced that on a personal level too. So when we found that that piece was a little tricky, I think MEFA has started to put together some resources on slides from the college board.
And we'll make those available to people too, when they're completing that.
Jonathan Hughes: [00:24:55] Yeah. And you know, I remember Julie, if I may. [00:25:00] We were talking before, and you mentioned this, uh, going through this process yourself, um, you know, with your ex-husband sitting right next to you, trying to fill out the forms, which is great.
But we do know that, of course not every case is, is like this and not everyone is sort of fortunate enough to be able to do that. Um, so thinking about those cases where maybe there isn't any contact between, um, you know, divorced or separated parents or, you know, something a little more, um, serious. This was a question that comes up too.
So one thing that we're always careful to say that there is a process for that as well as a non-custodial waiver that you can apply for. And I don't know if Susan, if you could talk to that process a little bit.
Susan Beard: [00:25:52] Colleges that require the non-custodial parents information are, you know, well-versed [00:26:00] in counseling students and families who, who may not be able to obtain that information.
And, um, sometimes right on the college's website, they will have instructions on how to submit, um, a waiver request, uh, a request to waive the non-custodial parent information. A lot of times, um, the colleges will ask that a letter come from the student with, um, documentation or verification from a third party to attest to, um, the fact that that non-custodial parent is not available or should not be available for a plethora of reasons.
Um, the College Board itself actually also has a waiver that it publishes so that students and, um, or the custodial families can, um, see that and submit a request to waive. Ultimately it is up to the colleges to make that decision whether or not they will [00:27:00] waive the form or the information, um, from the non-custodial parent, but, um, it is, it, it's absolutely something that families should investigate directly with the colleges, to which they're applying. One of the very common situations that we get is, um, uh, custodial family or parent, or the, the student applicant will tell us that they're non-custodial parent is unwilling to complete the forms.
It's not that they're unavailable, but they don't, they maybe don't agree with the college choice or they don't agree with financial aid in general or whatever reason that they're, they just won't fill out that form. Um, and generally speaking, colleges will not take unwillingness as a reason to waive non-custodial parent information.
And, um, so Julie, I've had this conversation with many families and many, [00:28:00] um, both custodial and non-custodial family, uh, parents that we want them to step back when they, when they say, and this goes for the custodial families too, sometimes they are willing to fill out the forms. Um, But at that point, we, we asked them to put their child in run and, and remember that just by filling out these forms, it does not obligate them to pay the college bill.
What filling out the forms does is creates the opportunity for their child to be considered for need-based financial aid. Um, and when we, we turn it around and explain to a parent that, you know, they're preventing their child from receiving what could be thousands of dollars, um, and not obligating themselves to pay the bill.
Then I think that makes them feel most, feel more comfortable and, and hopefully more willing to complete the forms.
Jonathan Hughes: [00:28:57] Well yeah, and, and, and that sort of brings me [00:29:00] to another thought, which is something that, again, we were discussing earlier, but, um. This is the issue of maybe when there are two remarried parents, right?
And maybe they, each of those, um, families are a little bit blended, right? So you have a maybe, uh, you know, ex-husband remarried, um, step-mom has kids. Um, but, but that is still planning on paying or contributing for, um, his child who was in who he is now a non-custodial parent, uh, for example, um, and yet some, uh, on the financial aid form, um, you know, he's a member of this new household maybe, which is, has more children.
So, um, I wonder if, if, if we could just, um, speak about that a little bit.
Julie Shields-Rutyna: [00:29:53] Well, so I guess what I would say is that it's, it's, it's good. A lot of families have a plan for paying for college [00:30:00] and their plan may not match what the financial aid process plan is. But there has to be, uh, an equitable process that's across the board and the federal government has, has a process that treats everyone the same way.
And then institutions who use the CSS profile also have a process. And so it is really important for families to go ahead and follow the process and, you know, with the custodial parent completing and then the non-custodial parent and with the spouses, if necessary, um, and, and just following the directions as they go through, uh, because colleges really want to be fair and treat everyone the same way.
