Furthering your education can drain your family financially, and there are several programs available to reduce or eliminate the financial burden. By completing an application with the Federal Financial Aid office, you will open the door to many grants and loans available to college students. Although federal grants are available to only students who meet certain financial criteria, most students will qualify for a federal student loan. To receive government assistance to go to college, you must provide the Federal Student Aid office with information from your income tax return. Having filed a joint return does not prevent you from seeking financial aid.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid -- or FAFSA -- is administered by the Federal Student Aid office, which is a part of the U.S. Department of Education. The office processes applications and distributes federal student aid to students. As of the date of publication, the Federal Student Aid office provides an estimated $150 billion in federal loans, grants, and work-study funds each year. The office also offers tools to help college-bound individuals explore career options, select a college and search for scholarships.
Student Aid Requirements
Financial aid is based on need, which means that your family’s annual income determines how much financial aid you will receive. If you are under age 25 and single, Federal Student Aid considers you a dependent student and uses your parents’ income to determine your student aid amount. If you are married or age 25 or older, Federal Student Aid considers you an independent student and uses your income to determine your need for financial aid.
Married couples have the option of filing tax returns jointly or separately. When you file jointly with your spouse, you combine your income, file one tax return, and pay one tax bill. When you file separately from your spouse, you file two separate returns and each of you is responsible for paying the taxes on your own incomes. Federal Financial Aid requires that you report both spouses’ income, regardless of your filing methods. This means that if you file separately, you must still report your income and your spouse’s income on your FAFSA.
Determining Your EFC
Your EFC, or estimated family contribution, is the amount that the Federal Student Aid office estimates you will have to pay out of pocket to attend college each year. To determine your EFC and whether you will qualify for federal grants, complete a FAFSA. You must supply your personal information, including your Social Security number and date of birth, your spouse’s information, your number of dependents, and your adjusted gross income. Your adjusted gross income must also include your spouse’s income. After you submit your application, the website will display your EFC. An EFC of $0 means that you will receive enough grants and loans to cover the cost for you to attend college. You must complete a FAFSA each year.
Angela M. Wheeland specializes in topics related to taxation, technology, gaming and criminal law. She has contributed to several websites and serves as the lead content editor for a construction-related website. Wheeland holds an Associate of Arts in accounting and criminal justice. She has owned and operated her own income tax-preparation business since 2006.