There is so much misinformation about how divorced parents plan for college. Coupled with the emotions and stress you may feel about sending your children to college, it is no surprise many families make big mistakes.
As a child of divorce, I can tell you there are many worries going through your child’s mind. They fear that college will be another dividing issue. The last thing you want is to reopen their wounds or reinforce any thoughts that they were the reason for the split. It doesn’t take a psychologist to understand that young minds are still struggling with the family situation.
However, this is a great time to eliminate some scars from the past and help your child move on.
Here are some basic steps and pitfalls to help make a hard time happy.
Define who is the “Custodial” Parent.
This is not who claims the child on the tax return, but rather where the student resides 50.01% of the time in the last 365 days. Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking your tax return has anything to do with who claims or even pays for college. Why is this so important? The biggest mistake families make is reporting to the federal government the income from ALL parents—mom, dad, step-mom, and step-dad. Don’t over-report.
Know Your Expected Family Contribution (EFC)
In the last decade, college costs have risen by over 510% and the college planning process has changed. Whether you are divorced or not, the federal government has developed a formula to determine what your family can potentially afford to pay for college. This figure is called your EFC (expected family contribution). For most people, it is the most important number you need to know for college planning. It can also drive some admissions decisions with Early Action and Early Decision.
Determine which forms the colleges will require.
Some divorced families will only need to prepare the FAFSA. This can be a financial windfall in terms of potential financial aid. However, over 400 schools require the CSS Profile as well. Over 187 of those schools will require the financial information on the non-custodial parent regardless of your families situation. This has the potential to decrease some or all of your financial aid. Knowing which forms the schools request should be part of your school selection process.
Define your family type for merit and financial aid.
Your EFC will be your guidepost helping you define your family type. This is so important because family type will define the strategies you need to employ to reduce your costs of college.
How Divorced Parents Plan for college: Download the guide.