Um, and then. Backing up to what we said, then that's how the eligibility for financial aid will be determined. And then the families can figure out how to pay after that. Um, one additional piece I'll say, and then this is good because I can ask Susan too, is [00:31:00] families who feel that their situation is really unique and that's why they have a very special plan, to divide that a certain way are welcome to share and, and, and write that up and share as much as they can with an institution so that the school can take a look at that. Um, but that's outside and above. That's above the actual first step of just going through the process and completing the forms as required. That's okay.
Susan Beard: [00:31:27] Yeah. I would absolutely agree with that, Julie. And the theme through all of these, these questions that we're talking about and discussing, um, is, is communication is so important. Um, Julie, you're fortunate to be able to communicate with your ex um, many families are, but as Jonathan pointed out, some are not so fortunate or some don't want to be in that situation.
So it's critical that the College Board or the [00:32:00] student, the child, um, knows what's going on with the process. Um, we say that at our, this is the first thing I say at our financial aid seminars is whenever I am talking with students where I see students in the audience or, or in 11, or, um, thank you students for being here.
It's, um, critically important that they understand. The process as a whole, but then also they need to, to know what their parents have to complete in order for them to qualify for financial aid. And, um, I think it's sometimes the students, the conduit between their parents, the custodial, the non-custodial parent, um, college, um, financial aid officers.
We, while we are, we can be pseudo therapists every once in a while. We are quite uncomfortable with being narrowed mediators. So [00:33:00] we do ask that the child or the student have, have a pretty good involvement with the process so that we can at least relay information, um, to each parent that way, um, So I just wanted to kind of, I keep, I have all these little notes around myself.
Communicate, communicate, communicate so important within the family, but then with the colleges as well.
Jonathan Hughes: [00:33:23] You mentioned something a little earlier about maybe sometimes overcoming a little bit of, um, emotion, maybe a little reticence, maybe a little, um, embarrassment at, at, you know, being in the situation where maybe the parents are not talking to one another.
Um, but you know, if you could speak to that as well.
Susan Beard: [00:33:50] Yeah. Thank you Jonathan, for reminding me. Um, so just from our, our experience at Wheaton, when we help students complete their [00:34:00] applications. And, um, time after time, we find that the, the last thing to be completed as the noncustodial parent information.
And, um, it could be just because they're one step removed from the process. Um, but sometimes it's a student or a custodial parent is, is hesitant to contact us or talk to us about their situation. And, um, you know, that's where I like to assure folks that, you know, nine times out of 10 or 99% of the time, uh, we are very Cognizant of the dynamics and the emotions that can go with, first of all, just applying for college. But also add in marital discord or blended families, or, you know, families that are on plan B when they thought they'd be on plan a. It goes back to that [00:35:00] communicating and, and so that we, we really encourage the students and also the custodial parents, not that they shouldn't, we can't tell them not to be embarrassed, but we kind of show them that we will treat every single situation with, with kindness and grace. And, um, and assure them that while this process can be hard or difficult, um, that we are there for the student. And ultimately the goal is to help that student get to college and pay for it.
Jonathan Hughes: [00:35:33] The questions that we get a lot from folks who are divorced or separated parents who are filing the FAFSA, and they're trying to fill out their income. We know that the FAFSA looks back two years prior. So if you're attending college in 2021, um, they're going to be looking for income for 2019.
So if at that point there's been a divorce maybe, or separation this year and you're divorced, separated parent now, [00:36:00] but in 2019 you had filed with your then wife or husband. Um, how do they get the income from that? When you're, when your last tax returns were filed married and you're now a single.
Susan Beard: [00:36:15] Sure. Um, so the FAFSA asked, um, for the biological parents, current marital status, as of the date that the FAFSA is filed. So a parent who is divorced or separated would, would indicate that. Um, and then when you get to the income information, um, if they filed as married, filing joint or married, filing separate, um, in 2019, for example, they shouldn't use the IRS data retrieval because that will be pulling in.
