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Here's MY strange FAFSA problem

ATXNativeATXNative Registered User Posts: 5 New Member
edited December 2012 in Financial Aid & Scholarships
New to the board, so sorry if I sound out of place.

Anyway, here's the problem/dispute going on in my household right now. I'm currently filling out my FAFSA, but there's a disagreement on how I should claim my parents on the form.

My father remarried four years ago (my birth mother died 12 years ago). My stepmother, who I am no close with at all, is being frustrating in this process. My understanding is, I MUST fill out my parents as married/re-married. Once that happens, I include all their tax information, etc.

SHE is under the impression that I do not have to include her financial information. I have three step-sisters (her daughters). One is roughly my age, but we have NEVER lived together and rarely see each other. When my step-sister filled out her FAFSA, although my father is technically her step-father, she didn't include any of his tax information. Is she allowed to do this?

Although my father and step-mother are married, they do not really share finances. So technically, I'm only worth half of what the U.S. government thinks I am anyway. Still, it seems untruthful and possibly illegal to not include my step-mother's information. They are married, the government does define her as a "parent", and I think I'm obligated to include her information? Am I right? Do my stepsister do it incorrectly and cheat the system?

Thanks in advanced.
Post edited by ATXNative on

Replies to: Here's MY strange FAFSA problem

  • happymomof1happymomof1 Registered User Posts: 25,323 Senior Member
    Your father is your custodial parent because your biological mom is dead. This means that your father's financial info. goes on the FAFSA. Because your dad is married, his wife's info. goes on it too.

    If her daughter lives with that daughter's father, then that father is the one whose info. counts for that daughter's FAFSA. She would not include either her mother's or your dad's information in that case.

    If your step-sister files the CSS Profile then her mom's financials, and your dad's might be needed. However that would be up to the particular college/university.
  • swimcatsmomswimcatsmom Registered User Posts: 15,645 Senior Member
    You are absolutely correct. A step parent is considered the same as a birth parent for FAFSA and the finances of both the custodial parent and the step parent are required to be reported. The FAFSA rules are very specific and clear about this and there are no exceptions.

    Are you starting school in the spring? The current FAFSA is for the current school 2012-2013 school year. The one for the next school year is not available until January 1st.
  • ATXNativeATXNative Registered User Posts: 5 New Member
    My stepsister does NOT live with her biological father and didn't use any of his information on the FAFSA. She was living with her mother, before her mother moved in with me and my father. After that it was her and her older sisters living together. She used her mother's information on the FAFSA. Allegedly, she included my father (her legal step-father) in the demographic information, but did NOT include his financial information. We're arguing on whether or not this is the right thing to do.

    Basically, my stepmother is saying "Well this is how she (my step-sister) did it and the government never had a problem." Uh, okay, but that doesn't mean they did it the correct way. I'm just worried about not including her and then get some mail or phone call saying I filled it out incorrectly, won't be getting aid, broke the law etc.

    And yes, I am starting school in the spring which is why I'm filling out the FAFSA now.
  • happymomof1happymomof1 Registered User Posts: 25,323 Senior Member
    Yes, if you file it incorrectly, there can be serious consequences. Perhaps your step-mother is saying these things because she is afraid that she and her daughter could be in big trouble because of their mistakes when filing.

    If your dad and step-mother are not legally married, then the way she filed her daughter's FAFSA is OK. It also would have been OK if she filed it before marrying your dad.
  • cptofthehousecptofthehouse Registered User Posts: 26,432 Senior Member
    You can tell her that the circumstances under which her stepdaughter's FAFSA might have been different, but in your case, both parents--your dad and your stepmom's financial are necessary, and that she can just privately fill ou the thing herself. If there is stil static ask the financial aid office at the school you have in mind send her an email clearly stating that THEY are insisting on the step parent's info and without out it you cannot be considered for certain aid.
  • lookingforwardlookingforward Registered User Posts: 24,516 Senior Member
    FinAid | Professional Judgment | Stepparent Finances
    And, from the ifap.ed.gov discussion (July 2012) about the Fafsa:
    A stepparent is treated like a biological parent if the stepparent has legally adopted the student or if the stepparent is married, as of the date of application, to a student’s biological or adoptive parent whose information will be reported on the FAFSA. There are no exceptions. A prenuptial agreement does not exempt the stepparent from providing information required of a parent on the FAFSA. The stepparent’s income information for the entire base year, 2011, must be reported even if the parent and stepparent were not married until after 2011.
  • cptofthehousecptofthehouse Registered User Posts: 26,432 Senior Member
    It's pretty clear that whatever the issue was with the stepsister, the current situation requires the step mom's financials, but I don't think this sort of thing is going to be resolved no matter how many cites on shows the person. A phone call or a direct email from the college financial aid office saying 'YOU NEED TO FILL OUT YOUR FINANCIAL INFORMATION" is more likely to get action. I would not even go into what was done in the past.

    THough there appears to me more of a close check these days, I do know some years ago (and even now) there are families breaking the rules, and some will and have gotten away with it.
  • lookingforwardlookingforward Registered User Posts: 24,516 Senior Member
    I suspect the problem runs deeper than just the Fafsa detail- so completely agree there's a need for a nice, broad chat with finaid folks.

