Sep 14, 2006
It’s Not Apparent Who is a Parent
Posted in: Afford
So, in good faith, you’re ready to start the financial aid application process, you’ve gathered paperwork, gotten your pencils sharpened (or more probably, your fingers ready for some furious typing) and you come upon the first challenge to your logic. Who is your parent? Now of course, by “you” I am referring to you, the student. You may think it is fairly easy and straightforward to define who your parents are. Boy, would you be wrong.
In all cases, the main financial aid applications (namely the FAFSA and CSS Financial Aid Profile) should be completed by the custodial family. If your birth parents are married to each other, this is pretty easy: “Mother” is mom and “Father” is dad.
If your birth parents are divorced, separated, or were never married, then you only fill out information about the parent with whom you live (and, here is a tricky part, his or her new spouse, your “stepparent”). When it asks for mom’s information, you will leave it blank if you live only with your dad, and conversely if it asks for dad’s information, you should leave it blank if you only live with your mom. If your parent is remarried, you should put the stepparent’s information under the appropriate heading (“father” for stepfather, “mother” for stepmother).
Confused yet? No? Well, read on, McDuff…
Well, what if your parents are divorced and you lived with both of them equally during the last twelve months (in other words, the custody arrangement is something like, stay at mom’s from Sunday – Tuesday and every other Saturday, and with dad the rest of the time)? Then you would complete the form based on the parent who provides most of your financial support during the last year.
Does this absolve your other parent from completing any information? NO, A SOLID AND RESOUNDING NO. Colleges may request (and here at MIT we do request) a Non-Custodial Parent Profile for students who do not live with both of their birth parents. This form should be completed by the non-custodial parent, and most likely will need to be done on-line (depending on the college's preference). Once you (the student) register for the Profile and indicate that your birth parents are not married, you will be sent an email with instructions, a temporary password, and a link which you should forward to your non-custodial parent for him or her to complete.
Does it end yet? Well, sort of…
Then it becomes our job in the financial aid office to determine which ones of your parents – birth and step – should be considered as providing part of the contribution we will expect from you. In most cases, we at MIT only will expect a contribution from two parents, and in most cases we will want those two parents to be the birth parents, but this varies widely case by case. If you are in one of these situations, you should talk to your financial aid counselor after you receive your financial aid award to understand how we analyzed your file and why we did what we did.
The way we determine how much each "family" can contribute is by looking at each household independently. We perform separate analysis on each household (using all parties incomes and assets in the household) and then divide up the resulting contribution by a factor based on the share of income brought to the family by the parent we are taking (and by adding to the figure, 1/2 of the contribution relating to assets). We then take the two figures, one from birth mom's household and one from birth dad's household, add these together, and use the resulting figure as the Parent Contribution for the student.
Let's look at an example:
Clarissa is applying to MIT for Fall 2007. Her mom and dad were divorced in 2000, and her mom has remarried since (in 2005). Her dad has not remarried.
When we analyze Clarissa's application, we will want information from three parties, her mom, her step-dad, and her dad. We will complete two financial aid analyses, one on her mom and step-dad, and the second on her dad alone.
Clarissa's mom earned $40,000 in wages last year, and Clarissa's step-dad earned $50,000. There was other income in the family (unemployment compensation, interest income, etc.) of $10,000. Between them, Clarissa's mom and step-dad have $120,000 in investments.
When we look at Clarissa's mom's contribution, we will take the total family income contribution (let's say it equaled $10,000) and multiply it by a factor determined by the percent of the total income that was mom's (in this case, $40,000 wage + 1/2 of the 10,000 other income / total income of $100,000, which equals 45%). So the income contribution for the family is $4500.
As for assets, we will take the asset contribution (let's say in this case that was $6000) and divide it in half, assuming that all assets are shared jointly (whether they are in fact or are not).
So Clarissa's mom's total contribution would be $7500 ($4500 income contribution + $3000 asset contribution).
Clarissa's dad would be much easier to analyze since there is no one else sharing his household, so his contribution will not be adjusted by any factor (and his income and assets would be his alone). Let's say his contribution was $4500.
So, as a total, we would have mom's $7500 contribution and dad's $4500 contribution, which totals $12,000.
Once piece we cannot share with you, unlike we are doing in Clarissa's case, is who earns what or who is able to contribute what for your particular situation. Without full written permission from all parties, we must keep information you provide to us confidential; this is also true for the information we receive from your parents, stepparents, and others.
So hopefully now it is apparent who is a parent. If it isn’t, email me and we’ll talk about basic biology!