Outdated data, so to speak. Um, so I recommend that the custodial parent proceed in the income information and only put their [00:37:00] portion of the family income earned in that tax year. Um, that's being asked for in this case, 2019, um, the college may later follow up the college of university may ask for a copy of the joint tax return to see the difference between the married, they come in the, and the, um, separated or divorced or single parent income.
The federal government may sub uh, select the form, uh, as, uh, or the student to be verified. In which case the college will definitely need to request more tax information or, uh, perhaps get a tax transcript of that particular year. Um, but the colleges and universities will absolutely walk families through that process and explain exactly what they need.
Um, it's more important that you get the custodial parent, get through that, get that FAFSA buy and hold and not hesitate to [00:38:00] put down their income information because, um, it used to be, uh, file. The income needs to be doubled for instance are just, it doesn't accurately depict the here and now.
Sometimes it might help to preempt, um, the receipt of a FAFSA or profile and write a letter to the colleges, financial aid offices, and just say, um, you know, my son or daughter is applying to your college. We are in the process of filling out our financial aid applications, but I just wanted to give you, um, a narrative of our current marital situation.
And that sometimes can be very helpful for that, but that's this long, the CSS profile is long. There isn't a lot of opportunity to actually write down an explanation to any of the questions. Um, but a letter or an email goes a long way.
Jonathan Hughes: [00:38:51] People do often ask when the right time to follow up with more information is, and, and, you know, I always tell people whenever you want to do that [00:39:00] is because you don't have to wait for anything, you know?
And so I think it would come as, um, a pleasant surprise to people that they don't even have to file their FAFSA before they start talking to the financial aid office. So that's actually very good to now we're about nearing the end, if there's anything else that you think folks should know. Um, I'll just say once again, that there are resources available to help you, uh, with this or any other question that you may have for free me fills one of those you can call us.
The financial aid office at your college is definitely the place to go for anything that is specific to your circumstances. And as Susan was saying earlier, do not let, um, any shyness or anxiety or maybe embarrassment dissuade you from picking up the phone or sending that email. Uh, if you're a [00:40:00] student, if your parents to the financial aid office, um, is there anything else that you think folks should know?
Susan Beard: [00:40:10] I think, yeah, we would wear, um, always wanting, you know, just my, my tip about communicating and keeping the student or the child in the loop throughout the process is probably the most critical thing. And always reach out to the aid offices in, in, um, in person, either on email or a lot of us are taking Zoom calls and appointments too.
And sometimes that makes families feel more comfortable to be actually talking with a face rather than just writing an email. Um, all of those things where it's why we do what we do so that we can help.
Jonathan Hughes: [00:40:48] Well, that seems like a perfect place to stop on Susan. Thank you very much for being here and Julie, of course, as well.
Um, uh, I thought that was a great conversation and I think [00:41:00] people will really be helped by listening to it if they're in this situation. So lots of luck with everything, have a good holiday and thank you very much. Thank you.
Okay. Well that about does it for the MEFA podcast. Once again, thank you for joining us, Julie. Thank you for, for joining me here.
Julie Shields-Rutyna: [00:41:25] Thank you. It was fun as always.
Jonathan Hughes: [00:41:29] So remember if you want to talk to us, I'll say it for the third time, you can visit us at mefa.org for tools and guidance and all aspects of a college and career readiness.
If you want to call us at 1-800-449-MEFA uh, and if you enjoyed it, please like the podcast, leave us a good review on Google. You can like, or subscribe the podcast and you can find us on Spotify, on iHeartRadio, on, um, the Apple iTunes [00:42:00] podcast app, wherever you find your podcasts. Um, so, uh, happy new year to everybody. And we'll talk to you in 2021, Julie happy new year.
Julie Shields-Rutyna: [00:42:11] Happy new year.
Jonathan Hughes: [00:42:14] Thanks everybody. Goodbye.



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