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Step-parenting and paying for college

post #1 of 45
Thread Starter 
Hi All,

I'm the step-mom of a wonderful 17-year-old DSD who is currently in the process of applying for college. I'm increasingly afraid that the end of this process is going to be a total disaster and want to see whether any of you have been through this for any BTDT wisdom you may have. I'm tragically the major breadwinner of all of us (DH, DXW and myself) and have only been earning my somewhat respectable salary for about 2-3 years since finishing an advanced degree.

DH makes much less than I do in an industry that has been clobbered by the recession here in MI and DXW makes next to nothing and hasn't eve filed her taxes in many years. My salary is enough to tank DSD's eligibility for need-based financial aid and her scores (pretty good but not stellar) aren't high enough to put her in the running for merit based financial aid. It's sad because she has done amazingly well for having grown up in a very unstable low-income situation (Bio-mom has been living on the edge with her own substance abuse issues and an abusive alcoholic boyfriend for years). I feel awful about this. We don't have the money to pay for college and our financial aid application just won't reflect the reality of either her history or our finances (really low till past couple years). DH and DXW aren't prepared to help DSD at all with college costs.

I've been honest with all involved about this and have encouraged DSD to apply to colleges having "a range of selectivity and range of costs" and to apply for scholarships. But it looks really grim right now. Any thoughts of how to look at this? I can't and don't think I should foot her whole bill. She's wonderful and I can and will help....but the bill is going to be large wherever.
I'd be tremendously appreciative of any thoughts any of you may have on this. TIA!

StillForest
post #2 of 45
Student loans...


Honestly, my parents didn't pay for my education, nor any of my sisters. The qualification to get government aide is a joke. My parents had no extra money to pay for us, but we still got denied.

My youngest sister is very brilliant and did get some scholorships, but nothing to cover much.

She has student loans, as did I, as does my middle sister too.

It's not the end of the world, but honestly... with the economy the way it is and the unrealistic numbers the government comes up with to qualify for anything... everyone I know has to get loans. Good thing about student loans is you don't have to pay on them while in school and they are really flexible if you need to defer or get a forebearance due to different circumstances. For instance my student loan is currently deffered another year because I'm having a baby.
post #3 of 45

Seems like there is an easy way around this . . .

If the ex-wife is the custodial parent (or you say she is for college purposes), I believe that her income and your husband's income only need to be included.

My parents are separated or divorced. Which parent is responsible for filling out the FAFSA?
If your parents are separated or divorced, the custodial parent is responsible for filling out the FAFSA. The custodial parent is the parent with whom you lived the most during the past 12 months. Note that this is not necessarily the same as the parent who has legal custody.

http://www.easyaid.com/financial_aid_faq.html
post #4 of 45
Thread Starter 
Ooops...should have been clearer. We're the custodial parents and DXW lives many thousands of miles away in another state. DSD wants to go to our state university as an in-state student (out-of-state tuition is obscenely high). Hasn't lived with mom in 4 years (summer visits only). Mom has already said that she won't provide any money or information.

I appreciate your point about loans. I'm just afraid that she'll end up with huge amounts of loans even if she goes to our state university (one of the most expensive in the country. Sigh....). Might end up needing to do a year or two at community colleges to make this work out in a sane way for her (love community college...no slight intended). DSD's just had so much instability in her life that I'd really like her to be able to do 4 years in a single nurturing environment where she could put down roots and thrive. She bounced around through elementary and junior high schools and has only recently started coming into her own.

Thanks so much for the responses. I'm also thinking about having some conversations with financial aid officers after she's accepted.
post #5 of 45
I understand.

And it sucks knowing our kids will be immediately in debt... and I wish there was someway around it... but I honestly don't see an end to that anytime soon with the way our economy is and the with college fees going up every year, but not salaries.
post #6 of 45
Living at home for 2 more years and going to community college would probably be the most economical for everyone. Maybe her dad and mom will have improved finances in 2 years....
post #7 of 45
Community college for the first two years and living at home should let her graduate with only a slightly nauseating amount of student loans. As expensive as University has gotten I can't see a good reason not to do Community college for as many credits as possible.
post #8 of 45
If you haven't adopted her, are you sure your income would be included on a financial aid form? I don't know jack about this subject, but that just popped into my head.
post #9 of 45
Get thee to see a financial aid counselor! They can let you know the ins and outs of this.

Don't exclude smaller private schools. My niece and nephew both ended up at smaller private schools and it's costing my sister and BIL less than if the kids went to the state school. The financial aid packages at some schools can be awesome. AND they want kids from a range of backgrounds.

The other thing is to figure out what she wants to do/major in. For a lot of things, community college is a great start - you get smaller classes, more dedicated teachers for your general requirements. Then transferring to a 4 year school to finish is a good fit. I teach at a 4 year school where most of our undergrads come from community college, and generally, they're fine.
post #10 of 45
Quote:
Originally Posted by Go_to_Bed! View Post
If you haven't adopted her, are you sure your income would be included on a financial aid form? I don't know jack about this subject, but that just popped into my head.
The total family income of the CP is considered for need based aid. That would include Dad, SM, and the student's income. If there are any others living in the home (like Grandparents, ect), their incomes would also be taken into consideration.

