Getting married changes just about everything in your life. However, many of the changes are a lot more substantial than determining whose turn it is to take out the garbage or which side of the family you spend the holidays with.
One area that many people don’t consider when it comes to getting married is how that decision affects any financial aid you are receiving, or will receive should you opt to return to school for an advanced degree, like nursing. For most people applying for assistance as an undergrad, financial aid hinges largely on their parents’ income and ability to cover tuition. When you are married, though, the federal government and school financial aid office take your marital status — and your spouse’s income — into consideration, which can make a significant difference in how you pay for that nursing degree.
For Better or For Worse?
Regardless of whether you are married or single, your financial aid package will be determined based on the information you provide on your FAFSA. Federal law allows students to declare dependent status until age 24, even if they don’t reside under their parents’ roof, which means that parental income is used to determine how much aid one receives. In many cases, this means that a student receives less aid.
Getting married effectively eliminates your ability to claim that you are a dependent — even if you are under 24 years old. In other words, once you say “I do,” you can no longer include your parents’ income on your FAFSA. You do, however, have to claim your spouse’s income on the form, even if you file taxes separately. However, this can work in your favor, since there is a good chance that you and your spouse earn less than your parents do, and your expected contribution will be lower than it would be if you were still a dependent.
That being said, getting married doesn’t guarantee that you will receive more aid. Your aid package will also be influenced by whether or not your spouse is going to school also. If both of you are in school, it’s likely that you will receive more aid than if just one of you is taking classes, but even then, there’s a chance that you could see a slight reduction in your need-based aid if you still have a substantial expected contribution.
One area that tends to trip up newlyweds when it comes to financial aid is calculating expenses. Student loan offers are based on the total cost of attending school, including tuition, fees, and living expenses. However, those calculations are only based on the student, not the student and his or her spouse. The award offer generally reflects the average cost of campus housing, not the off-campus housing where most married students live.
This means that a married couple who is relying on financial aid to cover all or some of their living expenses needs to take into account that the amount received is based on one person — and may not provide enough money to cover their off-campus housing, especially if they live outside of the immediate campus area. This issue doesn’t affect all students, particularly if one spouse continues working while the other goes to school, or there are other sources of income, but it’s important to remember that financial aid is not going to cover all of a couple’s expenses.
Repaying Loans: You’re In This Together
Getting married also has an effect on how students repay their loans after graduation, at least in terms of determining repayment plans. Under new laws that allow for income-based repayment options, students can lower their monthly payments by basing them on their income. However, again, both the student and his or her spouse determine that income; you will have to use current tax information to determine that payment.
The major exception to this, of course, is in the event that you get a divorce. In a community property state, if your spouse owes money on student loans, your assets can be seized for payment. Even in non-community property states, if the loans were taken out while you were married, you can be held responsible for repayment, depending on the terms of your divorce; however, in most cases, the person who incurs the debt is responsible for it. If you and your spouse decide to consolidate your loans, and then split up, you will both be responsible for repaying the entire balance, regardless of how much each of you originally owed.
Getting financial aid for school when you are married isn’t difficult, but it does come with a few considerations that you might not otherwise have to deal with. Get all of the information before you apply, and you’ll avoid misunderstandings or gaps that make life more difficult for you both.