January 23, 2023
With FAFSA filing season well underway, millions of students and parents work to get this important document filed.
Because the FAFSA requires detailed tax and asset information, the process can be intimidating and frustrating. Nothing hurts like spending time filing the FAFSA to be told the only financial aid available is the Direct loan. Don’t let the frustration get to you!
One area that leaves FAFSA filers flummoxed is the valuation of assets held by the parents and students. What you don’t know may cost you. Here are some key points you need to know.
What assets is the FAFSA looking for?
- Savings and checking account balances
- Net worth of non-retirement investments (FYI: Retirement funds and pensions are generally not considered assets)
- Investment property separate from the family’s primary residence
- Net worth of a business or a farm that is not the family’s primary residence
What value will the FAFSA associate with my asset?
- The student asset conversion rate for the 2023 – 2024 FAFSA is 20% of the total value when calculating the expected family contribution (see page 10, line 49 FAFSA EFC Formula Guide.)
- The parent asset conversion rate for the 2023 – 2024 FAFSA is 12% of the total value when calculating the expected family contribution (see page 9, line 23 of the FAFSA EFC Formula Guide.)
With valuations like this, it pays to make sure assets are allocated correctly.
Assets in the child’s name are weighed most heavily. Therefore, one should avoid putting any cash assets in the student’s name prior to filing the FAFSA.
The student should keep no cash or cash equivalents saved in their name.
Students are punished by the FAFSA for saving any cash. The FAFSA will specifically ask “As of today what is the cash balance of checking, savings…” accounts for the student. Because the question is phrased “As of today” it leaves room for interpretation. If all money was pulled from checking and savings the day before the FAFSA was filed, the answer is zero. A nominal value of $200 or $300 may be listed, but there is no reason to include any more cash assets. Cash assets sink financial aid eligibility, but are virtually untraceable unless admitted to on the FAFSA.
Declared cash assets should be in the parents’ name.
Certain cash assets are simply too large to be avoided. In such cases, the assets should remain in the parents’ name to minimize the percentage weight. Do not give any of it to the kid as a “gift”.
For divorced parents.
Because only the custodial parent assets are weighed on the FAFSA, do not include the other parent information. The custodial parent officially cares for the student for most of the prior 12 months, and usually claims the child as a dependent. College planning in divorce situations dictates that the parent with lower income should be the custodian of the student.
My great uncle Harold wants to give me college money!
First, thank Great Uncle Harold for helping you out! However, this could reduce eligibility for financial aid if not handled correctly. If Uncle Harold gave the money to the kid, it should be counted as a cash asset in the student’s name. If the money is given to the parent, it is weighed at a lower percentage but still must be calculated as a cash asset. The smart move is to tell Uncle Harold to hold the cash in his hands and provide support indirectly. The cash would not be declared a student asset in their checking account in this scenario. The other way to handle this would be if Uncle Harold funded a 529 plan for the children about to attend college. 529 assets are assessed at a much lower value than cash in checking or savings.
To work or not to work.
Though earnings from work are not considered the same as assets like owning a business, it’s important to note this issue. Students with parents earning low income may have reduced incentive to work for themselves if financial aid eligibility is at risk. Again, this is because any money in the student’s name will be weighed heavily. The FAFSA does allow the student to have an income protection allowance, and for the 2023 – 2024 FAFSA it’s $7,600. Any student earnings above that amount may actually reduce financial aid eligibility.
I have seen students reduce their financial aid eligibility because they earned too much income on their own. The FAFSA says that any earnings are included as part of income no matter how they are earned. However, there are many students that get jobs to earn cash and never admit to the income on FAFSA because it is untraceable. This is unfair but it happens all the time. If given the option to work before or during college, recognize that any cash earnings are invisible unless you admit to them on the FAFSA. If you receive a W-2 and have to file a tax return as a result of a job, the earnings are easily traceable if selected for financial aid verification.
Please note that the information provided on this website is provided on a general basis and may not apply to your own specific individual needs, goals, financial position, experience, etc. LendKey does not guarantee that the information provided on any third-party website that LendKey offers a hyperlink to is up-to-date and accurate at the time you access it, and LendKey does not guarantee that information provided on such external websites (and this website) is best-suited for your particular circumstances. Therefore, you may want to consult with an expert (financial adviser, school financial aid office, etc.) before making financial decisions that may be discussed on this website.
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