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Maximizing your college student's financial aid

Many college students, no matter their parents' income, fill out the FAFSA in hopes of maximizing the financial assistance they get for college. The process can be relatively straightforward for children whose parents are married to each other.

However, it may be more complicated for those children with divorced parents, whether or not these parents have remarried. Here is a look at some ways you might be able to help your child maximize his or her efforts.

Plan ahead for "custodial" parent

The FAFSA asks who the custodial parent is, and in this case, it means the parent the child lived with more in the past 365 days. The income of that parent's spouse, if there is one, is required, but information on the noncustodial parent and his or her spouse is not. So, suppose you make $250,000 a year and your ex makes $60,000 and has remained single while you remarried. In such a case, it may make sense for your child to spend slightly more time with your ex in the year leading up to the FAFSA application if that is not already happening. If the time-spent split is exactly 50 percent and 50 percent, the parent who provided the most financial support is the one who should be listed.

There is nothing wrong or illegal about planning ahead about where a child lives to maximize financial aid eligibility. The custodial parent's income as well as factors such as how many dependents he or she has are considered, so there are multiple things to think about. Be advised that many private schools have their own financial aid systems, and they are likely to go beyond the FAFSA to ask about the income of the noncustodial parent.

List only the required people

Your child may consider both sets of parents, with their new spouses, as parents. However, it is not necessary to list all four people on the FAFSA as income sources. Doing so can lead to a dramatic reduction in the amount of aid the child qualifies for. However, child support amounts from the parent paying support should be listed.

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