I second community college for a few years. She'll get the basics completed for minimal money and she can save $ by living at home. Be sure she understands the requirements for transfer to the various colleges she'll be considering so she can work within those guidelines.

Another thought is that she can take the boatload of student loans and dad (or you and dad if you are so inclined) can help her pay them off in a few years.
post #11 of 45
Definitely have her talk to the counselor at her school about this. They can usually help with the financial aid forms. I know that I sent mine in without doing this and it ended up causing huge delays because I made mistakes.

It seems unfair that a step-parent's income would be counted. I know it asks for it on the form, but it also asks to separate out the mother's and father's income... Do they really expect step-parents to pay for schooling?

All I know is that my income is totally irrelevant when it comes to child support, and that I have no legal responsibility toward DSD whatsoever. It seems contradictory for student aid to have different rules.
post #12 of 45
I too would recommend she also look at smaller private colleges. Sometimes they are much freer with both merit- and need-based aid. And are much more open to discussing your situation with you. I went to one myself because they were generous with the financial aid. And they were also open to changing your package if something unexpected happened. they increased the aid of a friend of mine when his parents had unexpected medical expenses and just couldn't make the tuition payment our senior year, and they increased my aid when my parents got divorced, even though I already had a generous package.
post #13 of 45
Thread Starter 
Thanks so much for all of the comments and support. She is applying to small liberal arts college for the most part (only exceptions being two of our state schools). She's half Chinese and will fortunately be able to add to the diversity of some of the almost 100% white small Midwest colleges that she's applying to. I just freaked out over the weekend when she got an "early parent financial aid estimator" letter from one small school that we'd been hoping would come through that had us down for an absolutely huge parent contribution even after including an estimate for merit-based financial aid (which she's well qualified for at this particular school).

Yes, they do count & consider the step-parent's income when making financial aid decisions. I was so incredibly bummed when I discovered this. I'm actually on faculty at the state university that she wants to attend--- that gives absolutely no tuition break whatsoever to the children of faculty and staff (many do).

We'll continuing taking this all one step at a time. My mantra for the next several months. I feel like we're covering all our bases. Just a tough time given the economy and one of the largest senior classes in US history.

Thanks again!

StillForest
post #14 of 45
Are you and her dad married? I believe they only count step-parents' income if you are married - one thing to think about. But may be too late

Loans for a dependent undergrad aren't even going to cut it anyways as far as I can tell. Even as an independent student, my loans barely covered expenses at a city college. I would really try to figure out if there's a way to disqualify your income. For ex., can she emancipate herself since her mom refuses (?) to support her or can't? Can her mom be legally required to submit financial info? Is there a way to appeal the inclusion of your income? Perhaps if you document a refusal to pay? Colleges really suck about this stuff - it's pretty terrible. I'm so sorry and good luck.
post #15 of 45
Maybe she can work for year, then your income shouldn't count.
post #16 of 45
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Are you and her dad married? I believe they only count step-parents' income if you are married - one thing to think about. But may be too late
Ha Ha.... DH proposed to me when I needed major dental work and had no dental insurance (he's a romantic guy ). Maybe we'lll divorce so that DSD can go to college without incurring 50k+ or more in debt.... Marry for health insurance, divorce for tuition and board...Life in the US in 2008...Sigh... Time for Change.
post #17 of 45
That sucks that they don't give her a tuition break. Dh and his ex both work at a state university, and so the boys will get 75% off tuition. My dd will get 50% off.
post #18 of 45
When she turns 23 she will not be required to include her parents income on FAFSA forms. But I bet you are hoping she will be graduated by then.

Finantual aid can be tricky. I was out of my parents house at the age of 16 and still had to hunt down my dad and step mom to fill out those forms. I paid for my community college out of my own pocket because my dad who had not provided for me in any way made too much money. I was constantly in the fin aid office trying to explain this to them. I was filing for my own taxes as independant before I left high school. <sigh>

Good Luck!
post #19 of 45
Also remember that financial aid packages, especially from private schools, are just their first offer. You should always appeal and describe any special circumstances you or your SD may have. I did this every year for my kids and always got at least an additional $1000 in grant aid. Obviously this won't help if the school is $10,000+ out of your range, but if you get an offer that is not quite enough, it is worth trying to negotiate.
post #20 of 45
Quote:
Originally Posted by Megan_Cherry View Post
When she turns 23 she will not be required to include her parents income on FAFSA forms. But I bet you are hoping she will be graduated by then.

Finantual aid can be tricky. I was out of my parents house at the age of 16 and still had to hunt down my dad and step mom to fill out those forms. I paid for my community college out of my own pocket because my dad who had not provided for me in any way made too much money. I was constantly in the fin aid office trying to explain this to them. I was filing for my own taxes as independant before I left high school. <sigh>

Good Luck!
Someone at the college should have filed the proper independant paperwork for you. As long as you were not getting medical insurance from a parent, your own taxes and proof of rent would have qualified you. I used to work in admissions at the University here and we were able to work with the FA office to do this for quite a few people
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