    What I don't know is: just how much do finaid officers actually use the step-parent financials? There are comments that it's part of "determining household financial strength." Ie, there's a 2nd breadwinner. But, do colleges actually expect the step to contribute? Or, do they base college EFC on what Dad can afford, in that context? Suppose it depends on the school. Good luck.
  • cptofthehousecptofthehouse Registered User Posts: 26,432 Senior Member
    For FAFSA, the EFC uses the combined numbers of the step parent and the parent. There is no leeway there. And for those schools that use FAFSA only as their financial aid app, that EFC is what they fund towards and that is the max for the financial aid, as most of these schools rarely meet full need for anyone anyways. So yes, the college actually does expect the step to contribute and I've yet to see an exception to that.

    Edited to say, it's not that the collegs expect the step to contribute. It comes up with what the family and/or whoever is paying using the step's financial info. If the step refuses to pay and the finances are done separately, there is no forcing the step to pay or anyone for that matter. But the amount to pay includes what is expected from the step's financial situation and who ever pays has to come up with that amount.

    That's the whole issue with financial aid. Can't force anyone to pay outside of some cases where a divorce decree has the provision, but the colleges don't get involved in the enforcement. They just present the figures base on the formulas that dictate what needs to be provided in terms of financials, and who pays is ultimately up to the student. If a student has parents who won't contribute, that's just too bad. If a student has a parent, stepparent who won't give up the financial info, then that's too bad too--he will only be eligble for $5500 of unsub Staffords in such cases. The colleges are nearly always unmovable in this regard because this is not an unusual or strange FAFSA problem, but really typical. A lot of parents, not just step, but parents who raised the student,love the student who refuse to pay or release their financial information. No tickee, no laundry in such cases.
  • swimcatsmomswimcatsmom Registered User Posts: 15,645 Senior Member
    What I don't know is: just how much do finaid officers actually use the step-parent financials? There are comments that it's part of "determining household financial strength." Ie, there's a 2nd breadwinner. But, do colleges actually expect the step to contribute? Or, do they base college EFC on what Dad can afford, in that context? Suppose it depends on the school. Good luck.
    The step parent's finances are treated exactly the same as a biological parent's finances. FAFSA does not differentiate at all between the 2 when it calculates the EFC.

    All the comments people make about the 2nd breadwinner etc are just trying to explain the reasoning behinds the rules.
  • CTScoutmomCTScoutmom Registered User Posts: 1,387 Senior Member
    As cptofthehouse says, don't worry about the past. You say your stepmother moved in with you, and left your stepsister to live with her sister. It is possible they filed the forms correctly when she filled them out. It is also possible that they filed incorrectly, and the government will catch up with them eventually.

    When was the wedding? If it was after her daughter filed the FAFSA, and they were not yet married, then they were correct - for LAST YEAR. This year your father's information should be included. Note that while that increases the available income and assets, it also increases the household size and number of students in college, and might make the financial aid situation better for both of you.

    But what you need right now is for your stepmother to understand that her information is needed for YOUR forms now. Whether that can be accomplished by telling her the situation has changed, or by contract through the financial aid office, just do what you need to get her to understand this is what is right this time. You didn't write the rules, you just want to follow them. The situtation with her daughter can be revisted in January when it is time to file the forms again, for both of you. If they are filing a joint tax return, they will have to file the FAFSA based on that joint return, which does in fact include his information. If they file as married filing separately, it might not be causght, but they then lose out on the American Opportunity Credit, which may be worth as much as $2,500, so it's probably not in their best interest to do so.
  • artemis95artemis95 Registered User Posts: 122 Junior Member
    Where is your dad in all this?
  • ATXNativeATXNative Registered User Posts: 5 New Member
    Thanks all for the replies.

    I'm still being met with some resistance. She is now under the opinion that she does not legally "contribute" to my father's household because she pays no bills and does not share her income with my father.

    I'm under the opinion that the government does not care about that. That legally she DOES contribute (at least in their eyes) by simply being married to my father, even if she refuses to actually contribute. The fact is because they're married, at least in the government's eyes, I come from a two income household regardless of whether or not she gives me and my father a dime.

    Is there anyone I could contact that's official who would confirm this in writing? At this point, I want to show her that she's just plain wrong. I know that including her will only (falsely) inflate my EFC, but like I've said, I don't intend to cheat the system.
  • ATXNativeATXNative Registered User Posts: 5 New Member
    artemis95 -

    My father's on my side in the argument. He believes her information must be included in my FAFSA regardless of whether or not she shares her money. I've already received multiple sarcastic, hateful emails from this woman today on the issue and I'm sure he has as well.
  • cptofthehousecptofthehouse Registered User Posts: 26,432 Senior Member
    ATx, you can get the directions for the FAFSA and show her, and have a college financial aid officer send an email to confirm that the step parents information is needed.

    I stress that you tell her she can just fill in the information on line and that you are not interested in seeing any of it. That might be the hang up. She may not want to share the information with you or your father. If she just completes it on line under the parent PIN with your dad giving her his tax return, that would take care of it. You can file your part yourself.
This discussion has been closed.